F.C. Oweyegha-Afunaduula, Frank Muramuzi & Martin Musumba: National Association of Professional Environmentalists (NAPE) and Save Bujagali Crusade (SBC)

P.O. Box 29909, KAMPALA, UGANDA   email: pddmuk@swiftuganda.com


This Second World Forum is significant for many reasons:

First, it is being held at the beginning of this century - a century which promises to be dominated by technological, educational and environmental considerations of human welfare and future. Already, we are accustomed to talking, not so much about the technological future of our generation but environmental future. The literature about environment is now punctuated with references to environmental peace, rights, security and future in the face of increasing surrender of human thinking to machines and to the culture of money.

Second, the Forum is being held when there is much debate about the social, cultural, ecological and environmental repercussions of pursuing development through the damming of rivers. Not only is this avenue to development being questioned in view of its wreckage of human rights, livelihood, and survival of the poor for whom it is often claimed to be pursued, but also many voices now regard it as both "forced development" and "de-development".

Third, governments in the poor regions of the world and the multilateral institutions which have often chosen this type of development are no longer the automatic decision-makers on whether or not development projects with the potential to wreck cultures, ecologies, and environments should proceed to be erected on rivers. Decision making and public policy-making are now generated through complex decision and policy networks that are loose alliances of government agencies, international organizations, corporations and elements of civil society such as non-governmental organizations (NGOs) professional associations, community or citizen pressure groups or religious groups that join together to achieve what none can accomplish on its own. Such alliances have exposed traditional institutions and governments as incapable of generating decisions and/or policy instruments that are intricate or holistic enough to accommodate the complex array of thinking, practice and interpretations that are not narrowly enveloped. New institutions with such capacity are springing up and emphasizing inter connectivity of knowledge, ideas and disciplines as well as social and natural phenomena, but governments and traditional institutions are still resisting this change.

Fourth, the forum is taking place only a few days after the March 14 2000 International Day of Action Against Dams and for Rivers, Water and Life. The message was clear: "No more dams. Reparations for Affected people. Dams do not last for ever but the havoc they wreck on rivers, water and life lingers on".

We from NAPE and SBC are pleased to be present at this Forum. We wish to contribute our ideas to the Forum in form of this small submission. "River water use and management in Uganda: environmental vision needed".

Managing Water Today:

It is true nothing ever stays the same. Rivers keep on remodeling their banks and courses. The chemistry, composition, quality or quantity of their waters keep on changing too. These changes, however, must be managed actively rather than letting nature take its own course. Management must be geared towards enhancing the livelihoods, survival and futures of those who have always depended on the rivers.

Managing water these days is more about keeping it within nature's bounds than fighting it. Doing so, however, requires that those who use and manage water have an environmental vision. This vision must be guided by the recognition that the environment, of which rivers are a part and not apart, is multidimensional with the dimensions themselves being multidimensional.

Thus the vision should recognize environment as consisting of the ecological-biological dimension, the socio-cultural dimension, the socio-economic dimension and the time dimension, each of them with technological, cultural, social, economic, spiritual, ecological, moral, ethical, psychological and other dimensions.

Accordingly, the vision should stress the interconnectedness and dynamism of all the components of the environment.

Only such vision can be the basis of building a profound culture of environmental peace and security in which water quantity and quality are manageable on a sustainable basis.

Unfortunately, the vision is lacking in most water management plans and strategies. At least this is the case in Uganda; particularly where river water use and management is concerned. Integrated water management and use is largely absent. "Let nature take its own course" attitude predominates despite recent progress in environmental legislation and the existence of the National Environment Management Authority (NEMA).

The Nile Basin:

Uganda is the proud home to the source of the River Nile, the longest river in Africa which empties its contents into the Mediterranean Sea. Uganda is endowed with many small streams and swamps - both seasonal and permanent. The country also, together with Kenya and Tanzania, is home to the largest freshwater lake in Africa - Lake Victoria - lying in a huge basin in which the source of the Nile is located. The area is referred to as Nile Basin

The Reasoning

This submission concentrates on River Nile and the use and management of its waters. It reasons that management of the river and its waters has been a nighthmare because it lacks an environmental vision, emphasis having been on economic aspects and political gains for those in power only - but not necessarily for the purpose of building a healthy economy.

It further reasons that although in Lake Victoria and River Nile, Uganda has the potential to use her waters for real development, water management has not been the driving force behind its economy in the past and present; that increasingly donor funds are driving the economy; and that recently these have targeted the Nile where a cascade of 6 huge dams have been proposed to be built for hydropower, including the Bujagali Dam.

Management for Hydropower:

In reality, therefore, there is no systematic management of the Nile waters. "Let nature take its own course", as stated else where in this article, is the preferred management option.

When the waters of the Nile have been managed, the aim has been to halt them behind huge concrete walls for the purpose of generating hydropower-ostensibly to bring about development and ostensibly fight poverty.

This is what happened in 1949-54 when Owen Falls Dam was built and commissioned. Forty-five years later, however, the waters behind the dam are heavily silted, the dam concrete is cracking and poverty-human and biological- has never been worse. The recently completed Owen Falls Extension Dam and the proposed Bujagali Falls dam, whose justification is to generate hydropower ostensibly to power Kenyan industries, are not likely to contribute to poverty reduction for the absolute majority. Owen Falls dam never did.

Unfortunately, management of water for hydropower so often reduces the ecological, environmental, spiritual and cultural value of such sites. When Owen Falls Dam was built, the surrounding forest, human habitations, Rippon Falls and the source of the Nile were all submerged. We shall never know the cultural capital that was lost. Today, however, the cultural capital represented by Bujagali Falls is enormous since the indigenous community of 2.4 million Basoga and the ethics of their clans are culturally integrated in the falls

Management for cultural Death?

When the Bujagali falls disappear the Basoga will be culturally detached from the site and most likely suffer cultural death! This way Bujagali Falls will be managed not so much for hydropower and development as for the cultural death of an entire indigenous people! A people without culture are as good as dead and, therefore, development that begins by killing indigenous culture cannot be said to be real development since it deculturises the people whose culture is killed.

Environmentally-sensitive development demands that any river water management for energy ensures harmony between indigenous culture and the environment on the one hand, and one the other, indigenous culture and development in a culture environment - development continuum. There is no indication that the planners of the Bujagali Dam, the Owen Falls Extension Dam and the other dams to be built in the Nile basin in Uganda had an environmental vision in mind. Neither is it evident that investment in hydropower in Uganda has any environmental vision. Economics and politics seem to be the overriding factors and cultural death its ultimate result. It is sad that the local politicians, donor institutions and the energy developers have staked their reputations in such environmentally, culturally, and ecologically bankrupt projects.

Historical Basis of Water Management in Uganda:

That economics and politics are the goal of hydropower developments in Uganda rather than human development, may be explained by reference to the colonial treaties and the legal regime of the Nile Valley (Ntambirweki, 1993) that have governed institutional and government interactions with its waters.

Virtually all of the treaties were about constructing or not constructing dams, or on who should have or not have a particular political and economic sphere of influence. Therefore, the treaties were designed for economic or political reasons: not for environmental reasons:

(i)The agreement between Italy and the United Kingdom (UK) of 15 April 1891 included a provision whereby the Italian Government would not construct any works that would divert or modify the flow of the Atbara into the Nile.

(ii)The treaty of 15 May 1902 between UK (acting for Egypt and the Sudan) and Ethiopia defined the boundaries of the Sudan and other British Possessions bordering on Ethiopia. In addition, Ethiopia would not construct any works on the Blue Nile, Lake Tsana and the Sobat which would arrest their flow into the Nile except with the agreement of the UK and the Government of Sudan.

(iii)The Treaty of 9 May 1906 between the UK and the Independent state of the Congo (ISC) included a provision requiring ISC not to construct any works on the Semliki or Isangu River which would diminish the volume of water entering Lake Victoria except on agreement with Sudan Government

(iv)The Tripartite Agreement of 13 April 1906. This was between UK, France and Italy. The three were required to co-operate in preserving the interest of UK and Egypt in the waters of the Nile and its tributaries.

(v)Agreements between UK and Egypt. These were quite many and included:

The Nile Waters Agreement of 1929, which sought to divide the waters of the Nile between Egypt and Sudan. UK was to desist from constructing irrigation or power works in Sudan that could reduce or delay the water destined for Egypt.
The supplementary Agreement of 1932. This allowed the building of Jebel Awliya Dam near Khartoum on the Blue Nile for the benefit of Egypt. It was to be funded by Egypt.
Owen Falls Agreement of 30 May 1949, 5 December and 5 January 1953. By this, Egypt was to participate in the construction of Owen Falls Dam in Uganda and the use of Lake Victoria as a storage reservoir of water for Egypt. Egypt was to compensate the East African states for any damage due to rising water in the Lake.
The Agreement of Co-operation February 1950. Egypt and the colonial government in Uganda were to undertake joint hydrological and meteorological surveys.
The Supplementary Agreement of 1952 This was between Egypt and Sudan. The level of the Sennar Dam and Jebel Awliya Reservoir was raised and construction of a dam at the fourth contract was allowed.

Egypt has however, consistently asserted the doctrine of all benefits of an international river to lower riparian countries. But the Nile Commission of 1925 rejected it, and international law does not allow absolute territorial integrity doctrine as well.

In otherwords, as far as the Nile waters are concerned, they qualify to be "The commons" (Berkes, et. al. 1989) that can only be managed collectively for collective "common good". In fact, the International Law Commission, in its 1979 report, urged both upper and lower riparian states to take due account of the interests of each other. Each Basin state, however, is entitled, within its territory, to a reasonable and equitable share in the beneficial uses of the waters of the international drainage basin (Ntambirweki, 1993).

Although this is the case, Uganda soon after independence in 1962, repudiated all the treaties relating to the use and management of the Nile waters, and in accordance with law (Ntambirweki, 1993). Even Egypt had refused to pay compensation for damaged lakeside properties as required by the colonial treaties.

Current Nile River Water use and Management: the Approaches:

While urging new policy options for the Nile Legal Regime 2000 and beyond, Ntambirweki (1993), suggested the following three approaches:

(i) The Bilateral Approach, requiring bilateral negotiations, including settlement of environment-related issues;

(ii) The Multilateral Approach, involving formal and informal multilateral groups. The latter are not based on any concrete legal basis in form of a binding treaty. An example is the meetings between the Permanent Joint Technical Commission (PJTC) and the representatives of Kenya Tanzania and Uganda. It suffers from lack of defined obligations and objectives, which weakens its value in settling water-related issues between riparian states.

(iii) Creation of Basinwide Organizations such as the Kagera River Basin Treaty that was signed by the Heads of State of Burundi, Rwanda and Tanzania on 24 August 1977, came into force in February 1978 and was accede to by Uganda on 19 May 1981.

Water Rights and Water Conflicts:

As far as the Nile River issues are concerned, conflicts relating to water rights continue to be politically sensitive and a thorny problem in water management.

In the early 1990s, a so-called Nile Commission Agreement (NCA) was designed. Unfortunately, it failed to provide for water rights allocation between various states. Yet the assertions of the lower riparian states for rights over the territories of the upper riparian states continue. The claims of the upper riparian states to the contrary also continue to bog water use management. It is under these conditions that new huge dams are being proposed for Uganda on the Nile as a technological and development choice. The potential of the choice to violate water rights and heighten water conflicts in the Nile Basin is high.

Recent Developments in Water Resource Management in Uganda:

Some interesting things are happening that have consequences for River Nile water use and management in future.

On 30th November 1999 the International Finance Corporation (IFC) held a workshop at Kampala Sheraton Hotel on strategic environmental assessment of Victoria Nile Hydroelectric and other potential Uganda Power developments.


NAPE and SBC insist that the Nile should not be burdened by other huge dams, and Owen Falls Dam which is now aged, silted and cracked should be deconstructed as a strategy in environmentally consuming water management. The two argue that small hydro dams combined with solar, wind, and fuel wood energy development should be part of such strategy.


On 21st February 2000 high level environmental experts in the International Finance Corporation (IFC) and the World Bank held discussions in Kampala with top leadership of NAPE and SBC concerning the proposed Bujagali Project.


The National Environment Management Authority (NEMA) on November 1 1999 approved AES Nile Power's Bujagali Dam Project. AES Nile power claims to be a local subsidiary of AES of US Inc which has been involved in many corruption scandals worldwide and claims to be a socially responsible firm.


On November 8, 1999 the Uganda Parliament gave the go-ahead for the construction of the US $500 million hydropower dam at Bujagali Falls. If constructed, the dam would consume 390 hectares of land, flooding the Nile all the way to the base of the existing Owen Falls Dam, thereby (i) creating a huge habitat for the vectors of malaria and schistosomiasis parasites, and in parts, for the dirty water borne parasites casing tuberculosis, cholera, typhoid fever and dysentery; and (ii) forcing peasants to move.


The Uganda government is currently fidgeting with implementation of legislation to regulate the activities of NGOs and citizen (pressure) groups, particularly those that have been active against environmentally - bankrupt investment/development policies and projects.


New institutions that seek to manage water resources through research, etc have sprang up:

1.Lake Victoria Fisheries Organisation (LVFO). This was established by convention on 30th June 1994 in Kisumu, Kenya. It is now recognized as one of the institutions of the revived East African Community whose treaty was signed November 1999. The main objective of LVFO is to foster cooperation between the three riparian states (Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda) of Lake Victoria to harmonize rational measures for the sustainable use of fisheries resources of the basin and develop/adopt conservation and management measures.

2.Integrated Lake Management Project in Uganda (ILMPU). This is a new five-year initiative funded by the British Department of International \Development and complemented through the Ministry of Local \Government by the Marine Resources Assessment Group (UK) LTD and Care International in Uganda. Its aim is stated as "the empowerment and securing of rural livelihoods through the sustainable management of the natural resources of Lake George and Lake Kyoga.

3.Lake Victoria Environmental Conservation Project (LVECP) This one is a World-Bank funded projecte said to be commuted to the environmental conservation of the Lake Victoria waters/resources

4.Environmental Conservation Science in Uganda (ECSU) This is a joint venture in research on aquatic resources between the University of Florida (UF) in the US, Makerere University and Fisheries Institute at Jinja, Uganda, UF extends small grants to Ugandan researchers for the purpose of building capacity in environmental conservation science for aquatic resources management.

5.Nile Basin Initiative (NBI) This is the brainchild of the World Bank. It is supported by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) which in the past supported a controversial Mekong River Basin plan that included numerous dams. The language in NBI indicates a major push for hydropower and for huge dams and other river engineering schemes.

Launched in Dar-es-Salaam in February 1999, NBI is presented as a regional partnership within which countries of the Nile Basin have united in common pursuit of the sustainable development and management of Nile Waters. The countries involved - Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo, Egypt, Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda, Sudan, Tanzania, and Uganda- are said to have, for the first time in the history of Nile River Basin politics, expressed a serious concern about the need for a joint venture under the transitional arrangement (NBI) until a permanent legal framework is in place.

NBI is being paraded as the successor to the Technical Cooperation Committee for the promotion of the development and environmental protection of the Nile Basin (TECCONILE) launched on December 8 1992 and signed by Egypt, Rwanda, Sudan, Tanzania, Uganda and Zaire. TECCONILE had been expected to assist member states in the development, conservation and use of the Nile Basin water resources in an integrated and sustainable manner through basinwide cooperation for the benefit of all. It was also to assist the states to determine the equitable entitlement of each riparian state to the Nile waters.

NBI is also being sold as an opportunity for Win-Win development for present and future generations and a new expression of shared vision" to achieve sustainable socio-economic development through the equitable utilization of, and benefit from the common Nile Basin water resources.

Unfortunately, therefore, the shared vision puts economic development, not environmental development, at the centre of its goal. It claims participatory decision-making in hydropower development and interconnections, irrigation, and drainage, environmental management, river regulation drought and flood control, and water use efficiency improvements. However, the initiative is to be donor-driven, implying that priorities will finally have to be set by those who give the money.

6.The 1995 Environment Management Act has provision protecting rivers and lakes from unsound development projects.

The Future:

All indications point to water use and management in Uganda falling squarely into the hands of multilateral institutions, with the government being only a conduit for decisions made elsewhere.

With the money motive being at the centre of development efforts, unwanted projects are likely to continue to be imposed on especially River Nile in the name of development. However, with rising civil awareness of the destructive effects of such projects, water conflicts or conflicts in water use and management are likely to increase.

Water quality is therefore likely to continue deteriorating since water quality management is not the focus. This will be a major environmental problem of the 21st Century competing with waste dumping in Africa by Western corporations.

The future of Ugandans demands that preservation of water and river systems remains a basic precondition for long term health, social-economic sustainability, environmental security and national credit worthiness. The continuing questioning of the imposition of huge dam projects on River Nile presents an opportunity to planners and politicians to rethink current land water management emphasizing financial profit.

Hydroconservation should override hydropolitical lunacy. The latter seems to be dictating the attitude of Uganda's politicians to River Nile waters of emphasizing water economics and politics, excluding the public from water use and management decision making. As Falkenmark (1996) has cautioned, the water cycle is a non-negotiable phenomenon. Moreover, water-related issues are complex and cannot be reduced to hydropower. Neither can intercultural difficulties in the water sector be reduced to the operations of the culture of money and the culture of secrecy. If this is done, then it reflects lipservice to the value of preserving biodiversity and biocultural diversity which our river waters are associated with.

The truth which must be part of future development plans is that dams have a fixed lifespan and their benefits are transitory whereas much of the ecological damage they cause is permanent (Reeves and Leatherwood (1998). Therefore, they cannot be part of long-range planning.

Lastly but not least proper water use and management of the future demands that planners stop defining environmental effects only in terms of human welfare, ignoring the loss of traditional human use of the river (e.g. Dixon, et. al. 1989).

Ideally, river water resource management is a process through which society exercises equitable and sustainable control, distribution and exploitation of the resource (see also Bahuguna, et. al. 1994). Only by emphasizing this can we escape from the current appeal of megaprojects on the Nile, political investment in such projects (Dixon, et. al. 1989) and, therefore, the on-going land/water mismanagement (Falkanmark, 1996) in the Nile Basin.

For a clear message for the future of river water use and management in Uganda, we can only end this article by repeating the cryphrase of the "International Day of Action Against Dams and for Rivers, Water and Life thus:

"No more dams. Reparations for affected people! Restore rivers by decommissioning dams! Dams do not last forever.


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