Earlier this month, I traveled to Uganda for a documentary movie work. Mahesh, a photographer friend of mine joined in too. Our work was in Kampala (the capital city) but we took few days off to go to a nearby place called Jinja. The white Nile starts from lake Victoria in Jinja. There used to be several waterfalls in the river, leading to some great rapids, amazing for white water rafting (and kayaking). Rafting in the Nile is one of the only unique tourist attractions that Uganda has. Uganda competes with neighbouring countries in East Africa for tourism – mainly Kenya and Rwanda. Kenya has everything that a tourist needs from a jungle safari and Rwanda attracts tourists for Gorilla sighting.
Gorillas are there in Uganda too but Rwanda has a time saving advantage (you can do a day trip from the nearest airport; a Gorilla trip in Uganda will need a minimum of 2 days on the other hand). So water sports is what Uganda has. But only a handful of rapids remain now in the country. Without good rapids, rafting / kayaking will not be attractive. Continuous construction of dams in Uganda to meet it electricity requirement has been eating up the rapids. As tourist inflow declines, it will have a huge impact on many businesses (a report estimated inflow of almost 500 million USD annually to Ugandan economy from tourism).
Rafting in the Nile is one of the only unique tourist attractions that Uganda has.
We did rafting on a set of one such rapids that still exists, via Nile River Explorers. None of these rapids might remain after few years.
Ugandans, like most other folks from the east African countries are known for running marathons. Rafting and kayaking are the only few other sports where they have also started to show their talent. Juma, or Yo as he calls himself, is one such sportsperson. I interviewed him for the documentary. He was also our rafting guide. In spite of being poor and all that, the reason Yo could learn kayaking was because international kayakers came to Uganda for its rapids. Once the rapids are gone, the new generation of Ugandans will most likely never pick up the sport. Thus, the impact of these dams goes beyond just putting tourism to rest.
Jeff, who leads a “Save Adventure Tourism in Uganda” campaign has listed down on his website, some of the things that the international community can do, to help save the rapids in Uganda. Isimba is an ongoing dam project. Apparently, some of the great rapids can be saved, even if Isimba dam is constructed, only if the least-height option is selected from amongst the three options that were considered before the Project started.
As of now, the max-height option is being executed and that will submerge most good rapids. Jeff argues that though like any developing country, Uganda needs electricity, a balance between saving the natural resources and development needs to be achieved.
It was interesting for me to travel to Uganda to make a documentary, and during the course of my stay there, stumble upon a totally new story. I would like to thank Eliot, the Irish guesthouse owner (Source of the Smile) at Jinja for introducing me to Jeff. I would like to thank Jeff for his time and insights and for introducing me to Yo (Juma). And most of all I would like to thank Yo for candidly sharing with me, on camera, what he felt about the whole issue. Yo is a very interesting character and I am sure this documentary would not have come out the way it has, had he not been our rafting guide that day. I hope you like this story. Feel free to share.