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Uganda to Allow Drilling in the African Queen Papyrus Swamp

The film masterpiece African Queen directed by John Huston and starring Humphrey Bogart, Katharine Hepburn was shot in 1951 on a number of locations including papyrus swamps at the mouth of the Victoria Nile in Uganda. Available for years in video it is about to be rereleased as a DVD with much hullabaloo. Back in Africa where the film was made comes disturbing news of changes caused by a multibillion barrel oil discovery on Lake Albert.

Oil - 1.7 billion barrels has been discovered under and around Lake Albert. One of the Rift Valley African Great Lakes, it is shared by the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Uganda.

Exploratory drilling has already begun in earnest, a pipeline to Lake Albert from Mobasa on the Kenya Coast is being built, a refinery is planned and the governments concerned are standing by to rake in the profits.

It was in the papyrus swamps in this part of Africa on the Victoria Nile just before it enters Lake Albert where the famous scene was captured of Bogart shimmying up the mast of the African Queen and yelling out: Nothing but grass and papyrus as far as you can see!

Part of the northern oil block region on the Ugandan side lies inside the Murchison Falls National Park at the northern end of the Lake. It is here that the Nile enters the Lake after traveling northwest from Lake Victoria. Once there it exits the Lake a bit further north, after which it is called, the Albert Nile.

At the place where the Nile enters Lake Albert is a delta and papyrus swamps that were shown in the film. Just south of here is a point of land called Port Butiaba, which was the Uganda location of the Kungdu Village and Mission Church in the film.

You remember the scene where Bogart first has dinner with Hepburn and Morley as his stomach grinds away making horrendous noises. That small lake port and surrounding village will be redeveloped by, Tullow, a London based oil company exploring the Lake oil. They intend to use the port for the transportation of heavy machines for offshore oil drilling in Lake Albert.

Sammy Tuja in Afronline, a news alert Internet agency distributed by Telpress (, also informs us that the companies involved are conducting exploratory drilling within Murchison Falls National Park, a crucial site of biodiversity, and that gas flaring will be allowed in both Blocks 1 and 2 along the northeastern end of the Lake in full view of the Park.

Terry Macalister in the Guardian, Daniel Howden in the Independent and also Pete Browne in the NY Times (Green Inc.) in February, 2010, all reported concerns that gas flaring on Lake Albert has the potential to release huge volumes of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, as well as impacting adversely on the Murchison Falls Park.

The Park is one of the world’s most precious biodiversity resources, and the potential is here to cause massive pollution in the water of the Nile and the Lake, as well as in the papyrus swamps which abound on both the river and lake.

(Photo from Wikimedia Commons. Information also from the British environmental and human rights organization, PLATFORM, at

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