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Big End of Year Decisions Impact the Fate of the Nile

November 2019 marked my 17th year whitewater paddling in Uganda and the 16th year of Soft Power Health’s work in Uganda. Boy does time fly bye when you are not paying attention to it! Despite the construction of two dams and flooding of many of the favorite paddling spots on the Nile during that time, this last stay to Uganda proved that there is still plenty of great whitewater and playboating available on demand, anytime – a spoiling treat anywhere else in the world and there too!

Uganda, Whitewater vs Power

Uganda remains one of my favorite places to paddle on earth and has many world class play spots and rapids even with 2 dams! Imagine the mightiness of the Nile, a river that can still have so much to offer even with two mega dams (actually 3 in total with the initial dam built in the 1950s at Owen Falls)?! And the water is warm all year round!! There is much to learn and do there for paddlers of all skill levels.

Chandra Brown came back to kayak with me and document the unfolding situation with the extended Kalagala Offset Area which had recently been declared a special conservation area by president Yoweri Musevini.  It was great to have her there to bare witness to all that was happening and to share everything that was happening both on and off the river in real time.

There had been a 5-year build-up regarding what would happen to this most unique section of the aorta of Africa. Two dams and many unnecessary unintended consequences on the path of “development” have lead Uganda to where it is today and to the questions looming about what next will happen. The due date for answers – at least some of them – was the 3rd of December. On this day, the meeting between the Inspection panel of the World Bank, the World Bank’s policing arm, with the World Bank Board and the Board’s president, David Malpass, took place. The inspection Panel was sharing its investigation of the harms caused by the flooding of the Kalagala Offset Area with the board and publicly publishing its findings for the first time.  According to the Inspection Panel, the World Bank is bearing most of the blame for allowing the protected Kalagala Offset Area to be flooded and looking the other way while it happened, stating only that “the World Bank did not build Isimba Dam and therefore had no control over the size of that dam’s reservoir and its consequences.” We all know that it’s not quite that simple but the World Bank would rather forget that!  Even now, the knowledge and understanding gap between Washington and Kampala remains enormous. David Malpass the World Bank’s president is committed to clean power in the form of mega hydro dams. It’s hard to understand how displacing thousands of people, destroying a unique biodiverse area home to some of the World’s most endangered animals like pangolins and cutting off the main artery of Africa is called clean!

Though the designation of a special conservation area sounds promising, many unanswered questions swirl around as to how this offset area will be managed and protected, and how people living in the offset will be treated. Will they be kicked off their land or allowed to remain? And underpinning all of this is how the sustainable management plan will be paid for. Without money, nothing will happen.

The World Bank says Uganda will pay for this plan but its hard to understand how, when Uganda remains so heavily in debt from the construction of both the Bujagali and Isimba dams. Chandra set about researching as much as she could while she was there and paddled with me every day.

The paddling was a great way to escape all the unanswered questions and just immerse ourselves in the magnificence of the Nile. Even two dams and many flooded rapids and kilometers of river could not dampen the impressiveness of what is still there and very much alive on the Nile – its stunning, no matter which section of the river, even after all these years!  Any of it is very much worth saving and protecting for current and future generations. In fact, it is hard to imagine how much life on the African continent will be supported with severe damage to its main artery. Thus, I am so grateful to have people like Chandra Brown, Haley Buffman as well as Sam and Emily Ward as well as many motivated local citizens of Uganda interested and catalyzed into action to save and protect what’s left.  It’s an important lesson in the power of collective action and tenacity. So far, a dedicated group of people are helping to make a positive future for part of this most amazing river in the World for now and the future. So that’s something to really give thanks for and celebrate during the holidays!

Uganda, Whitewater vs Power

If you are interested to read the Inspection Panel’s report first hand, here is the link: