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Sunday, October 2, 2022

Murchison Falls Hydro-Electric Power Project: To build or Not to build

There are at least a million important questions to be asked of our society as Ugandans, of our race as Africans, and of our species really; but no one is asking the right ones. As a society, we are entering a series of profound cultural, socio, political and economic transitions, the like of which this country and its society has never seen.

Massive increases in resource requirements, the rising tide of populist politics, generational wealth inequalities which are now the highest in history, are just some of the challenges WE face. And WE as a society have failed to prepare for the inevitable transitions those challenges will force on us.

That is why recent ministerial public announcements on the government’s intention to construct a hydroelectricity generator at Murchison Falls have turned emotional, appealing to the political part of our society and as such facts have been conveniently ignored.

As Ugandans, WE are not talking about the fact that WE need more energy going forward, and WE need to get that energy in a way that will not increase our carbon footprint. So, why are some people opposed to the proposed hydro-electric project that will, after all, generate “green energy”?

Most of the arguments against the project specify the potential loss of earnings for the “perpetually struggling” tourism industry. Yet tourism has never moved any society in history out of poverty. Tourist hotspots are among the poorest countries in the world, the societies there are among the most unstable look at the Maldives, Jamaica or Egypt.

A cursory study of world history and the current economy would show that no nation or society has escaped the clutches of poverty and economic backwardness by having strangers “visit” them or their lands. And no society in world history has grown economically by engaging in leisure and “pleasure giving” service industry, and tourism is a pleasure activity.

Great nations have come to their status because they engaged in at least one of the 5 socioeconomic activities: Agricultural Production; Military conquest; Mercantile activity; Scientific research and development; Industry or “mechanization of production”.

For the great powers, agricultural production is more important than “beautiful places to visit”. Brazil is burning down the Amazon Forest in order to grow the soya-bean that is currently a lynchpin in the trade war between China and the USA; as well as to graze cattle to produce beef for the European market.

The demise of the Amazon forest will have massively negative effects on the global climate and eco-system than the demise of the Murchison Falls and yet it’s the American and European-backed interests in our midst that are accusing the government of lacking a commitment to international norms on how to deal with climate change and environmental degradation.

The pursuit for happiness is one of the alienable rights of every man and woman, and modern living brings happiness. Modern living demands that the people have an excess of food, and Murchison Falls in its current form does not help the agricultural business. Besides, River Nile with Murchison Falls will never support river navigation which would of course aid the farmers and artisans get their wares to market.

On deciding to support or oppose the project, one asks Ugandans to try and rely on their secondary school geography education, especially lessons on the St. Lawrence Seaway which was built despite the Niagara Falls; they also ought to remember that California’s world famous Fruit Orchards, Wineries and Ranches as well as its cities are the reason why the Colorado River never reaches the sea anymore.

Our beautiful lands, scenic water-falls and those snow-capped mountain ranges have not enabled the nation engage in profitable Military conquest and Mercantile trade. That is because a nation must tame nature, build things like that dam that will feed the electricity generator and enable river-based transportation.

And whereas Uganda has no plans to extend its borders, a navigable and controllable river Nile would give Uganda strategic security advantages and the geopolitical tool a river-based route from sub-Saharan Africa to the Mediterranean Sea that would actually integrate the two Sudan’s and Uganda. And currently Murchison Falls is not helping our society achieve that dream; instead, we have been hoodwinked by the few trinkets that the foreigners hand out as “big-game” tourists.

Tourism has, in fact, pitted us Ugandans against fellow African countries in a zero-some fight for tourist dollars using a “beggar-my-neighbor” strategy. Paradoxically, we beg the same people who once colonized and so would love to subjugate us even today, hoping they will not use the opportunity to push their own political agendas, which they same times do.

Tourism destroyed pre-Castro Cuba, eroding the agricultural sector that had once made Cuba a pearl of the Spanish imperial possessions. That was thanks to the gangsters who for some reason successfully built Las Vegas but failed to replicate the same in Havana. The same happened in pre-Chavez Venezuela which despite the oil wealth, its natives had been reduced to a piece of entertainment for the American pleasure seekers for they could only hope to escape abject poverty by way of beauty pageants organized by people like Trump, and providing “exotic entertainment.”

It is science that spurred Germany to world-power status in the 1800’s and in the early 1900’s. Even as foreign exchange earning avenue, tourism does not spur scientific research and development, for it is at its core a rent collection business and A-Level economics ought to have taught Ugandans that such businesses never spur innovation or scientific research and development.

By thinking that tourism is an answer to our economic growth challenges, Uganda is pushing talent and investments into a “fake-growth” business, building excess capacity in real estate in form of hotels, resorts, beaches, park lodges and tourism roads; while also mounting expensive, extended military operations to secure a few foreigners in remote areas who are in effect disturbing the peace of the wild animals.

And all that’s happening as the State implicitly tells its women citizens to subtly prostitute themselves through events patronized by foreign visitors and tourists we call fashion shows or beauty pageants; and at the hospitality establishments as “waitresses with warm and inviting smiles”.

Buganda kingdom is investing billions in restoring the Kasubi tombs, wrangling subsidies from anyone and any place, and by saying that the tombs will attract tourism, the State has had to give up to 20 billion shillings of tax-payer’s money so far.

Buganda kingdom’s royal family, its officials and the Lukiiko members are the richest private rent-collectors, but they are not investing in the SGR project in the same way the British royal family did in the Channel Tunnel and today, in the wind-energy projects off the English coastline.

Like many other cultural institutions in Africa, Buganda Kingdom is really conditioned to think that tourism is the ideal destiny for its investment capital. It was therefore not a surprise that the Omukama of Bunyoro is also opposing the dam project, because, like his fore-fathers, he too is good at choosing short-term gratification and lacks strategic foresight.

Omukama Kabelega after getting a full taste of imperial ambitions towards his kingdom during the wars with his brother Ruyonga which came to involve the Kaddafi of Egypt and Nubian mercenaries, organized weapons-production industries, never tried to replicate the guns he had bought from the Arab slave traders.

Today, by aligning himself and his kingdom to the anti-project interests, Omukama Kabelega’s successor and heir is emulating that lack of strategic forethought. The Omukama should be able to see that his Bunyoro with all that oil and now the hydro-electricity generators; can actually become an energy hub in a region that needs energy in places as far as those underground mines in Congo which are modernizing, using electricity-powered, remotely-controlled equipment.

 

Instead, the “traditionalists” of Buganda are positioning themselves to rip from the taxpayer billions if not trillions of shillings by exaggerating the right-of-way fees for the land the SGR railroad will use, and in Bunyoro, one gets the feeling, the Omukama has set his sights on demanding compensation for the land the project will have to reclaim.

The monarchies are inherently anti-progress because that’s what tradition means … keeping everything the way it is. For once the State agrees to pay the institutions, that money is usually spent on foreign shopping trips which include a visit to the doctors, YES the Nbagereka will not invest in a Ugandan doctor based here, but will fleece the taxpayer so as to use an American doctor while preaching preservation of culture and traditions.

Mechanization of production is how Britain came to rule over people in lands 100 times its size, tourism did not do that, in fact, the British invented today’s model of tourism with the Alpine excursions, using wealth acquired through industrial output.

And tourism did not uplift 800 million Chinese out of poverty during the last two decades, it’s the industrialization that has done that. The Chinese did sacrifice their natural environment, save for the wild camels of the Uighur desert, the State chose to industrialize and because the industry needs electricity, they built the largest hydro-electric dam in the world, the 3-Gorges dam on the Yangtze.

So, perhaps as Ugandans we are small-minded, fretting over Murchison falls, a project 100 times smaller than the say the Hoover dam. The 3-Gorges dam alone buried 2000 square miles of land, up to 100 million people had to be moved. The progressive-minded Americans basically destroyed the Colorado River eco-system that had lasted millions of years in order to create the California of today.

A conundrum the pro-tourism agitators avoid answering is the fact that the biggest earners from tourism are places like Monte Carlo and Egypt which have as tourist attractions man-made spectacles. In economic class, one is taught about the concept of opportunity cost. The cost of letting 200,000 acres of good grazing land go to “livestock” people cannot consume has, and will never be paid by Egypt or Monte Carlo or Las Vegas or the Alpines or the countries where most of the “foreign exchange” paying tourists come from. In fact, the trickle-down effect in Monte Carlo and Vegas has workers there engaged in high-value production enterprises selling 1,000-dollar wines while in Uganda, the artisans are selling 10-dollar baskets that cost 2 dollars to make and took a year to sell.

The tour operators and the tourists themselves demand that Safari lodges have “modern” amenities like the warm showers in the morning and that mid-night snack that inevitably calls for electricity-powered heater or kettle to prepare. How else shall that electricity be sourced if not from generators like the one proposed at Murchison Falls?

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