Baz Waiswa

Baz Waiswa

River Rwizi Restoration Ambition On Course Despite Pressure On Supporting Wetlands

Efforts to restore River Rwizi in western Uganda are picking up momentum with stakeholders each day emphasizing their commitment to having the water body restored to its natural state after many years of degradation.

This year, as part of the Water and Environment Week commemoration, a two-day symposium on the restoration of River Rwizi Catchment was planned on 19th and 20th March in Mbarara but a COVID-19 scare and a ban on the public gathering by President Yoweri Museveni reduced it to half a day on 19th March at Lake View Hotel in Mbarara.

The symposium convened by Advocates Coalition for Development (ACODE) in partnership with Ministry of Water & Environment (MWE), National Planning Authority (NPA), Mbarara District Local Government, Green Economy Coalition (GEC) and Youth Go Green was responding to the need to save River Rwizi.

The over 8,200km long river, commencing its gentle journey from its base in Buhweju & snaking through the hills and valleys of Ankole supplying domestic, agricultural and industrial water to people along its course connecting to Lake Victoria, its final destination, has suffered the wrath of the very people it serves.

River Rwizi, serving about 12 local government administrative districts in the vast great Ankole subregion has over the years been facing extinction due to human activities that have degraded wetlands surrounding it. Its water levels have significantly dried up.

Human activities like sand mining, industrial dumping, planting of eucalyptus trees, farming and intentional blocking of the river course have threatened its existence; something environmentalists who spoke at the symposium condemned and vowed to defeat through a multi-sectoral approach.

JB Tumusiime, the Mbarara District chairperson, also the chairman Rwizi Catchment Management Committee, noted that ministry of water and environment, National Environment Management Authority (NEMA) and the district leadership alone cannot fight this vice and succeed.

“The restoration of degraded wetlands requires a multi-sectoral approach. It is everybody’s role. It is every leader’s role to make sure that we restore the wetlands,” Tumusiime said at the symposium encouraging politicians intending to vie for political offices not to interfere with the works of the technical team working to end degrading of wetlands supporting River Rwizi.

Innocent Nabaasa, an official from NEMA, in his presentation revealed that the ‘level of impunity’ by people permanently blocking the river is high.

“People no longer access water anymore. The river provides water for watering of animals. And because of the blockages due to unregulated human activities, the river is forced to change its course,” noted Nabaasa.

Louis Mugisha, of Victoria Management Zone at the ministry of water and environment, in agreement with Nabaasa acknowledged that they have lived with the impunity for too long it has been normalized.

He said the ministry is working on restoring wetlands, working on enhancing of water storage at various catchment centres, demarcating River Rwizi, fundraising for needed funds, improving livelihoods of people living around the affected water bodies among other interventions.

Dr Arthur Bainomugisha, the executive director of ACODE, noted that the experience of River Rwizi will guide them on how to approach other water bodies facing similar challenges in the country.

 

“River Rwizi is not the only river suffering. River Mpologoma and River Kafu are rivers that are dying and the experience we get here is what we will use to work on these other rivers,” Dr Bainomugisha said.

The minister and other stakeholders used the symposium to launch the Rwizi Management Plan before planting symbolic trees in the backyard of Lake View Hotel as a commitment to continue protecting the environment. The theme of the symposium was 'transition to a green economy in Uganda; restoration of River Rwizi Catchment for sustainable livelihoods,'. 

The minister of state for environment Beatrice Anywar in her speech commended the intervention by various stakeholders but noted the need to involve more stakeholders. "We need to do more. Stop degrading our environment. In the near future, we shall not want the use of plastics in this country. Talking must stop and take action." 

CSOs Want MPs To Censure Energy Minister Over Murchison Falls Feasibility Study

Over 19 Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) have written to the Speaker of Parliament requesting that parliamentarians censure the minister of energy over the energy ministry's continued push to develop a dam at Murchison Falls.

In a letter to the Speaker of Parliament Alitwala Rebecca Kadaga, the CSOs described government’s interest in carrying out a feasibility study for a dam at Murchison Falls on River Nile in Murchison Falls National Park (MFNP) as unfortunate because of known environment risks.

When appearing before parliament’s Natural Resources Committee last month, State Minister for Energy, Simon D’Ujanga indicated that government would go ahead with conducting a feasibility study for a planned dam at the Murchison Falls.

The minister also confirmed that the government of Uganda signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with South Africa’s Bonang Power and Energy Ltd to undertake the feasibility study in December 2019.

This was in total disregard of parliament and other Ugandans’ objection to the planned dam, the CSOs said, adding that an electricity-generating dam at Murchison Falls will inevitably destroy the Murchison Falls landscape which is a major eco-system and tourism site.

“Clearly, the minister and executive’s position to go ahead with the feasibility study undermines the role of parliament as an institution that represents all Ugandans. The minister and executive’s position is also against public interest as it will hurt community livelihoods, tourism, fisheries, employment opportunities and cultures among others. This has been variously pointed out by many stakeholders including communities, cultural institutions, CSOs, tour operators, government agencies and others.

It is noteworthy that government is also going against Ugandans’ wishes on a dam at Murchison Falls when available evidence shows that government’s spending spree on hydropower dams has only increased Uganda’s indebtedness amidst low power access, high power prices, low job creation, increased poverty rates from 19% to 27% and unacceptable destruction of biodiversity.

For the government to desire to construct another hydropower dam and destroy the mighty Murchison Falls amidst the above failures demonstrates the highest level of government failure to appreciate the importance of tourism and other industries in the country. It also demonstrates a high level of impunity.

Through this letter, the undersigned CSOs are calling on parliament to use the powers vested in the institution under Article 118 of the 1995 Uganda Constitution to censure the minister of energy and stop impunity. This will serve as a warning to other government officials who disregard the recommendations of institutions such as parliament and the voices of Ugandans.

Parliament is our hope to fight government impunity that has led to the destruction of environmental resources including forests, national parks, rivers, lakes, wetlands and others. Let us not allow Murchison Falls to also get destroyed,” reads part of the letter dated February 26, 2020.

 

Togo Buoyed By 50MW Photovoltaic Solar Power Complex, The Largest In West Africa

The African Energy Chamber congratulated the Republic of Togo for breaking ground on its 50MW Mohamed Bin Zayed Photovoltaic Solar Power Complex today in Blitta.

The project was launched in presence of H.E. Faure E. Gnassingbe, President of the Republic of Togo, and Hussain Al Nowais, Chairman of AMEA Power, the company in charge of designing, financing, building, launching, operating and maintaining the facility.

The Moyamed Bin Zayed Solar PV Complex is West Africa's largest ongoing solar PV project and supports Togo's ambitions to increase its rural electrification rate to 50% by 2022, and 100% by 2030.

"AMEA Power is a foreign investor who understands Africa and has demonstrated a commitment to supporting local content wherever it operates," declared Nj Ayuk, Executive Chairman of the African Energy Chamber and CEO of the Centurion Law Group.

"As public and private sector interest for Africa grows in the Middle East, such players are most welcomed. Their work in and with Africa contributes to the development of a sustainable and prosperous future."

The project further confirms the growing presence of AMEA Power in the continent. The UAE-based company has become a serious investor in Africa's energy sector and represents the growing appetite of private players and investors from the Middle East to invest in Africa.

At the end of 2019, Saudi Arabia-based ACWA Power signed two long-term power purchase agreements for 250MW of solar PV projects in Ethiopia, while state-owned ADNOC is reportedly looking at several investments into the African upstream oil & gas sector.

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Civil Society Writes To ERA Demanding For Banang's Technical Capacity Profile

Fifteen Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) have written to the Electricity Regulatory Authority (ERA) demanding that the regulator provides them with information regarding Banang Power and Energy Limited and its technical capacity and financial standing that will enable the company to undertake a feasibility study for a dam to be constructed at the Uhuru Falls in an environmental and human rights compatible manner.

The letter signed by Yoram Banyenzai, the Chairperson of Guild Presidents' Forum on Governance (GPFOG) also requested ERA to provide them with information that shows how Bonang was procured to conduct a feasibility study for a dam at Uhuru Falls.

The CSOs say that while ERA invited communities and stakeholders to make comments on Banang Power and Energy Limited application to be granted a license to establish a 360MW hydropower plant at Murchison Falls, a chorused public outcry made it clear that no hydropower dam should be erected at the falls.

The environmentalists and tourism enthusiasts enjoyed temporary victory in August when Ephraim Kamuntu told the public that the cabinet had agreed to stop the planned dam at Murchison Falls.

But only three months later, in November, the cabinet approved a feasibility study to be undertaken for the development of a dam at the Uhuru Falls which are located near Murchison Falls. Experts say a dam at Uhuru would affect Murchison Falls.

Even with protests by the public and environmentalists, the minister for energy Irene Muloni this month told journalists that an MoU had been signed with Banang to undertake the feasibility study.

It is upon this background that the CSOs are requesting that ERA provides them with information about Banang's technical and financial capacity to carry out the study and the process through which Banang was selected.

"Our requests are made in light of the fact that our investigations on Bonang Power and Energy (Pty) Ltd led us to believe that the company lacks the technical and financial track record needed to undertake a feasibility study and develop a dam in an environmental and human rights compatible manner.

"We cannot let a company whose track record on the construction of hydropower dams is unclear to touch the iconic Murchison Falls, which are visited by over 30% of the 100,000 tourists that visit Murchison Falls National Park," the letter reads in part.

The CSOs in a statement they shared say a background check on Banang revealed that the company was first registered in January 2014 with a one Ernest Moloi as director before being deregistered in April 2017 due to failure to file annual returns.

The company was then re-registered in December 2017 and filed its annual returns on June 26, 2019. Investigations by the CSOs also revealed that before relocating to a yet to be known place, Banang rented a virtual office.

"Surely, a company that seems to have no office of its own, lacks a web presence, lacks clear information on what hydropower projects it has undertaken cannot be trusted with one of Uganda’s most prized tourist attractions, the Murchison and Uhuru Falls.

An investigation of the hydropower works that Bonang Power and Energy Ltd has undertaken reveals unconvincing results. On its website before it was pulled down, the company listed hydropower projects that were ongoing in Africa,” the CSOs say in the letter. 

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