CONTROVERSIAL GOLF COURSE PROJECT BACK IN THE NEWS
When presiding over the passing out of over 400 new Uganda Wildlife Authority rangers last week, President Museveni again let fly over his disappointment, if not outright anger, for having been defied in the past by UWA, NEAM and the conservation fraternity at large, to give permission to a lodge operator in Murchisons Falls National Park for the establishment of an 18 hole golf course.
A similar attempt was thrown out many years earlier, when the same hotel group tried to have a similar project approved for the Mweya peninsula in Queen Elizabeth National Park, something equally defeated back then, when UWA’s chairman and Senior Presidential Advisor for Media John Nagenda and this correspondent in his then capacity as President of the tourism apex body UTA vocally opposed the scheme and marshaled the conservation troops. Then like today, the alternative of establishing a golfcourse near the park at Katwe was turned down, as was in the case of Murchisons the proposal to modernize the golf course in nearby Pakwach.
The misguided view of wanting to establish a golf course inside protected areas, requiring the introduction of alien grass species and the need to constantly water and fertilize the greens and fairways, has been broadly rejected as the environmental impact by common consensus is too great to be mitigated. Around the world no new such projects are approved, though existing courses, namely in South Africa, continue to exist amid controversy over the use of sparse water.
Tourism Minister Maria Mutagamba was quoted in local media to have responded to President Museveni’s demands by stating that an agreement was recently reached with the company to establish a golf course outside the park, where land will be availed to them, reportedly at the Karuma side of the wider area.
‘Why these people continue to demand for such lunatic projects defeats any normal thinking person. It is contrary to conservation and they know it. They got to the president but at least UWA and NEMA dug in their heels and made it clear it is not possible. Now why government should give them land to build a golf course nearby is another puzzle. Do they not have money to buy land? Was it not possible to agree with the Pakwach golf club to bring that one to modern standards? This sure alienates the people of that part of the country where further north they are also engaged in endless battles over land for a sugar cane farm. And can they even say how many of their guests at that lodge would play golf? How golfers from Kampala would go there during the week other than on a weekend maybe? I do not see that project happen because unless it is very near their lodge, so that they can reach it with their electric carts, it is not viable for them. At least it seems that the option of having a golf course inside the park is now off. Let no one try that again, conservation is not a toy for corporate giants in Uganda. We are watching them’ ranted a regular source with links to both conservation and safari operations, when discussing the matter yesterday.
The president has a checkered history over conservation issues, at times coming out strongly in favour and then, like in the case of the golf courses or even more notably the Mabira Forest, bewildering his supporters with his opinions and giving ammunition to his opponents, when insisting on solutions which could have an irreversible impact on the very ingredients the tourism industry in Uganda is benefiting from, intact forests and parks. As the saying goes, watch this space to see what end, if any, this saga will have.