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1 February 2000 The Rwenzori Mountains National Park, Uganda
Karsten Wesche
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The Rwenzori Mountains National Park, Uganda, edited by Henry Osmaston, Joy Tukahirwa, Charles Basalirwa, and Jockey Nyakaana, Department of Geography, Makerere University, 1998. x + 395 pp. £20 (excludes postage). ISBN 9970-429-01-9.

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The Rwenzori Range has attracted scientists since the beginning of the so-called exploration of East Africa. Among the pioneering efforts were the 1906 British Museum Expedition and the famous voyage led by the Duke of Abruzzo, Luigi di Savoia, in the same year. On the occasion of the 90th anniversary of these expeditions, the Geography Department of Makerere University in Kampala organized an international conference. This volume includes all the contributions. Its strength lies in the extraordinarily wide range of topics. More than 40 specialists from various fields wrote contributions on more than 50 different topics related to the “Mountains of the Moon.” The volume concentrates on aspects of exploration and mountaineering, the physical environment, community relations, and management issues. All papers were specifically written for the conference, so the book provides an up-to-date review of issues.

The main part of the volume opens with the keynote address by H. Osmaston, which is refreshingly critical of the scientific achievements in the region. In calling for a joint effort to collect present knowledge on the Rwenzori Mountains, Osmaston states the principal aim of the conference. Part 2 offers notes on the exploration of the mountain and on mountaineering. The historical information is well presented and, together with the appendices, provides a comprehensive overview.

Part 3 deals with geographical and biological issues. Topics include geology, present climate, quaternary history, and hydrology. A series of high-quality photos is particularly instructive, demonstrating the rapid retreat of the range's glaciers since Luigi di Savoia's time. Climatological and geological information are complete, although most material has already been published and the lack of recent studies is apparent. Biodiversity-related information was compiled by specialists on almost all major groups of organisms except terrestrial arthropods and cryptogamic plants. Species lists account for large parts of these contributions, and ecological information was included wherever available. An account of forest dynamics in the region reviews recent information on quaternary history. Part 3 is thus an excellent introduction to available scientific information.

The entire second half of the book is devoted to conservation (Part 4) and community relations (Part 5). Part 4 covers mainly conservation and management issues. Contributions on the situation in Uganda's mountains in general and the Rwenzori Mountains in particular constitute further pertinent examples of human pressures on tropical mountains. Fortunately, these issues are not described from a purely scientific point of view. The authors work in nongovernmental organizations or governmental institutions operating in western Uganda, so the picture drawn is closer to reality.

Tourism is generally presented as a proper alternative source of income for the local communities, but critical comments on the community-based Rwenzori Mountaineering Service (RMS) show the pitfalls of such an approach. This organization became a corrupt body designed to allow people in far-away Kampala to drain foreigners' pockets. Anyone who has traveled the range in the mid-1990s will recognize the often unpleasant experiences with RMS presented in the volume. The situation has apparently greatly improved by now, but due to rebel activity in the range, tourist operations stopped completely in early 1997 and have not yet been resumed.

Under the header “community relations,” topics as different as sharing National Park revenues and spiritual beliefs of the local communities are combined in Part 5. Most of the papers are highly instructive and readable. Even the nonspecialist reader will find interesting information in this part of the book, which is of potential interest to tourists as well.

The appendices feature a very valuable updated list of publications, allowing most of the available literature to be traced. The historical accounts in the appendix have already been mentioned. Additionally, recent vegetation maps are announced, but I was unable to make contact at the addresses listed.

Given that so many different authors contributed to the volume, the quality of the individual papers is necessarily uneven. The majority of contributions demonstrate the lack of knowledge in the given field. Climatological information relies mainly on short-term measurements made in the 1950s. The biodiversity inventories compiled so far are by no means comprehensive (probably except for vascular plants and birds), and ecological information is also scarce. Detailed studies on the interaction between the local people's demands and ecological constraints in the steeply dissected terrain of the Rwenzori Mountains are poorly represented in the book and may in fact not be available. This list could easily be prolonged.

The recent political history of Uganda has made it extraordinarily difficult to get comprehensive data in the country itself. This book is a large and important step forward in this direction. Yet further studies on almost every topic are also needed. Hopefully, the political situation will soon allow researchers from all fields to continue their efforts in the Rwenzori Mountains. For the time being, this is definitely the book to consult when preparing such activities. It can also be recommended to anybody with an interest in tropical mountains either in Africa or on a global scale. The rather low price will hopefully contribute to its distribution.

Karsten Wesche "The Rwenzori Mountains National Park, Uganda," Mountain Research and Development 20(1), 102-103, (1 February 2000).[0102:TRMNPU]2.0.CO;2
Published: 1 February 2000
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