A Golf Course at Murchison Falls National Park – who benefits?
What comes to your mind at the mention of Uganda Wildlife Authority? Authority to take care of wildlife, people and property? An authority marred with dirt that there is hardly any positive to register?Some form of clashing entity with NEMA? All sorts of things come to mind! Truthfully, personally I have my reservations towards the Authority.
The Uganda Wildlife Act is established primarily for the conservation of wildlife throughout Uganda so that the abundance and diversity of their species are maintained at optimum levels commensurate with other forms of land use, in order to support sustainable utilisation of wildlife for the benefit of the people of Uganda.
To execute the provisions of the Act, the law sets up an Authority under Section 4 of the Act, mandated to, among others, ensure the sustainable management of wildlife conservation areas, coordinate the implementation of Government policies in the field of wildlife management, and establish policies and procedures for the sustainable utilization of wildlife by and for the benefit of the communities living in proximity to wildlife. Well, at least those are some of the well-known responsibilities of the Authority.
On 4th of February 2015, the Committee of Parliament entrusted with the oversight over the authority, that is, Tourism, Trade and Industry, met the Executive Director Dr Richard Sseguja Uganda Wildlife Authority along with Mr Makombo John Director Conservation to discuss the proposal to construct a golf course at Murchison Falls National Park by MarasaHoldings. The issue stems from a 2013 proposal that was deferred by the committee so as to allow for further discussions between Uganda Wildlife Authority and MarasaHoldings.
The Authority subjected the request to an Environmental Impact Assessment conducted by National Environment Management Authority (NEMA) and was advised that the impacts of having a golf course within a National Park would be over reaching on the environment since it involves the introduction of foreign plants and grass, along with the use of chemicals for the maintenance of the course. Besides, the golf course would be situated along the Nile Banks, and could easily contaminate the river which is shared by many States. Well the argument that it could be fenced cannot hold water since the Wildlife Act prohibits fencing in the National Park anyway.
It was later revealed that MarasaHoldings which had earlier expressed intentions thereafter changed their position from having a Golf Course within the Game Park to one at Karuma Township which the government along with the Ministry of Energy had planned for. The argument is that a golf course would increase the tourist stay from the current 1.8 days to many more days since they would have other activities to keep them busy.
However, Prof Morris Ogenga-Latigo recently (1st October 2014) wrotea letter to parliament advocating for the establishment the golf course asserting that the course would have no effect on the lives of the wild animals. Little is known as to whether he is in the know of the position of MarasaHoldings. Nevertheless, his revelations actually impelled the meeting between the Tourism committee and the Authority.
The Professor in his letter highlights the development value of Murchison Falls National Park contending that it should be exploited for the benefit of Uganda, particularly the River Nile, and the largest known oil fields. He asserts that Uganda will not only have to enhance the parks tourism potential and tourism field, but also find ideal ways of exploiting the proven energy potential. He also noted that the falls is a part of the Northern Tourism Circuitry and its enhanced status and reputation will have major pull-factor in the tourism and development for Northern Uganda.
He disparaged the threats referred to by UWA such as attacks by animals on golfers, the introduction of exotic grass and chemicals for maintenance thereof, as anticipatable risks from the establishment of the golf course and therefore within existing means and capacity to be mitigated.Worth mentioning though is that Prof Ogenga-Latigo has a farm around Murchison Falls National Park.
Following his letter that he addressed to the Committee on Tourism, Trade and Industry, the committee avowed to have him appear to clarify as to whether he was speaking on behalf of MarasaHoldings. Noteworthy though, is the fact that he was speaking about Chobe Lodge other than Marasa. His position contradicted the statement of the Executive Director of Uganda Wildlife Authority who had declared to the Committee that Marasa had abandoned their quest on Murchison Falls.
Truthfully, setting up the golf course in the National Park would set a precedent and several other investors would probably want to do the same elsewhere. However, it is better to ascertain the socio-economic value of the course other than the norm that it would benefit just a handful of rich individuals who prefer to play golf other than preservation of the National Park which would benefit everyone for longer. Several factors have to be considered, including the plight of the locals within the areas affected.