By Dennis Katungi
Ugandan Editors pepped into the ‘Devil’s Cauldron’ – the wide gorge into which the river Nile plunges with a thunderous roar. The impact creates a trademark rainbow at the northern end of the Albertine rift valley. I witnessed the spectacle on 24th June and I am here to tell the tale.
We set off in the afternoon of Friday 23rd June in a team of senior Editors & Media Managers across the Media spectrum – to tour the famous Murchison Falls National Park – courtesy of Uganda Tourist Board. The erstwhile Chief Executive of UTB, Stephen Asiimwe was the Team leader.
Murchison is bisected by the Victoria Nile, which plunges 45m over the remnant rift valley wall, creating the dramatic ‘falls’ the centre piece on which the Park derives its name. The mighty cascade drains the last of the river’s energy, transforming it into a broad, placid stream that flows quietly across the rift valley into Lake Albert. This stretch of the River which we traversed on a Boat cruise provides one of Uganda’s most remarkable wildlife species.
On this tour we learnt that the animal population in this treasured national park has remarkably increased from the dwindling numbers of the 70’s & 80’s when insecurity in the country and ultimately in the National Parks was at the peak. Murchison had a double whammy – it was affected by the Lord’s Resistance Army insurgency. Joseph Kony, we were told – turned Murchison into a sick-bay for his wounded insurgents. Target practice for LRA recruits was on animals in the Park.
First forward, the Park is alive & well, teeming with wild life. Facilities & infrastructure in and around Murchison are above average. We drove on a class A road from Kampala to Chobe Lodge.
Stories by our Guides of a dramatic increase of animal population in Murchison and other Parks in Uganda reminded me of the term ‘baby-boomers’ as is generally known in the United Kingdom. This was the post second World War period when there was a noticeable increase in the birth rate of humans described as a “boom” by Sylvia Porter in a Column in the May 1951 edition of the New York Post.
In countries that had suffered heavy war damage, displacement of people and post-war economic hardship, the ‘baby boom’ was a bonus! By 2004, the British baby boomers held 80% of UK’s wealth; bought 80% of all top of the range cars and cruises and occupied the highest echelons of Politics. Tonny Blair is one of them.
It occurred to me that we, in Uganda ought to celebrate our own human & ‘animal-baby-boom’ post 1986.
Our Tour guide explained as we drove across the palm-dotted savanna that the first positive sign to look-out for with wild life is the young! Herds of Elephants and Buffaloes had healthy Calves, the Kobs were numerous, the giraffes, later on the Hippos, Nile crocodiles and aquatic birds as we observed on the boat cruise had visible signs of young and fresh Nestling. There was indeed a noticeable ‘baby boom’!
Another important statistic that I noted was the fact that Ugandan tourists have now overtaken the foreign visitors in numbers. The General Manager of Chobe Safari Lodge James Rattos confirmed this with glee at a Cocktail he arranged soon after we arrived at Chobe. Until Ugandans appreciate and support the Tourism sector, the boom would remain incomplete. We, Ugandans are encouraged through especially subsidized rates to visit our God-given treasures in the National Parks.
After the morning drive, we had Lunch at Para Lodge before embarking on the three-hour launch trip to the base of the Falls. We cruised past huge hippo pods, crocodiles, bathing buffalo and numerous aquatic birds on the north bank on the way to the might waterfall.
The thing with Murchison is the variety. Everyone is catered for- birders had a thrilling experience spotting the shoebill stork, Goliath heron and grey crowned crane.
And then the Hike! When we got off the Boat, we had to trek the steep and rugged landscape which was quite a challenge. Mid-way up the hill, a Chinese lady got disoriented and said she was feeling dizzy. She was assisted to regain composure. Some in our own team were panting and sweating profusely. And finally we arrived at the tip of the falls, a no mean achievement we felt.
Our evening was crowned by Energetic dancers of Heritage Safari Lodge – a private sector out-fit owned by Mr William Lalobo mid way as we returned to Chobe. We all joined in dancing Larakaraka & Bwola tunes by a Campfire, making for a magical African experience at dusk.
Notable visitors to Murchison Falls in the past include British war time leader Winston Churchill, former US President Theodore Roosevelt, Ernest Hemingway and several British Royals. The 1951 film “The African Queen” starring Humphrey Bogart was filmed in Murchison Falls.
Dennis Katungi is the Communications & Media Relations Manager, Uganda Media Centre. @Dennis_Katungi