Disagreements could derail source of Nile investment
Sunday January 23, 2011
THE blocking of a multi-million dollar investment in a zoo at the world-famous Source of the Nile has generated a fresh debate over the development of Jinja as a tourism destination.
Politicians led by Jinja mayor Baswale Kezaala say the zoo will more than double the town’s annual earnings from the current sh40m to sh100m. But, some councillors are strongly opposed to the initiative. Gerald Tenywa recently interacted with the feuding parties
“To gain more from tourism, visitors should spend more time at the Source of the Nile. This means greater revenue for Jinja municipal council,” Baswale Kezaala, said at the end of last year.
Currently, tourists visiting the Source of the Nile bring in sh40m every year. This, according to Kezaala, could rise to sh100m annually with the proposed establishment of a zoo at the toursit site. However, the idea has been opposed by what Kezaala calls a clique of councillors influenced by political motives.
Councillors on the environment and public health committee rejected the proposal when it was brought before them recently.
Councillors speak out
Gladys Nakajuwa, a member of the committee, says their decision was not malicious or politically motivated as the mayor suggests. The zoo proposal was thrown out on technical grounds, she adds.
The committee, Nakajuwa says, could not approve the investment without viability studies.
“We should know who the investors are and how much they are going to invest,” says Nakajuwa. The mayor has to demonstrate how the zoo is going to generate cash and contribute to the sustainability of Jinja, she says.
There is fear of land grabbing by politicians.
“The investors should be open because we cannot approve a wildlife investment that is going to end up grabbing people’s land.”
She adds that they do not know how much land the investment would cover.
“We are talking about prime land. Why is the mayor rushing, and shunning critical questions? He should give us answers, instead of running around saying we are anti-development,” Nakahuwa says.
She says the Government is also working on a comprehensive tourism plan for the Source of the Nile and the entire course of the river from Jinja to Nimule.
“But when this ‘small’ developer came asking for land to set up a zoo with only five animals, including a camel, a donkey and a crocodile, some of us became suspicious.
“This investment is not one of the attractions we want in this town,” she argues.
The mayor, who is a DP member, insists that the committee, dominated by the ruling Movement party politicians, has occasionally frustrated his initiatives.
“My focus is to bring back Jinja’s lost glory. But, I can’t work with councillors who are working round the clock to frustrate such an investment. More revenue means better livelihoods,” he says.
Kezaala says he wants the Source of the Nile to get its deserved place. He had earlier embraced Malaysian investors, who were sent by the Government, but they were fake.
Fortunately, a local pastor came to his rescue with the idea of the zoo, which Kezaala pushed to higher authorities hoping that it would get cleared.
He also points out that Skelletea, a town in Sweden, which has a partnership with Jinja town, was willing to provide part of the investment needed to start the zoo.
“I do not understand why some councillors were elected as policy-makers, if they cannot steer such investments,” says Kezaala. “The zoo is not going to take away anything. It will instead add value to what we have,” he reasons.
He says, although the Government may have a programme for the tourist site, Uganda is a decentralised country. “If we follow the reasoning of the councillors, then decentralisation loses meaning,” says Kezaala. “We are the authorities that should take decisions?”
Simon Kaita, the tourism development officer for Jinja municipality, told Business Vision that the technical people do not have any problem with the proposed establishment of the zoo.
“I do not have anything against the project. The problem is with the politicians,” he says. He says the zoo would be in place by 2012.
But, he adds: “If there is no political will, serious tourism investments will not take off in this town.”
Councillor George Izale, a member of the environment and public health committee, says study tours to Mombasa, Dar-es-Salaam and the Wildlife Education Centre in Entebbe opened the door for development of a zoo at the Source of the Nile.
“We should add value to the Source of the Nile to raise more revenue. I belong to the ruling movement party, but I have put my political differences with the mayor aside to work for better services. We are serving the people not the mayor,” he says.
Second biggest revenue earner
Jinja Taxi Park is the top revenue-earner for the municipality followed by the Source of the Nile. But Kezaala contends that with the establishment of the zoo, the Source of the Nile will take the mantle as the top revenue-earner.
A visit to the Source of the Nile reveals some of the weaknesses of the municipal council when it comes to promotion of tourism.
There are no professional guiding services, creating room for part-time idlers to steal the show. As tourists take self-guided tours, they fall prey to the part-time ‘guides’. These ‘guides’ crudely answer the inquisitive visitors who want to know more about the history, politics, and the culture of the local people.
At the end of their ‘presentations’, they ask for money.
This, according to sources within the municipality, has been encouraged by politicians who protect the ‘guides’ because they are “our voters.”
As if replaying a scene where Jesus encountered traders selling their wares in a temple, noisy bars, handicrafts kiosks and passenger boats are making brisk business at the Source of the Nile without licences. Most of them run to politicians for protection when the municipal authorities attempt to tax them.
Some of the boats plying the spot where the river flows out of Lake Victoria operate without life jackets.
Information on the Source of the Nile and the activities tourists can enjoy is lacking. The only available information is on billboards advertising Bell beer.
The billboards were erected when the Source of the Nile was given a facelift ahead of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Summit in Kampala in 2007.
“The Source of the Nile is Jinja’s cash cow, but the council is not doing enough to improve on it,” says Paulo Babi, a municipal tax collector at the Source of the Nile.
“We have free-ranging monkeys that excite tourists, if more wildlife is introduced, more tourists are likely to come.”