In the Daily Monitor of 2019-08-21, Charles Onyango-Obbo narrates how hippos that once roamed Jinja have disappeared, thanks to the colonial efforts to transform Jinja into an industrial area and population growth. He finds this incomprehensible but more to that and even more captivating, elephants too roamed Jinja, at least until 1950s (see picture). These exorbitant losses exemplify several other losses of interesting plants and animals known or unknown to us.
He praises the men and women of the time who made Jinja a great industrial town. Contrary to this, I blame these historical development actors for not planning in a manner to keep the elephants, hippos and many more plants and animals around. If they had done so, Jinja or Uganda for that matter would be totally different and better. Currently, some key infrastructure of the time such as roads, hotels (including the famous Rippon hotel that hosted the Queen of England) and some industries are no more. The roads around the town are largely impassable, hotels have been abandoned, and several industries closed. If Jinja had been developed in a manner friendly to the hippos and elephants, Jinja people would be cashing in more from tourism. The current development actors would have access to locally mobilized resources to maintain the roads instead of relying on loans from foreign development banks. The hotels would be thriving to host tourists. The need to keep our plants and animals less disturbed as we develop is crucial and should be taken seriously by the current proponents of development, not only in urban development but in agriculture, mining, fishing and tourism to name but a few. That is why the president deserves credit for being slow on GMOs. He should essentially wait until we have a record of what we have and have lost and when we have preserved our indigenous crops and animals.
In the story, Charles raises a concern of a poor record of what we have or have lost in Uganda and the negligence of the current generation to improve the records. This is fundamental. It is true, workers during the colonial time were good at this and most of their records of plants and animals remain seminal until present. In fact, more evidence of presence of elephants in Jinja by 1950s is available from a 1962 report by Brooks and Buss (Brooks & Buss, 1962. The Journal of Wildlife Management, 26(1), 38-50), two colonial scientists who worked for the then Game and fisheries department, Entebbe and Washington State University. According to the reports, elephants were extant on over 70% of Uganda’s total surface area and if you were to go back to 1920s, there are elephants in Kampala, Kabale, Kisoro (where I come from), Masaka, Mubende to name but a few. In short, every region in Uganda had elephants.
As of this generation’s record keeping negligence, its alarming. For instance, the Uganda Museum did not have any physical specimen of fish by 2017 when I visited. Has this status changed? This is unacceptable for an institution established to preserve Uganda’s rich cultural heritage and natural history. Like Charles is doing to consolidate knowledge on plants and other forms of wildlife of Uganda, like minded individuals and institutions are encouraged to swiftly work towards improving knowledge of our plants and animals and preserve them for the future generation.