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UHURU DAM AND THE REALITY WE MUST FACE ABOUT LUNCH TIME

A few months ago, I read a post by Mr. Amos Wekesa about the need for us to engage government beyond Facebook rants in order to get them to back off plans of building an electricity dam at Murchison Falls. I am all for diplomacy and advocacy and found great joy in his posts later on saying he had got assurances from top government officials that these plans will be revisited.

Then today, I wake up to the news that cabinet has okayed the commencement of studies on how best to build the dam while ‘protecting the environment’.

A few years ago, the president insisted on doing away with Bujagali Falls, swearing that the dam that would be built there would solve our electricity problems once and for all. Many people pointed out that the dam would neither satisfy our long term power needs nor act as a more valuable replacement to the touristic value the falls had (4 of 12 world-class rapids on the Nile were swallowed up by the dam and if government goes on with its grand plans, all the remaining 8 will be gone too). The president called the naysayers enemies of progress and the rest is history.

Today, years after Bujagali was built, only about half of Uganda’s urban population has access to electricity while in the rural areas, that statistic drops to an average of 10%. The industrial boom promised by those in favour of the dam hasn’t happened (yet) and the dam’s capacity at completion is almost half what was promised at the start.

There have been studies that show Uganda has the most potential to harness solar energy (a spot in Masindi was discovered to be the most ideal in the world for solar power generation). Other alternative means of power generation like wind and nuclear are yet to be fully explored. But all these are potentials.Unknowns.Speculations.

The only one thing we are sure of is the vast amount of foreign exchange we receive from tourism (only remittances from Ugandans working abroad beats tourism). We also know that our tourism industry is heavily underfunded and overlooked and that doubling our efforts in this area would result into far more income than almost any other venture, with benefits being reaped in other sectors like agriculture and industry.Yet the government is intent on eating the golden goose.One cannot help but wonder why. Why is the government so hell-bent on having their way, even when it is clear that their way isn’t the best solution for Uganda?For me, the answer can only lie in a political reality many Ugandans don’t seem to be ready to deal with: the current government’s priorities are three: regime survival, regime survival and regime survival.

We can make all the eloquent arguments against these plans for Uhuru dam and propose all the brilliant alternatives to it, but until we resolve the leadership crisis we face, we could as well be chatting to rocks.

As a lecturer, one of the worst times to make any significant points to my students is those few minutes before a break or the end of the lecture. 15 minutes to the end, they simply start to check out. They are there, but not really. They are listening, but not really. Every now and then, you may get a student that’s keen to hear more of what you have to say, but for the most part, everyone is really packing up. And that lone student will be heckled or indirectly pressured by the peers to wrap things up. They would be enemies of progress you see, keeping everyone from their precious lunch break.Our government is on the tail-end of its tenure and everyone is focused on how to either make that last as long as possible or end as soon as possible.

All the sense in the world will uselessly fall on deaf ears in the next few years. No one (of consequence) is listening. That is how you get a singer’s wedding becoming a far more engaging issue than the potential loss of a natural resources worth billions.

People are getting ready for lunch.

And the only way round this is to stop pretending we are too important to eat lunch or far more intellectual than those focused on the break everyone else seems to be gearing up for. The middle class is particularly good at this act. We throw around statistics and debate the pros and cons of particular government policies as if somehow, those clamouring for lunch/change don’t know what they are doing.

It’s possible they don’t. But like I said, as a lecturer, it really doesn’t matter how lofty your thoughts are. At that point, you simply have to wrap up and pick up from where you left off in the next session. Because here is a fact none of us can ran away from:

It’s lunchtime.

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What do you think?

Written by Ganzi Isharaza

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