Taking the WCD to Heart in Uganda

Frank Muramuzi
Tuesday, June 8, 2010

In Uganda, we began working to popularize the WCD recommendations immediately after the report was launched in 2000. We formed a multi-stakeholder forum, called the Uganda Dams Dialogue, which brought all the major stakeholders together. We had participation from the Ministry of Energy, Ministry of Water and Environment, the National Environment Management Authority, the Prime Minister's office, representatives of NGOs, dam-affected people, dam developers, the media and the cultural institutions. The Secretariat was hosted by NGOs represented by my organization, NAPE. The process lasted five years.

One important thing the Forum did was to simplify the WCD recommendations and translate the basic recommendations into the local languages so that all stakeholders would have a basic understanding of key principles. Today, what we see happening is that local people (especially those affected by the Bujagali Dam, now under construction on the Nile) are using the materials and the information whenever they are advocating for their rights - for example, when regarding compensation and resettlement packages. Government is also applying many of the WCD principles.

The Forum also commissioned a study to establish new information regarding the dams development process in Uganda and the issues as they related to Uganda's context. This study was disseminated to many stakeholders, and is being used as new projects come up.

On our most controversial dam project – Bujagali Dam – a multi-stakeholder committee was established to create a platform for decision-making as problems arose, to make sure all stakeholders had a say. The committee meetings also give stakeholders access to all the information concerning the dam, and it has definitely increased the flow of information in both directions.

Boaters near Bujugali Dam
Boaters near Bujugali Dam
For Bujagali, there have been some instances where the Uganda Dams Dialogue is guiding the development process – for example, in revising the compensation packages for the dam-affected people, the improved livelihoods at the dam-affected resettlement areas, and better incorporation of the peoples' views in project implemention. There is also a mitigation effort to set aside an area to compensate for the loss of Bujagali Falls that has been much improved by WCD principles. This process, called the Kalagala Offset Management Plan, promotes almost all the principles of WCD.

The government is also applying the WCD principles in their discussions regarding the proposed Karuma Dam. Government has said that this time, it wants to be very careful, because they had a bad experience with the Bujagali Dam where the WCD principles were not followed. The government is not fast-tracking the project as they did with Bujagali. They say they want to concentrate on more consultation and participation of the stakeholders including NGOs and dam-affected people.

Our work on the WCD has also enlightened people about other safeguard policies and national laws that apply to these projects. There is more awareness now about the need to hold project developers, government and financiers accountable for making sure projects follow the rules.

Lessons Learned

As a result of the WCD processes, government has recognized that involving people in decision-making processes regarding the development of big dams is necessary. It does not delay the process of building dams, but actually saves government and developers time and resources.

The research done by the Forum is being incorporated into projects and studied at local educational institutions.

Importantly, a number of multi-stakeholder dialogues have been formed to deal with issues of developing other potentially disruptive projects, such as oil and gas, and mining in Queen Elizabeth National Park.

In oil and other extractive industry, the WCD is being used in principle. They are using the concept of multi-stakeholder dialogues, following the model from our Dams Dialogues. We hope it will make a difference for people living where the oil is being extracted.

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The author is the Executive Director of National Association of Professional Environmentalists in Uganda.