A Golf Course at Murchi­son Falls Na­tional Park – who ben­e­fits?

By: ISAAC OKELLO

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.

nbsp;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.