Both Murchison and Uhuru Falls can be regarded as twin falls in Murchison falls national park. Uhuru Falls were formed due to the increase in the Lake Victoria water levels after heavy rains that lasted for several weeks in the 1960s. Before that, there used to be one main waterfall – the Murchison falls, the world’s most powerful waterfall. The falls were formed as the White Nile forces its way through a narrow steep-walled canyon and plunges over a 45-meter-tall cliff down the gorge with a thunderous sound. The mist rising from the bottom of the falls forms a trademark rainbow with the intersection of the sunlight. Viewers at the top of the falls can easily get wet by the rising water from the gorge.
The origin of Uhuru falls
Uhuru is a Swahili word meaning “independence” in English and the falls were created when Uganda got her independence in 1962. A few years later, the country experienced heavy rains that lasted for several months and the water levels in Lake Victoria increased. The smoother banks of the river allow for faster flow of water right from Jinja at the source of the Nile. With a tremendous force, the narrow gorge at Murchison falls couldn’t hold big volumes of all the water that comes from the lake and the river overflowed its banks to form Uhuru falls in 1965.
Now there are two sets of waterfalls, which have to be viewed separately given that the river splits and falls are divided by a big hard rock left in between. The falls encircle that rock and river meets again downstream below the bottom of the falls. You can’t see Uhuru falls while standing at the top of Murchison falls unless you fly a drone. The view is blocked by that rock. To see Uhuru falls, you must take a hike to the top of the elevated cliff on the south bank of the river. From there, the view of the twin falls is spectacular for keen photographers.
Will Uhuru Falls remain permanent?
One wonders if the rock that divides the falls will remain or be eroded away by the forces of nature. Only time will tell, making a visit to Murchison falls national park to see them an urgent one one. Seasonal changes in the amount of rainfall also affects the water levels in Lake Victoria which in the end also affects the waters in the Nile.
Any changes that take place soon or later are likely to affect the shape of the waterfalls. “Victoria Nyanza water levels reached 1137.29 meters above mean sea level on May 19, 2021, higher than normal baseline” NASA Earth Observatory satellite data records dating to 1992 indicates that the construction hydro-power stations along the Victoria Nile in Jinja moderates the increasing water levels. For instance, when Nalubale power plant was expanded in 1999 and the subsequent drought in the early 2000s, water levels subsided. Many people began to settle closer to the lakeshores clearing vegetation and draining swamps for cultivation and fishing. However, they were affected by floods when water levels began to rise again in 2020 and 2021. Environmental geologists under the Lake Victoria Basin Initiatives are working to offer solutions to the people while also preserving nature.
Colonial history of Murchison falls
The falls were named by Sir Samuel Baker (British Explorer) in honour of Sir Roderick Impey Murchison (Scottish geologist) who was the president of the Geological Society of London in 1864. After Uganda became a British protectorate in 1894, there was still resistance from the traditional kingdoms including the mighty Bunyoro Kitara empire. The falls were part of the territory of Kabalega (Omukama) king of Bunyoro, which had control of the land in western Uganda encompassing present day Fort Portal city, Kibale forest, Budongo forest, and Murchison falls national park.
With intent to bring it under one political umbrella, Baker and his fellow colonial agents including Gerald Portal built a stone fort right on the mouth of the gorge to seperate Bunyoro Kitara from the Acholi and other chiefdoms in northern Uganda. The landmark still stands today but is partially submerged. There was a man-made bridge already allowing people to cross from either side trading in among other goods including ivory from the north and salt from the west in Lake Katwe, Queen Elizabeth national park. In doing so, the colonial agents must have had terrible ordeals and faced cruelty for their iron handedness against the will of the locals.
The historical Masindi Hotel
What was Kabalega national park was renamed as Murchison falls. The British gained control over the territory with the arrival of the British East African Railway line that was built all the way from Mombasa Kenya to Kasese for the rich copper and cobalt at the base of Rwenzori mountains national park. A station and hotel were also built in Masindi town, which is a 1-hour drive to access Murchison falls for game drives and boat cruises and Budongo forest for chimpanzee tracking safari. Masindi Hotel was built in 1932, and is still welcoming visitors. Influential people have stayed there including the famous author, Ernest Hemmingway. Humphrey Bogart and Katherine Hepburn camped at the hotel during the course of shooting the “African Queen” film.
There’s so much history about Murchison falls and the reason to visit the park. In Budongo forest, you can track chimpanzees and visit the Royal Mile walk created by king Kabalega. The walk offers excellent bird watching opportunities with over 300 species of birds in the forest including the green-breasted pitta, which is also found in Kibale forest. Budongo forest was also a resettlement place for the Polish refugees during World War II. You can visit the Polish Catholic Church at Nywebeya whilst in Budongo forest for chimp tracking.
Murchison falls isn’t only famous for the twin falls and rich history, but also for the rich biodiversity including 79 mammal species and over 415 species of birds. Due to ongoing oil exploration, development, and production in the northwest of the park along the Albertine graben. Many people have access to the park like never before. During the construction of the tarmac road that cuts through the Budongo forest and the savanna to the north region, it looked like nature was being repressed. But it’s not the case. Due to strict conservation measures and the work done by Uganda Wildlife Authority, nature has regenerated quickly. The trees and shrubs along the edge of the road attract wild animals such as elephants, buffaloes, Nubian giraffes, Uganda kobs, waterbucks, and warthogs. The speed limit is 40 km/hour given that animals are crossing even at sections where there’s no signage. Over speeding can lead to road kill and it is an offense with a high penalty.