Can this really be happening? In another blow to the survival of Murchison Falls National Park, President Museveni is demanding that the Madhvani Group, the owners of Paraa and Chobe Lodges, be allowed to build a golf course within the park. Clearly he does not take the concept of “National Park” seriously.
I think building a Wal-Mart or a 24-hour Nakumatt at the Top of the Falls would be a reasonable next step.
First, let’s address the fact that Museveni is really in no position to make this call, either legally or in terms of his ability to assess the impacts of a project like this. He is quoted as saying “Golf has no fumes. It is not a factory to generate fumes, it is just grass. This must be resolved. Tell UWA that I want this to be done.”
He has absolutely no environmental credentials, and there are, theoretically, laws that a development like this should have to follow (for instance, undergoing one of those pesky Environmental Impact Assessments). It should also be a decision made by the Uganda Wildlife Authority, not by decree of the president. If the president is able to just sidestep constitutional process whenever it is convenient for him, that is a sign of a broken political and legal system.
While there are efforts to reduce the environmental impacts of golf courses in countries with strict environmental oversight, unregulated courses are notoriously polluting. The chemicals used to maintain the “perfect” grass have contaminated water sources around the world. I don’t know where in the park the Madhvanis plan to build this course, but my guess is that they will want a view of the river, which means there is a high likelihood of chemical runoff into the Nile. There is also the issue of irrigating the entire course during the dry season, presumably with water from the river.
Building a golf course in Murchison Falls National Park will also result in yet another area of the park where the wildlife, the main reason for the existence of the park, will not be welcome. As oil development expands into the production phase, the wildlife will already be feeling pressured as the open habitat shrinks.
The Madhvanis requested permission to build a golf course in Queen Elizabeth National Park sometime back, but were turned down by the Uganda Wildlife Authority because of the impact it would have on wildlife. The current, questionably-appointed Acting Executive Director of UWA, Mark Kamanzi, has apparently agreed to the current proposal, saying “There’s nothing wrong with the President allowing a golf course to be built in the park. It does not mean that the land has been given away.” It is important to note that, like President Museveni, Mark Kamanzi has no environmental credentials – he is a lawyer who was moved into the position of Executive Director by the Board that was recently disbanded.
Uganda’s natural assets should not be sold off to the highest bidder. The national parks here have the highest level of protection of any blocks of land in the country. If even that level of protection can’t keep these places safe, what does that mean for the rest of the remaining forests and other natural lands? Ugandans successfully fought to keep Museveni from selling off part of Mabira Forest, but they shouldn’t have to continually fight to save places that are already legally protected.
It will be a sad day if Uganda’s National Parks become little more than a National Joke.
Mark D. Jordahl – Kampala