By Tim Woods:
For one of the country’s leading tourist sites, it’s a little unremarkable … a few gentle ripples in the middle an otherwise benign river. But this is not a place to gawp at nature’s splendour, rather somewhere to say you’ve been: this is the source of the Nile, where Lake Victoria becomes one of the world’s great rivers. This water will, perhaps, spill out into the Mediterranean, 6,500 km away.
A wooden boat takes us from the western bank, near the town of Jinja, out to a small wooden sign that marks the ‘official’ start of the river. But first, we meander via the eastern shore, our guide perhaps trying to draw out the trip a little and give us our money’s worth. Fishermen paddle over and offer freshly caught tilapia for sale; egrets and cormorants swoop noisily overhead. There’s even a souvenir stall built on a wooden raft in the middle of the river – something you don’t see everywhere.
Our visit continues with a leisurely beer back on the shore, admiring the views – and with Uganda’s famously lush greenery framing this proud giant, it’s one to linger over – before returning to the main road back to Kampala and the bridge over the Nile.
And it’s near this bridge that the most interesting detail lies. An innocent-looking hut, located next to the dam on which the bridge is built, measures daily the water flowing through. But it’s not owned by Ugandans, rather by Egyptians – and, according to our guide, they have similar offices in every country that shares what they very much consider to be their river, checking that none of their upstream neighbours extracts more than (what Egypt considers is) their share.
At present, Uganda is playing by the rules and everything is friendly. Who knows if that will change as climate change bites harder in East Africa in the coming years. But the reminder is there: those ripples that mark the beginning of the Nile are being counted, each and every one.