Development – A two-edged sword

Excitement and adventure to be found at Bujagali Falls .... or not.

Excitement and adventure to be found at Bujagali Falls …. or not.

If you look at the travel books like Lonely Planet you can find lots of things to do around the city of Jinja, Uganda. One of the highlights is touted to be a visit to the Bujagali Falls, more a series of rapids that are about ten kilometers north of he city on the Nile River. (The Source of the Nile is another tourist must – the place where John Speke discovered where the 4000 mile long Nile River begins as it flows out of Lake Victoria).

Photos of white tourists bouncing through the rapids in large rafts show just how much adventure can be had in the Bujagali Falls rapids.

But…. it seems there is always a but…

The need for electrical supply for East Africa is great and is mostly supplied by several hydroelectric dams. The biggest one is just below the Nile source in the city of Jinja. In the past few years, a second dam has been constructed just below Bujagali. It opened last year. My understanding is that much of the electricity is sold to neighbouring countries although I must admit that on my recent trip to Uganda there were not the long power blackouts that I had experienced there before.

This is “Development” and it will benefit the region, the government who will sell the electricity, and those who can afford electrical supply. It comes, however, with a price.

The Bujagali Falls are now completely submerged under 15 feet of water. The restaurant that once served tourists has been flooded and dismantled. Young men who once acted as spotters or guides are now trying to convince any visitors to take a sedate boat trip on the resulting lake which was calm as a mill-pond. Large rafts sit piled on the shore. Not a ripple is in sight.

Although I have been to Jinja a few times, I had never visited Bujagali Falls. Last week I took a boda boda (motorcycle taxi) to see the falls. There was one other tourist family of four at the site and me. The spot which had been bustling with tourists four years ago was quiet.

This fellow points to a picture of himself in 2009 working with tourists who were white-water rafting on the Bujagali Falls. He is now unemployed with no income source.

This fellow points to a picture of himself in 2009 working with tourists who were white-water rafting on the Bujagali Falls. He is now unemployed with no income source.

I ended up talking to a couple of the fellows who were trying to convince me to take a boat ride. They said that they received nothing to compensate them for their loss of income. Many people have moved away from the area in search of work. Despite being so close to this power source, they have no electricity. I offered to buy them a soda, both to support the fellow who had a kiosk and to thank them for talking with me. The one fellow asked if he could forgo the soda and get some food with the money. He had not eaten for a while. I ended up buying him both food and a soda.

This story or theme is not uncommon. This kind of Development is deemed to be something favourable to the general economy and it may, in fact, help. But the “little guy”, the less than a dollar a day person we hear so much about, does not seem to benefit and often suffers. On the other side of Jinja there is a fish processing plant that receives, cleanse, fillets and freezes Nile Perch caught in Lake Victoria. The plant is owned by internationals and all of the fish are sent to Europe and beyond for consumption. The local people can not afford the fish at the price that the plant can get from the North so they go without. Resources (fish) are depleted from the lake to feed the developed world in exchange for a few low-paying jobs.

The rich get rich and the poor get poorer.

What used to be a waterfalls/rapids is now flooded and calm.

What used to be a waterfalls/rapids is now flooded and calm.

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