Lindsay Guerin & Maxwell Olsen
Patti McGill Peterson Center for International and Intercultural Studies
The initial draw for rafting on the Nile was instigated by our mutual interest in environmental issues, especially in relation to international development strategies. We chose the Adrift Rafting Company because it was a location where we could experience the awesome power of the natural world while safely investigating both a Western and local perspective of environment and development issues. We also had the opportunity to critique current forms of revenue building within the local area.
We focused on the environmental consequences of the Bujagali Hydropower Project currently being constructed on the White Nile. The rapids of day one are some of the largest in the world. Unfortunately, when the dam is completed in mid 2010, the rapids - including the largest commercially rafted rapid in the world - will be gone. Our guides pointed out the construction site on the left bank which was hard to miss. Pipes drained point source pollution into the river, creating sludge in the water, while cranes and dump trucks were visible on the riverbank. The dam will provide electricity necessary for continued national development.
Unfortunately, the local communities are unlikely to gain from any of these benefits and are forced to deal with the consequences; not only environmental, but impacts on livelihood and lifestyle as well. People from the local communities will no longer be able to use this stretch of river for communal bathing, recreation, clothes washing, or as a livestock watering point.
The local guides and safety kayakers have an obvious connection to the river, and they were apprehensive about the dam's long-term benefits and discouraged by its immediate negative consequences. The general attitude of the locals was skepticism towards this western style of ‘development.'
The dam is certainly a blow to the excitement of white-water rafting near the source of the Nile, but The Adrift Rafting Company is confident it will survive the project. It will continue to lead trips down the White Nile, but they will start further down the river. The company is already in the process of building a new camp downstream, which should be completed before the dam project is done.
Additionally, we intended to investigate the quality of the Adrift Rafting Company's ‘ecotourism' operation on the Nile River. When the operation first started, it was completely staffed with international guides and safety kayakers; now, the majority of company is staffed with local Ugandans. We were also happy to see that employee retention was high, as was the potential for moving up within the company and expanding livelihood opportunities. One of the safety kayakers was also a local musician who promoted his CD through the tourists that came to the company. A couple of the other kayakers are sponsored by kayaking companies in international competitions. In the end, we were disappointed by the international guide's apathy towards the local culture. They were unable to inform us much about the communities that surround the Adrift facilities.