On Tuesday, tour operators, safari guides, hoteliers, and civil society activists led by the Association of Uganda Tour Operators Association (AUTO) Chairman Everest Kayondo staged a massive campaign at Murchison Falls National Park following government plans to construct a 360-megawatt hydropower dam at Uhuru Falls in Murchison Falls National Park.
By the weekend, a cabinet reshuffle which had been previously brushed off as rumors, began to trickle down to the public via WhatsApp until the Presidential Press Secretary confirmed this on twitter before the local media houses announced it as headline news.
Among the casualties on the list were Minister for Minerals and Engineer Irene Muloni who together with Tourism Minister Prof. Ephraim Kamuntu had issued a statement at the Media Centre on December 3 announcing that the Government of Uganda confirmed having signed a Memorandum of Understanding with M/S Bonang. Energy and Power Ltd. from the Republic of South Africa and Norconsult and Norwegian JSC Institute Hydro Project worked together to undertake detailed feasibility studies for a proposed of the Hydropower Project at Uhuru Falls located adjacent to Murchison Falls in Murchison Falls National Park.
Professor Kamuntu who had made the announcement with Engineer Muloni was transferred to the Ministry of Justice and replaced by Capt. Tom Butime Rwakaikara who was transferred from the Ministry of Local Government, leaving Muloni not even on the list of a token post of Presidential Advisor. The Hon. State Minister Suubi Kiwanda retained his portfolio.
At Murchison Falls, the AUTO chairman had given a rabble-rousing press statement after taking the epic 7-kilometer cruise from Paraa to the bottom of the falls before hiking to the top in order to address the press. Surrounded by mainly youthful activists who had traveled 280 kilometers from Kampala Kayondo in 4 busloads sternly warned that should government continue with its plans, “we should elect new leadership” of Energy and Mineral Development.
Immediately after the Murchison campaign, Uganda’s Speaker Rebecca Alitwala Kadaga chairing the Parliament session the next day accused the Cabinet of doing things behind the back of Parliament. She stated: “The country needs to know, you cannot run government at the [Uganda] Media Centre. With whom are you talking to at the Media Centre?”
Planning Minister David Bahati who had risen to defend the government decision was rebuffed when the Speaker referred him to the Constitution of The Republic of Uganda regarding protection of natural resources.
“You are holding these resources on behalf of the people of Uganda, and the people have said they don’t want you to give away the falls, so what are you studying?” Ms. Kadaga said.
And so the President seems to have taken heed by immediately implementing the reshuffle.
Media Centres Ofwono Opondo which is usually on the opposite end of the argument defending government this time, joined the chorus of voices condemning the Ministers in a full-page article in the “New Vision” Government daily titled “Stop flip-flopping over Murchison Falls.”
Who is Tom Butime?
Colonel (Retired) Tom Butime (born 1947) is Member of Parliament for Mwenge County Central, Kyenjojo District in western Uganda.
Previous portfolios he has held include Minister of Internal Affairs, Minister of State for Refugees and Disaster Preparedness, Minister of State for International Cooperation, and Acting Foreign Minister. A historical member of the rebel National Resistance Army in the bush war from 1981-86 that morphed into the ruling Movement (NRM), Butime served as Special District Administrator, Nebbi District, neighboring (Murchison Falls) as one of his postings.
The President has yet to make his pronouncement on the dam, and in the meantime the public cannot rest on its laurels as word is that Engineer Muloni was simply a “pawn on the political chessboard.” The struggle continues.