Tuesday, September 4, 2007


President Museveni and his Cabinet are firing from different barrels
September 4, 2007
It’s ridiculous that government is once again flirting with the idea of degazetting part of Mabira forest and other wildlife areas in its renewed effort to appease a private business enterprise, Sugar Corporation of Uganda Limited owned by the Mehta family.

And this is after numerous environmental studies have indicated that it’s practically not possible to plant a natural tropical forest like Mabira with its diversity of plants and animals.

The conservation of Mabira forest and other protected areas remains a dodgy matter given the fact that government is sending out ambiguous signals. While a recent report from Cabinet indicated that government would consider the possibility of alienating part of Mabira for sugarcane growing, in the far off beautiful Murchison Falls National Park, President Yoweri Museni was busy assuring a conference on Leadership for Conservation Africa that national parks and gazetted forests would be protected at all costs.

The question then is; who is telling the truth? The contradictory statements coming out of government circles cast doubt on the ability of our national leaders to apply the law with honesty.

One thing remains clear though-- that threats of global warming to the survival of mankind are real. Just this year Uganda has experienced unprecedented weather patterns with the dry season spanning unusually long periods. The Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has warned that this century, global temperatures will rise between 1.8 and 4 degrees Celsius and that they might rise up to an alarming 6.4 degrees Celsius.

It’s only natural resources like forests that can mitigate the emerging dangers of global warming. There has been too much finger-pointing at State House and Parliament and the ping -pong games about saving what is left of the country’s forest cover and protected areas must come to an end.

It was only after sustained public pressure and court actions, that the managers of Bidco developed cold feet and, in the interim, they seem to have abandoned the idea of encroaching on the virgin Bugala tropical rain forests on Kalangala Island.

It has been argued in this column before that the National Environment Act, the National Forestry and Tree Planting Act and the Wildlife Act are three important laws that call for equity in the exploitation of environmental resources between generations.

The law demands that the present generation should ensure that the health , diversity and productivity of the environment are maintained for the benefit of present and future generations.

Therefore Parliament and civil society should not rest on their laurels. Parliament’s intervention is crucial in the Mabira saga because it’s clear the President and his Cabinet have not made up their minds yet, about conservation and optimal utilisaion of the country’s limited natural resources and the environment in a broader sense.
Otherwise why shouldn’t government make a public announcement that Mabira forest and other protected areas will never be sold or alienated in the name of ‘industrialisation’.

The positives we can take out of this quagmire is the fact that public opinion has been steadfast on this matter. The demonstration and threats for more demos is testament to the public’s resolve to save Mabira.

It is becoming increasingly apparent that virtually all aspects of diversity are in steep decline around the world. The Forest Governance Learning Group has just published its latest update report, which describes activities over the past year, impacts to date and all paint a grim picture.

Forests and other resources of national importance are under severe attack and ironically by politicians, the very people who are supposed to guide the citizenry to stem the destruction of our environment.

The National Environment Management Authority has said it will not approve any document seeking to degazette part of the Mabira central forest reserve for sugarcane production -that’s the logical thing to do.

The writer is a journalist and advocate

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