The Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) has until May to decide whether to allow the Madhvani family to develop golf courses at their luxury lodges in two national parks.
This follows a new demand from President Museveni that would see the Madhvanis establish golf courses at Mweya Safari lodge in Queen Elizabeth national park and at Chobe Safari lodge in Murchison Falls national park.
Museveni’s request came as he commissioned 430 new UWA rangers at Paraa training school in Murchison Falls national park on Wednesday.
“I have one problem with you people in tourism. I made a request about six to seven years ago of a hotelier who wanted to create a golf course in Mweya and also here in Chobe …it is now six years, nothing has been done,” a soft-sounding Museveni said.
“I leave that with you. I don’t see how the golf course interferes with wildlife,” the president continued. “These are just rich people. They come to play golf and sleep at night. The warthogs come and enjoy the place. Really, I need a solution to this because I have talked about it before.”
The president revealed that he will hold a special meeting with UWA’s board in May to discuss the proposal to put up an electric fence for Murchison Falls national park to protect the neighbouring communities from animals.
Speaking after Museveni’s speech, UWA Board Chairman Benjamin Otto said the onus of approval lay with National Environment Management Authority (Nema). The Madhvanis have since 2006 asked to develop golf courses in both parks but faced stiff opposition from both Nema and UWA.
In 2010 while opening the Chobe lodge, a tough- talking Museveni made a similar request, which he repeated last year. While previous UWA boards have ignored Museveni’s requests, the current board is regarded with suspicion, with some expecting it to cave in. Mani Khan, a former director of tourism operations at Marasa Holdings Ltd, a trading arm of Madhvani group, represents hoteliers on the board.
A spokesperson for the Usaid-funded Tourism for Biodiversity programme, Abiaz Rwamwiri, believes the board has the power to decide either way. But former UWA Board Chairman John Nagenda says the course must be rejected.
“It would be entirely wrong for golf courses to be built in national parks because it would restrict the movement of animals. At Mweya lodge, for example, where they cross the peninsular, it means you would have to stop animals crossing, which isn’t right,” Nagenda said.
Nagenda dismisses the president’s argument that investors would not hurt the national parks.
“People who go to the parks don’t go there to play. If they want to play golf, they know where to find it … a lot of diehard conservationists throughout the world are going to stop coming to our national parks if they hear that golf courses are being built.”
According to a board member, who preferred anonymity, the golf course issue has already come up before the board, less than a year since it was appointed.
“We have rejected it because recreational activities would interfere with conservation … Golf courses are maintained using chemicals, which can intoxicate our animals,” the board member noted.
But another board member, who preferred anonymity, said the decision to deny the Madhvani’s land in the parks followed an environment impact assessment by Makerere University’s Dr Basuuta Isabirye.
UWA’s Executive Director Dr Andrew Seguya told The Observer that the Madhvanis were likely to get land at Karuma as part of the Karuma hydro power project.
“They [Madhvanis] have been given land at Karuma under the energy project and the PS [Permanent Secretary] ministry of Energy is handling it,” Dr Seguya said.