Sunday, January 10, 2010

The Big Bumper Blog New Year Catch Up

I know, I know... It’s been far too long.

First the Kampala riots happened in early September, and I wrote a piece but while there was still the sound of gunfire in the distance at night and stories of journalists getting arrested for ‘inciting violence’ (read, criticizing the established government), I thought better of posting it. But I may resurrect it after casting a careful eye over the final edit…


Then I got embroiled in the whole oil and tourism debate. Or rather, trying to start one. Oil has been discovered in the national parks in Uganda. The government and the oil companies want to drill further test sites and then start production, in between selling their stakes and making millions.


The conservationists are horrified and are desperately trying to work with the relevant parties to mitigate the potential for damage to one of the top ten global areas for biodiversity. The tour operators and lodge owners are also up in arms – if the wildlife goes then so do our customers – so it’s in all our interests to run sustainable businesses and suddenly someone else comes in with full permission to start drilling up the Delta. Furthermore, they didn’t even want to speak with us. Two test sites were drilled and completed and restored within the National Park before any of the tourism concessionaires were consulted. And when we were finally consulted we were reassured that it was before the Environmental Impact Assessment for this next round of test sites would be submitted, only to see a copy of the report stamp-dated a week before our interview. Letters were written, petitions were signed, meetings were held. We played a nice game of what PR merchants term “Stakeholder engagement” for a while (ironic that it took the stakeholders to force a little engagement in the first place) until I personally decided that the fury and frustration I felt at some of the bureaucratic side-stepping and meeting avoidance being practiced by state and corporation alike was no longer worth the effort. I was keeping myself up at night, fuming at the latest email chain of weasel words and weak excuses, but the net effect was that nothing tangible was being achieved, so I quit campaigning for the tourism sector and went back to the day job.

It was a period of two months which left a bitter taste in my mouth. I have worked more than a decade in advertising, considered to be a profession that attracts individuals with little personal integrity, and yet I met more weasels in the process of a couple of months of oil and tourism discussions than I ever did in advertising. The whole process did however leave me in awe of the NGOs that I came across. There I was, railing in anger at knock back after knock back, but mindful of the fact that these conservation NGOs (amongst others) have to do this day after day after day. And still somehow seem to stay motivated. I doff my cap to them all, wherever they may be.


Then, Rich and I took a much deserved week of leave at the end of November and did another loop around the South West of Uganda. We stayed yet again at the beautiful Mihingo Lodge (I can’t possibly pass down the Mbarara road without making a night of it there now), went onto Lake Bunyonyi where we enjoyed a peaceful evening at Bunyonyi Overland Camp, and then onto Nkuringo for a walking safari at 2000m, more about which I shall write later. From Nkuringo, on the fringes of Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, we drove up rocky switchback roads to pass over the mountains and down onto the Western Rift Valley plains again and made for Ishasha. The southern sector of Queen Elizabeth National Park, Ishasha is famous for tree-climbing lions. Of course, with our luck, the lions were on their holidays and had not been seen for a week or two. But it was fine, we stayed at the lovely, peaceful Ishasha Wildnerness Camp on the Ntungwe River and were spoiled rotten by being the only guests and eating some fantastic food.

December came and went in a rush of tourists, trips and festive meals. Our camp at Kampala is full to the brim a few days either side of Christmas itself but on Christmas Day it’s strangely quiet. Those that do stay here on the 25th December itself, are usually in town to visit relatives or friends and so disappear to spend the day with them. It’s when Rich and I eat Christmas Dinner twice a day and play our annual game of pool.

New Year saw us take a trip to Kidepo, a remote National Park in the North East of Uganda on the Kenyan and Sudanese borders. More on that later too, but suffice to say we ended the year with the memorable experience of watching an elephant trash our campsite and eat all our Doritos.

And that, in a nutshell, is the last five months… I’m sorry it’s been a while and my New Year’s resolution for 2010 is to write more posts. So here goes….

1 comment:

DK said...

I was reading Jared Diamond's account of oil drilling comparing West Guinea to Papua New Guinea, in which he observes that oil drilling doesn't need to damage the environment, nor does it need to harm wildlife and it can even help the tourist industry - as it does it Papua New Guinea (where the people have power). It can improve access for tourists, by controlling areas it can stop poaching, and the footprint of drilling is actually quite small - only water as a waste product and single points of entry.

However in Indonesian Guinea where the people have no power and the government is lazy and corrupt, the slash and burn approach of the oil companies is destroying everything in sight quite needlessly. Access roads far wider than they need be, no monitoring of oil spillage etc. etc. Green groups would be more successful in cash starved countries I feel if they concentrated on receiving assurances things are done right, rather than attempting blanket blocks that are probably doomed to failure sadly.