National parks, cultural diversity, the green landscapes and of course more power in upcountry stations have worked together to see the growth of this industry and Uganda’s economy. And we have hardly scratched what we can earn from tourism.
By Vincent Mugaba
Damming the Murchison Falls dam was never going to go away that easy since it first came into the public space mid-year 2019. Uganda's need for more electricity to power our development and improve livelihoods is in no doubt. And nowhere is this truer than in the tourism sector.
Year on year the Uganda government has highlighted tourism as a major foreign exchange earner. National parks, cultural diversity, the green landscapes and of course more power in upcountry stations have worked together to see the growth of this industry and Uganda's economy. And we have hardly scratched what we can earn from tourism.
National assets like the famous Murchison Falls (Kabelega Falls), mountain gorillas, conferences et al are one of the major reasons for growth in tourism receipts. Not only have these brought in more money in the national coffers, but have also empowered individuals and families through the provision of jobs and business.
And this is where I agree with the drive to grow our power production capacity. When we go to Uganda's most popular park, we will need to stay in accommodations with power. The local economies that depend on tourism will also need power. However, should we increase power generation at the expense of what we have already achieved in tourism and other sectors?
Uganda's current power crisis is not so much that we don't have enough power. Actually we have more than we currently need.
The Umeme Annual Report 2018 published on 25th March 2019 states that Uganda's total installed power capacity is 984MW. With the commissioning of Isimba and later Karuma dams, the total power generated is to rise to 1,782MW. This leaves us with a surplus of 1,182MW based on the current peak demand of about 600MW.
According to the New Vision article To Dam or Not Dam Murchison Falls, the National Planning Authority projects Uganda's power needs to be at 40,000MW by 2040. That is just 20 years away.
Looking at it in context, such a level of power demand is just over a third of the current power capacity in Africa. Or put another way that is having twice the capacity of the Three Gorges Dam of China.
Closer to home, 40,000MW is the expected output from the planned Great Inga Dam in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
With the current peak capacity power demand at about 600MW even with doubling demand every 7 years, in 20 years Uganda would need 4,800MW. Even if we used the installed capacity of 1,782MW, which is in excess of our current consumption, our power need would be 14,256MW. So, where does NPA get the projected 40,000MW?
The International Hydropower Association puts Uganda's total energy power potential at about 5,300 MW including about 2,200 MW of hydropower. To bridge the 3,300MW plus gap, our future lies in the largely undeveloped energy sources like solar, co-generation (from the private sectors like Kakira and SCOUL sugar), and geothermal. Nuclear is not an option. Uganda would need to build at least 5 plants - based on South Korea's Kori which at 7,411MW is the world's largest.
Another alternative is to buy from the regional energy pool. When the Ethiopia Grand Renaissance Dam (6,000MW) comes online in a few years from now, and later DRC's Grand Inga Dam (40,000MW), we will have a large regional power pool to tap into.
Ethiopia and DRC will need clients. We would only pay for what we need. But even if we didn't tap into this pool, Uganda has abundant and clean power sources to tap from.
Our low electrification rate means solar energy brings the quickest return on investment, at the lowest cost. With that, whatever savings government makes can then be ploughed back into other sectors to further support demand for the power generated through industrialization and other usages.
Finally, I am amazed that many of us don't just get tourism. Tourism is just more than wildlife and tourists. It is about culture, it is about business, religion and every other reason that humans have always traveled and visited for at least 24hrs.
So, while some assert that animals and tourists don't sustain governments in power, tourism receipts and jobs for citizens do. According to the Uganda Bureau of Statistics abstract (2018), annual earnings from tourism rose from US$540 million in 2008 to over $ 1,45 billion in 2017. More importantly that growth has meant that at least 667,600 (WTTC 2019) Ugandans are directly employed. Most of these are youth. And this number can only grow when we invest in the tourism sector and protect assets that give us a competitive advantage in the region.
Let's #SaveMurchisonFalls for us and the bazukulu's bazukulu. We can have more electricity and the #MurchisonFalls without a dam.