Can Huge Dams Solve Our Economic Problems?

Back to Resources
First published on

F.C. Oweyegha–Afunaduula
Save Bujagali Crusade/NAPE
Kampala, Uganda.

Paper originally prepared for submission at the International Day of Action Against Dams and for Rivers, Water and Life. Seminar held at the International Conference Centre, Kampala, Uganda 14 March 2000, and organised by Save Bujagali Crusade (SBC) in collaboration with the National Association of Professional Environmentalists (NAPE)

Citation: Oweyegha–Afunaduula, F.C. (2000). Can huge dams solve our economic problems?” Paper Presented at a seminar organised by NAPE and SBC to commemorate the 14th March 2000 International Day of Action Against Dams and for Rivers, Water and Life” and held at the International Conference Centre, Kampala, Uganda, 14 March 2000.

“Modern Engineers portray themselves as the great uncompromising rationalists, harnessing the world’s water for the good of humanity. But today, they appear more like antirationalists. Their view of a river as a piece of plumbering does not fit reality. It ignores the great natural wealth of rivers’ wetlands, the free irrigation service that many rivers provide on their flood plains. The true rationalists are those who attempt to see the whole picture to view a river as part of a wider world, rather than as a piece of hydraulic engineering. Sense, it now seems, is on the side of villagers.” Fred Pearce, 1992, Panoscope Nov. 1992:


After decades of unrestrained addiction of Kings Emperors, Presidents individual politicians, development agencies, energy corporations financiers etc to the pursuit of “economic development” through the construction of huge or super hydrodams, indications are that humankind is waking up to the reality that “the economic, political, social, cultural, ecological, moral and environmental costs of this technological choice seem to be consistently outstripping its benefits. To many people, big dams have instead become a nightmare. Nevertheless, more and more superior huge dams continue to be pushed by governments and financiers as the wise choice to development particularly in the poor regions of the world.

Many governments, politicians and technocrats continue to be willfully blind to the truth that other more socially, politically, ecologically, economically, ethically and environmentally–viable and sustainable development and technological choices exist.

At least this is what one perceives when one critically and analystically examines the energy restructuring plans for Uganda. Here, development advisors have found it easy to convince the often–not–so well informed and ecologically/environmentally illiterate political decision–makers that economic development, including reduction of poverty, can best be achieved by way of making more and more Ugandans access hydroelectric power.

Access to, and not demand for electricity, is being universalised as the key to better livelihoods for the absolute majority of Ugandans well into the future. However, the question still remains “CAN HUGE DAMS (REALLY) SOLVE OUR ECONOMIC PROBLEMS?”

This article submits that huge dams cannot solve our economic problems, but on the contrary, can multiply and confound them. It reaffirms the local Anti–Bujagali Dam Lobby’s conviction that “future economic prosperity and sustainable water resource management in Uganda will not lie in huge dams. The way forward is the wise use of river–based environmental goods and services; not their extinction through the pursuit of hydropower lunacy.”

The Stand of Uganda’s Politicians

Of course the politicians occupying the high echelons of power in Kampala and the technocrats subtending their power, and who show no personal accountability to anyone (Francis Tracy 1912 quoted by McCully, 1996) will not agree with the local Anti–Bujagali Dam Lobby spearheaded by Save Bujagali Crusade (SBC) and the National Association of Professional Environmentalists (NAPE). They are determined to stake their reputations and future in “Uganda Development by way of huge dams.”

If one asked His Excellency the President of Uganda, Mr. Yoweri Kaguta Museveni, if other alternatives to development exist, he would most likely retort back and say: “Only hydroelectricity via huge dams, with Bujagali Dam coming first! No hydroelectricity from Bujagali Dam will mean no foreign investment and, therefore, no development for Uganda”. This of course is a term to logy and typical hydrolunatic commitment to the myth of glory and power.

Almost without doubt, President Museveni’s Minister of Energy and Mineral Development, Syda Bbumba, or her deputy, Francis Babu, would re–echo the tautology in unison, with no questioning at all.

All that would then be needed is environmental cover to the tautology from the National Environment Management Authority (NEMA) whose policy committee is a direct transfer to it of the President’s Cabinet” chaired by the Prime Minister, and whose work AES is excited about. What NEMA would be expected to say to all intent and purposed in respect of every proposed dam –Bujagali Dam in particular– is that “there will be no significant environmental effects.” This then would pave the way for political triumph in the energy sector, ostensibly charting the road to economic development and poverty reduction in Uganda: the overburdening of NEMA with political choices and justifications of courses of action despite AES’s over enthusiasm about the Authority’s “complete independence from government” (Visit AES’ web site on Bujagali).

The Stand of the World Bank

Well and good! But what does the World Bank say? One only needs to peruse through the World Bank’s Africa Energy Team’s (1998) “A Brighter Future?” Energy in Africa’s Development.”

While urging the people of Africa to move to “better access to the services which commercial energy provides, the World Bank’s Africa Energy Team also calls for better management of Traditional fuels. To this end, four linkages to the World Bank’s “country Assistance strategies” are identified as crucial to the transformation of Africa’s energy sector so that it is a facilitator rather than a constraint to “development.” (Table 1)

Table 1: Linkages to the World Bank’s country assistance strategies


  • Linkage 1. Macroeconomic stability is incompatible with a poorly functioning, vulnerable energy sector
  • Linkage 2. Energy to fight poverty and improve equity in growth
  • Linkage 3. A vehicle to mobilise private investment and assist private sector development
  • Linkage 4. Development of markets and regional integration
  • Linkage 5. Energy and Environment
  • Linkage 6. Good Governance

Unfortunately, one notices that “level of demand for electricity” or hydropower, and socio–political and socio–cultural significance of Bank’s country assistance strategies in the energy restructuring process. Emphasis is on (i) macro economic stability; (ii) financial performance of power utilities; (iii) growth in the economy (in terms of movement of goods and services); (iv) growth in private investment and direct private participation in the energy sector; (v) marketisation and regionalisation of energy supplies; (vi)price reform; (vii) environmental regulation and monitoring to fuel privatisation are restructuring of the economy; (viii) the Nile and its tributaries as the cornerstone for a secure energy future in Africa; and (ix) economic and social governance (not intellectual or political governance). However, unlike the political leadership in Uganda’s energy sector, the World Bank sees “substantive involvement of local communities in energy sector management” as an important element in energy restructuring.

Says the World Bank’s Africa Energy Team:

“Substantive involvement of local communities will be an important aspect of the initiatives this is essential for financial viability and sustainability. Communities understand client problems better than utilities and are more flexible than large public utilities”. Moreover, communitic can enforce standards of behaviour to ensure financial discipline more effectively than utilities. They are also more effective in involving women in initiatives”.

There is no doubt that here, the World Bank is trying to exhibit social responsibility in the energy restructuring process and economic development efforts. It stretches this social responsibility further when in its ” A Bright Future? Energy in Africa’s development.” It states:

“Improvements in solar PV, wind and small scale hydrotechnologies and associated cost reductions permit optimism that renewables can play a more prominent role in extending services commercially to larger segments of the population. Developments in small, packaged, termal technologies will also have an important role.”

Recognising the cultural and environmental basis or energy use in Africa, the World Bank adds:

“Even with some expectation of wider access to modern energy, it is certain that millions of Africans will continue their reliance on traditional fuels for decades to come. More efficient use of traditional fuels, particularly fuelwood, is critical to meet the essential needs of the most disadvantaged of Africa’s poor; it is also of utmost importance to the natural environment. A lack of adequate policy, planning and introduction of sustainable harvesting practices will, if not addressed, lead inexorably towards crisis for the poorest and to still more irreversible damage to the natural environment.

We in Save Bujagali Crusade (SBC) and National Association of Professional Environmentalists (NAPE) are gratified that this thinking is emanating from World Bank simultaneously with its involvement in the restructuring of the energy sector in Uganda.

We would, however, definitely call upon the World Bank not to allow this thinking to translate into “social and environmental symbolism,” but cause the politicians in Kampala to institutionalise it in their political programmes for economic development in the energy sector. When they do, then the temptation to think that there are no alternatives to the “huge dam way to development” would be a thing of the past. They may consequently begin to develop the political will to support private investment in solar, wind and other renewables, and in “integrated renewable energy and small hydrodam approach to economic development and rural electrification.”

Our worry, which makes us think that the World Bank may not be committed to what it says about the alternative approaches to energy development in Uganda, is that soon after the Uganda Government bull–dozed parliament to approve Bujagali Dam Project, money lenders started to review the Project for possible investment.

In January 2000, the International Finance Corporation (IFC) the private investment arm of the World Bank, is known to have got clearance to appraise the Project.

We are informed that the appraisal will begin in April and last six months, at which time the IFC could begin to negotiate terms of a loan for the project with the Uganda Government. Fortunately, the proposed Bujagali Dam has now graduated as a true, litmus test to the World Bank’s self declared station as a development agent” while at the same time remaining a principal financier of megadams.

Economic Impacts of Bujagali Project

Megadams are almost certainly economic white elephant and environmental disasters (Mc Cully, 1996) with multiple fare–reaching impacts in every dimension of the environment.

In this paper economic impacts are taken to be not just financial but to include all dimensions of human welfare that can influence “economic development” and the environment negatively or positively, including: political, social, cultural, ecological, environmental, psychological, emotional, ethical, spiritual, intellectual and technical mess, acting singly or collectively to influence economic development.

Apparently a good EIA of a proposed development, if it is to be meaningful in a development process, should take account of and account for the relative or collective influence of all these dimensions. This is particularly because the environments itself is complex and, in reality, an aggregate of all these manifestations of these dimensions, singly or collectively, and its own “holistic” behaviour.

It is, therefore, only logical that an E.A. of the type carried out by AES on Bujagali Dam Project should not be taken at its own face value. Nevertheless, of economic significance is that AES’s EIA shows that: (i) 820 people will be permanently displaced, (ii) An additional 6000 will be affected by the submergence of communal lands. (iii) burial sites will disappear; and (iv) Bujagali Falls will be submerged.

Because there is no replacement land in the affected area, the victims who will lose homes and crops will be subject to hunger, lack of shelter and converted into “a floating population” analogous to “modern day nomads”, the landscape for survival. Therefore, the victims will no longer be engaged in any meaningful economic activity.

As if all this is not enough, the man–made lake (reservoir) will serve as a new habitat for fresh waterborne diseases such as malaria and bilharzia (schistosomias). Dirty water borne diseases such as tuberculosis, typhoid, fever cholera and dysentery will also multiply.

Already, malaria has shown a resurgence with no equal in causing death in Uganda at the moment. Even tuberculosis is claiming far more victims than before, not so much because of HIV/Aids infection but because of the increase in the extent of dirty environment.

Bio–ecologically, the human energy system dependent on fishing, with all its socio–economic benefits for the poor families of the subsistence and commercial fishermen will be permanently harmed. When the basin waters are dammed the same will be true with the human energy system dependent on agriculture when the land is submerged. Ultimately biological impoverishment/ desertification will result.

Socio–culturally, the project will not only bring an end to the spiritual and cultural significance of the “shrines”, but the aethetic value of Bujagali Falls, and with it the tourist potential of the site that had recently contributed significantly to the economy, will be no more.

It is, therefore, easy to see how the monolithic pursuit of hydropower development through damming at Bujagali can affect the economy negatively in diverse ways other than the strictly economical. We may as well ask:

1. To what extent will a people whose ecological, environmental, social and cultural rights have been abused, and who are suffering spiritual, emotional and psychological devastation as a result of damming contribute to economic development?
2. To what extent will a people who carry increased disease loads and whose vision of the future is blurred by damming of rivers allocate enough time and energy to the development of their families and country?

The Stand of the Anti–Bujagali Dam?

It is the view of the local anti–dam lobby that it is economic short sightedness for planners and developers to delink economics from ecology or the environment in pursuit of development.

We think that it makes good economic sense to pursue economic development, not towards “narrow national economy” but “the wider environmental economy.” This is because, unlike national economy, environmental economy takes in account all the dimensions–economic and non–economic – in the determination of economic progress. Ecological–biological dimension development is critical since it takes care of both biodiversity and biocultural diversity. However, also important are socio–cultural, socio–economic and time considerations.

We are, therefore, convinced that narrow economic considerations emphasising financial profit and narrow economic gains for politicians, investors and developers should not dictate development goals and strategies. Development and strategies for development so–oriented are two narrow and too selective (as to who will benefit) to be sustainable and useful to the absolute majority.

The anti–Bujagali lobby remains opposed to energy plans that are no more no less than a mere projection of power and glory for those in political office, and financial power of an domination of the poor by corporations.

Given that AES, the energy developer preferred and jealously protected from competition by the politicians in Kampala, ultimately triumphed in it urge to be the only contestant for Bujagali Dam, we find it difficult to dismiss the reality of dishonest business transactions between it and government.

Elsewhere (Oweyegha–Afunaduula,, 1999) we have evoked the concept of “politico–corporate crime drive this point home. McCully (1996) used the term “hydrocorruption” instead. This is not far fetched:

Spie Bagnolles and Sogreah (both French companies) were alleged to have practiced hydrocorruption in Kenya’s Turkevel Gorge Dam. As a result of bribes reportedly to President Mori and his Energy Minister, Nicholas Biwett, the project ended up costing more than twice what the European commission said it should have.

Argentina’s President Carlos Menem called Yacyreta Dam (Agentina/Paraguay) “a monument to corruption.” This project, in which Impregillo, Dumez and Lahmeyer were principal players, ended up costing $2.7bn!

Lahmneyer and Impregilo were participants in Guatemala’s Chixoy Hydor–electric Project in which it is alleged that between $350 and $500 million dollars were lost corruption. Pottinger (1999) quotes the Dean of the school of Civil Engineering at Guatemala’s San Carlos University, Raphael Bolanos, saying: “The dam was the biggest gold mine the crooked generals every had.”

ABB and Dumez; worked on Itapu Dam (Brazil Paraguay) described as “possibly the largest fraud in the history of capitalism.” Projected to cost $3.4bn ended up costing about $20bn.

The most recent bribery scandal in development aid to attract world headlines is the Lesotho Highlands water project in Lesotho in which several big time corporations are known to have been involved (Pothnger, 199; Business Day, 199; Table 1)

Hencke (2000) describes the Lesotho bribery allegation as “the world’s biggest case of alleged overseas aid bribery,” involving a $1bn project funded by tax payers from Britain, France, Canada, Germany, Italy and Sweden. He includes the British firm Sir Alexander Gibb and Partners among the criminal firms in this project.

Table 2. List of Companies and the reported bribe amounts paid
(Source: Business Day, (South Africa, 1999). In US$

  • ABB (Swedish/Swiss): $40,410
  • Acres International (Canadian): $185,002
  • Impregilo (Italian): $250,000
  • Spie Batignolles (French): $119,393
  • Sogreah (French): $13,578
  • Dumez International (French): $82,422
  • Lummeyer consulting Engineers (German): 88,674
  • ED Zublin (German): 8,44,466
  • Diwi Consulting (Germany): 2,439
  • LHPC Chantiers (International Consortium): $63,959

Highlands Water Venture (International Consortium, including Impregillo, the German Firm Hochtief, the French Firm Buygues, the UK firms Keir International and Stirling International and South African firms Concur and Group Five): $733,404

Lesotho Highlands Project Contractors (International Consortium which includes Balfour Beatty, Spie Botignolles, LTA, Zublin): 57,269.

Of great concern to our anti–Bujagali Dam lobby is that Sir Alexander Gibb and Acres International have been involved in Uganda energy issues with the Lesotho Bribery scandal on their backs. Their energy plan for Uganda stresses the construction of a cascade of megadams in the Nile Basin (Musumba, 1999; Oweyegha–Afunaduula,,1999)

Save Bujagali Crusade (SBC) and National Association of Professional Environmentalists (NAPE) have complained that although Bujagali Dam would be the highest cost dam of all the megadams desired by the Uganda Government, as a study by Kennedy and Donkin with support from IDA and World Bank, the two companies recommended Bujagali as the least cost site for hydropower development.

Given this background to energy development in Africa, it is far fetched to imagine that Bujagali Dam project can be free from future bribery scandals.

All indications are that Uganda may in fact be more vulnerable than Lesotho given the constitutional, judicial, legislative and executive processes that tend to put the executive above the law.

Pottinger (pers comm.) cites a December 1998 article in Uganda Confidential in which it is alleged that Government’s preferred energy developer, AES, extended a bribe of $240,000 to former Energy Minister, Richard Kaijuka to support the Bujagali project. A further US $260,000 was promised to Kaijuka if he could get a controversial power purchase agreement signed. Subsequently Kaijuka lost his job, but government has never instituted an inquiry into the allegations. Not even the World Bank, although, having a $150m state in the Lesotho Highlands Water Project, the bank is, together with the European Union, financing the prosecution of the companies involved in bribery (Hencke, 2000) has found it necessary to do so!

NAPE and SBC have sought the help of litigation and government action to correct the floppy and flawed Bujagali Dam decision–making process. The two NGOs wanted government to institute a commission of inquiry into the ownership of AES Nile Independent, and establish (I) why it was changing its name frequently; (ii) what its relationship is to AES Inc. of USA and AES Electric of U.K; and (iii) who hired the taxis and buses that ferried peasants from Budondo and Namizi villages to the August 6th Public hearing on AES Nile Power’s EIA in Jinja.

It is recorded elsewhere (Musumba, et. al., in Press) that along the way, there was undue political and corporate pressure on the members of parliament to pass the electricity law and approve the controversial power purchase agreement quickly to favour AES, the preferred energy developer. Government ignored a report by a parliament research team which warned that AES Nile Power was not transparent (Uganda Confidential No. 361, October 22–28,1999). We are, therefore, convinced that the concern about hydro corruption in Uganda is not a myth. Corruption does not only deny social and health resources to the poor but submerges them further and deeper into the debt trap. As a consequence, the poor are denied economic development or else removed from the development process by development strategies stressing megaprojects. It is deception to condition the poor ignorant Ugandans to put all their faith and hope in such projects.

It is, therefore, the conviction of the local anti Bujagali Dam lobby that future economic prosperity and sustainable water resource use and management in Uganda will not lie in super or huge dams (Oweyegha–Afunaduula,,1999)

We think that the Bujagali Dam Project will cause the 2.4million Basoga [listed as the 25th indigenous community in the Uganda Constitution 1995, Third Schedule, Article 10(a)}, whose clans are spiritually and culturally integrated in the Bujagali Falls, to suffer “cultural death” (Oweyegha–Afunaduula, et. al. 2000). In their deculturised form, the Basoga are likely, also to suffer “spiritual death.” It is important to imagine how these changes may affect socio–economic development.

So far development in Uganda has been preceded and accompanied by destruction of the cultural foundations of survival. Real economic development, which seems to be enjoyed by Japan that has preserved its rich culture alongside advances in technology, has eluded Uganda.

It is also important to caution that if Bujagali dam and other proposed megadams are constructed in the Ugandan portion of the Nile Basin, new water conflicts may emerge between the riparian states (Oweyegha–Afunaduula, et al., 2000)

Such conflicts can be inimical to socio–economic development. War – the highest form of poverty – if it breaks out – can destroy the ecological – biological foundations of economic production and divert human energy away form development activities.

By stating all these issues, SBC and NAPE are not suggesting that Uganda does not need electricity. Uganda, like all countries in the world, cannot do without electricity. Electricity is a factor in development. However, it is the view of SBC and NAPE that electricity is not the real issue in Uganda. The real issue is poverty, which is “the greatest of the greatest” of the pollutants of the country’s environment. It is a fact that the absolute majority of Ugandans have no money for electricity. Moreover, the market for hydropower in the country is critically small and dwindling because poverty is on the increase (Martin; et. al In Press). Production of more electricity, therefore will not reduce poverty. Nor will it reduce the use of fuelwood, the poor man’s energy source.

What is needed is evolution of deliberate programmes to reduce poverty and the cost of power. Owen Falls, Dam now 45 years of age and tired, has never been able to reduce poverty in its vicinity. Jinja Town, once the hub of industrial growth in East Africa, has lost its entrepreneurship capacity despite continued generation of hydropower at Owen Falls Dam. It is now “a hub of poverty”. It is unlikely that amidst mushrooming poverty, the recently completed Owen Falls Extension Dam will significantly charge the status quo. Neither will the recent scientific and economic initiatives in the whole Nile Basic (Oweyegha–Afunaduula,2000).

The Way Forward

“Experience shows that, the harm we do to freshwater ecosystems comes back to us at a much greater cost to society (Ruud Lubbers, WWF President, in address to World Water Forum, 2000). NAPE and SBC believe that it will make more economic sense for Uganda if Bujagali Falls survives in its natural state.

Being the only natural resource capable of attracting both local and foreign tourists in Eastern Uganda whose principal richness is grinding poverty, Bujagali Falls would make the region enjoy a greater share of the tourist traffic in the country. This in good times is enjoyed by Western Uganda. At the moment the region is plagued by armed conflict. Tourism is very sensitive to political instability and insecurity. Therefore, the region has become insignificant as a tourist destination in East Africa. It is particularly in circumstances like these when Bujagali Falls has made the greatest economic senses capturing some of the courts traffic avoiding insecurity.

With Bujagali saved, the country would have one of the most attractive cascades of nature–based tourist sites (Oweyegha–Afunaduula,,1999). This would be greatly enhanced if the energy restructuring process in the country included the deconstruction of the aging, silted Owen Falls Dam whose concrete is cracking (Oweyegha–Afunaduula, et. al., 2000). The strategy would lead to the resurrection of the Owen Falls, the Rippon Falls and the Source of the Nile. This way the aesthetic value of the area would be enhanced.

There is no better economic choice than Uganda using its rich water resources in the Nile to drive the economy in ways other than mining for hydropower.

“The way forward is the wise use of the river–based environmental goods and service; not their extinction through the pursuit of hydropower lunacy … or forced development that leads to extinction of biocultural diversity (Oweyegah–Afunaduula, et. al, 1999).

In Uganda, the potential for alternative energy sources principally solar and wind to hydropower is great. It is important that energy (or economic) planners as well as major funders stop ignoring it. As India’s Union Minister of State for Non–conventional Energy sources, M. Kannappan once said to stress the need to diversify sources of energy. “The next century (this one) solar thermal in particular is not a capital intensive industry. It is also important that focus be put on reducing inefficiencies and wastage in the existing energy system now responsible for some 40% losses of power.

The future of rural electrification will lie more in wind and solar power development. This is likely to be more promotory if rural economic development than dependence on grandiose have huge hydropower plants that right from the beginning have little social content.

While wind energy is the fastest growing power industry world wide, solar’s biggest advantage is that it does not require connection to the national grid. (Pottinger, pers–comm.) Such connection is a huge expense in rural electrification. Fortunately, new advances in solar thermal electricity is proving promising for large and small applications (Brurn, 1998).

Moreover, emphasising solar instead of hydropower would open up good opportunities for Uganda to collaborate with neighbouring Kenya.

Kenya has a highly regarded private–sector system of photovoltaic solar systems. More households get electricity from the sun than from the national grid.

According to the Economist (Pottinger, pers. Comm.), some 50 local companies now manufacture or assemble PV systems in Kenya. Unlike its hydropower projects, Kenya’s solar industry has developed without significant aid, subsidies or government support, according to renewable energy experts.

We think that a future national energy strategy in Uganda will only be viable on a sustainable basis if it takes into account the needs of the poor and emphasises renewables like solar, wind, and micro–hydropower projects. This contradicts AES’s great lie that “solar, wind power, and min–hydro are, at least at this stage, expensive opinions for Uganda” (From the AES web site).

Presently, the Owen Falls produces 350MW of electricity but only 60% is not paid for (Oweyegha–Afunaduula quoted by Malaba, 2000). For 45 years people around Owen Falls Dam have not used power because their incomes are low. Ugandans need poverty alleviation programmes to afford power bills (Musumba, quotedby Malaba 2000).

We also think that the viability of the energy strategy will be socio–culturely enhanced if fuelwood, the poor man’s energy source, is made an integral aspect to make it socially relevant to the poor. We cannot bank on other countries to buy power produced from Bujagali because if the political situation sours, the power buying deal will be thrown out (Musumba quoted by Malaba, 2000). We must give serous thought to the necessary infrastructure needed to build solar thermal plants. As Kilmnik (quoted by Brown, 1998 has said, “the more we get into the economics of scale, and the costs will be reduced.” The future must be allocated to convince investors and the public that the technology is viable.

As SBC and NAPE have always maintained, any continued commitment to the “huge hydropower way to economic development is likely to preclude Uganda from pursuing the foresaid choices. Such commitment can only be pursued at the expense of the rural poor who appear to have become perpetual victims in Africa wherever huge dams have been built.

There is no doubt that environment/development conflicts will continue to be the darkside of “economic development through huge hydrodam projects. What is important is that political governance encourages the growth of awareness about the conflicts rather than diverting resources – time, energy and money – to erect barriers to such awareness.

In Uganda, unfortunately, the press is a wash with reports that government is busy working on a legal instrument to regulate NGO activity. Such instrument would no doubt act as a tool to prescribe NGOs that have made it their business to critique on and publicise defective policies in environment and development. The instrument would effectively make it difficult for such NGOs to participate fully in decision–making or in influencing policy in environment and development locally and globally. Moreover, it would be a percursor for further conflicts between government and its agencies and the NGO sector at the expense of real progress in environment and development in future.

Energy development that is free from economically or environmentally–depressing conflicts will in future require a citizenry that is well informed about the dangers posed by huge dams and other mega projects, as well as the benefits of exploiting alternatives.

A docile, ignorant citizenry is dangerous to itself and to its environmental security and future. It makes itself vulnerable to its human rights being abused by the partnership between government and corporations who may jointly or separate hatch plots to engineer consent and consensus about development and technical choice of “huge dam way to development. Already with political protection by government, AES is exploiting this to sell the Bujagali Project to financiers and to enhance its public relations on the Project (Pottinger, pers. Comm. Quoting International Finance (IFC) sources.

There is no doubt that in the face of aggressive, manipulative corporate pressure, a docile ignorant people and its institutions are undoubtedly unlikely to reject a dangerous development. This way, without knowing, it undermines its own development, environmental security and livelihood in the long term. That is why NAPE and SBC have repeatedly stated and will continue to state that “the ignorance and poverty of our people should not be used as resources to manipulate them and their institutions to endorse dangerous projects such as Bujagali Dam.”

It is, therefore, easy to understand why AES can now say:

“The public has been of tremendous support towards theproject – Resolutions of support have been received from local residents, the Busoga Lukiiko, the LC V Council, the Uganda Manufacturers’ Association, and the chamber of commerce. The support of the Ministry of Energy, the President and finally the people of Uganda … Busoga Lukiiko has no objection in having the Nile Independent Power Project constructed at Bujagali … the entire Kyabazinga Institution is in full support of this development project.”

With a people beaten into debilitating fear and helplessness by militaristic executive, legislative, judicial and constitutional processes which now characterise governance in Uganda in every aspect of its economy, peasant activism against huge dams will take a long time to emerge and be effective. Silence will continue to be a typical response to oppression by defective policy and development choices of government.

Therefore, local environmentalists are likely to be forced to use the pen more and more as the principal tool against huge dams and hydro corruption until the level of awareness of Ugandans rises higher enough to translate into environmental activism among the peasantry.

In the end the dam debate is in fact a battle of the minds, mediated by the pen in policy and decision–making in environment and development. However, in the meantime, Uganda environmentalists will continue to take advantage of and be inspired by the lobbying power and networks in the West against the huge dams. Recently, for example, NAPE and SBC have sought to join “Living rivers: the International Coalition for Restoration of Rivers and Communities Affected by Dams committed to the decommissioning of dams. We want to go beyond just defending the Nile from had projects to promoting the new vision – take living Nile. True, decommissioning Owen Falls Dam is costly and challenging (Pottinger, 1998) but for Uganda, it could prove to be the most economically and ecologically sound alternative.

NAPE and SBC are gratified that despite the debilitating disempowerment of civil society two anticorruption groups have been formed in Uganda, namely; the Anticorruption Coalition in Uganda (ACCU) a partnership between the Uganda Debt Network(UDN and Catholic Relief Services (CRS), and the International Anti–Corruption Theatrical Movement (IATM). One only hopes that in future the two NGOs widen their scope of concern to include hydrocorruption so that they can fight economic white elephant megaprojects.

Let me conclude this article by re–affirming that NAPE and SABC have now matured into an effective antidam partnership in Uganda in particular and Africa in general. They are an integral component of the international global movement whose principal role is to bring out to the fore social and environmental effects of large dams so that civil society and policy makers may be sensitised enough to appreciate the dangers posed by huge dams and associated hydrocorruption. (Goldsmith and Hildyard, 1984).

We believe that real economic development demands that rejection of huge dams as the icons of development should be part of an environmental vision for river water use and management well into the future (Oweyegha–Afunaduula, 2000).

Huge dam have never brought and will never bring forth the promised benefits and solution to human problems. If anything, the solution they provide so often turn out to be the new problems. This is the dilemma of the development choice of huge dams! It is deception suggesting that their failure in the past will not obtain in Uganda today. This propagandist approach to development is dangerous. It must be rejected.


BANALYA, J. (1999). Bujagali Crusaders want inquiry in AES. The New Vision, Aug. 14, 1999 p.28,29

BROWN A. (1998). Solar power Heats up: new advances in solar thermal electricity prove promising for large and small applications, World Rivers Review, 13(6) Dec. 1998

HENCKE, D. (2000). British Firms on bribery charges. The Guardian, February 17,2000.

GOLDSMITH, E. and N. HILDYARD (eds) (1984) The social and environmental impacts of large dams. Vol. 1 Case studies Wadebridge Ecological Centre, Cornwall.

JJUKO, S (1999). NAPE want AES Probe. The Monitor, September 6, 1999 p. 18

McCULLY, P. (1996). Silenced Rivers: the Ecology and politics of large dams. Zed Books, London and New Jersey.

MALABA, T. (2000). WB withholds AES Nile Power Loan. The Monitor, February 23, 2000 p.4.

MUSUMBA, M. (1999). Bujagali is the highest cost dam. Paper 1., Save Bujagali Crusade, Kampala, Uganda.

OWEYEGHA–AFUNADUULA, F.C., MARTIN MUSUMBA and FRANK MURAMUZI (1999). Corporate crime and the craze for huge hydropower development projects in Uganda: the alternatives. Pap at Worl. Comm. Dams. Consult. Large Dams & Their Altern. Afr. Middl. E: Exp. Less. Learned., Cairo, Egypt, 8 – 9 December, 1999.

MUSUMBA, M., F.C. OWEYEGHA AFUNADUULA and F. MURAMUZI (2000). The environmental corruption of large dams to World rivers rev. (in press).

POTTINGER, L, (1999). Major Dam Companies caught in African Bribery scandal. World Rivers Review, vol. 13(4) August, 1998

POTTINGER, L. (1998). Activists unite to decommission dams. World Rivers Review, Vol. 13(4) August, 1998

UGANDA CONFIDENTIAL, No. 361, October 22–28, 1999. P. 1,4–5.

WORLD BANK/AFRICA Energy Team (1998). A Brighter future? Energy in Africa’s Development Washington D.C.