The first European visitors on a Uganda expedition to the Falls were Samuel and Florence Baker in 1864. They named the falls after Sir Roderick Murchison, then President of the Royal Geographical Society. More satisfyingly perhaps, they are also known as Kabarega Falls, after the 19th Century King of Bunyoro, whose domain extended from Murchison to Mweya and stubbornly resisted colonial incursions. Kabarega’s enemies would include Samuel Baker when the explorer returned to Africa and made a vain attempt to annex Bunyoro as an Egyptian colony.
“Upon rounding the corner in our canoes, a magnificent sight burst upon us. Rushing through a gap that cleft the rock exactly before us, the river, contracted from a grand stream, was pent up in a narrow gorge scarcely fifty yards (50 meters) in width. Roaring furiously through the rock-bound pass, it plunged in a single leap of about 120 feet ( 40 meters) perpendicular into a dark abyss below.” Samuel Baker, Murchison Falls, 1864
The Bakers had little time to appreciate the Falls, for a hippopotamus attacked and tipped their small boat, an event that caused numerous logs and boulders along the river to come to life as hundreds of crocodiles. The Falls are an effective food processor, and the reptiles were waiting, as they still do today, for ready mashed meals to arrive. However, they are not fussy creatures, and the Bakers, though made tough and chewy by travel, would have done just as well. The couple was grateful to be swept safely onto the bank.
The power of the 300 cubic meters per second raging through Murchison Falls is a magnet to either engineers or politicians. “Who can doubt,” Churchill wondered, “that the bridle is preparing which shall hold and direct their strength, or that the day will come when forlorn Fajao (a long-vanished town below the Falls) – now depopulated and almost derelict – will throb with the machinery of manufacture and electric production. I cannot believe that modern science will be prepared to leave these mighty forces untamed, unused…”
Modern science has since tamed the Nile at Jinja and, latest at Karuma Falls with a hydro-electric turbine and has indeed been reluctant to leave Murchison Falls unused with an on-edge debate on that same issue in 2019. In 1971 a similar scheme was prevented only by the coup in which Idi Amin ousted President Obote. The proponents abandoned the project, and the electric light delayed at Murchison as more sinister darkness spread across its existence. Today, in these more enlightened times, the waterfall is (not for long) fully protected within the national park.