NEMA SAYS NO TO GOLF IN PARKS
In what has been described as a courageous move, opposing powerful business interests and almost outright defying the powers that be in Uganda, the National Environmental Management Authority has shown teeth when turning the thumbs down on applications to build a golf course inside any of Uganda’s national parks.
Concerns over the felling of trees, the introduction of alien grass species into the ecosystem and the substantial use of fertilizers, besides the high quantities of water needed to keep the greens and fairways in top shape, were some of the reasons reportedly cited in the NEMA findings, after studying the impact of the plans on both Queen Elizabeth and Murchisons Falls national parks.
President Museveni had expressed unusual interest in the two developments, but kept his own counsel several years ago when a broad coalition brining together the UWA board, management, conservationists and the tourism fraternity denounced plans to build a golf course on the Mweya peninsula. It was during the official opening of the Chobe Safari Lodge that the owners raised the golf course scenario again, once more ignoring past advice and moving to confrontation over it rather than opting to use the not too distant course in Pakwach, which could be turned into a championship development available for guests staying at both Chobe or Paraa safari lodges. Likewise, the hotel group was offered the option to get land at near Katwe town outside Queen Elizabeth National Park to construct a golf course but at the time declined.
Like with the ill advised attempt to hand over for free a quarter of the Mabira rainforest to the worst performing sugar company in the country, a company from which government in fact withdrew as a shareholder due to constant losses, to cut the forest and put 7.000 hectares under sugar cane while ignoring offers to lease available land at a cost, any golf course development would meet with stiff resistance from the conservation fraternity and the tourism sector. In fact it is very likely that it would lead to a concerted campaign on the global social and mainstream media to decampaign the promoters and embargo them, and the ‘Stop the Serengeti Highway’ movement is a good pointer just how effective the social media today are in exposing and opposing such hairbrained schemes.
Time will tell if common sense and reason will prevail or if indeed Uganda’s environment is, as government critics have time and again alleged, for sale to the rich and powerful. Some other projects, including one dissecting and decimating the Lutembe wetlands, has gone on to prove their case at least in part. That said, as in the case of Mabira, here too a line has to be drawn and a stand to be taken, friendships and close cooperation with both politics and business in other areas notwithstanding, so watch this space of what happens next, now that NEMA has spoken.