Wednesday, December 26, 2007


Mr President, stop the Mabira games
President Yoweri Museveni is at it again; this time around reminding the country that the controversial proposal to give away Mabira forest which led to the death of three people about six months ago, is not yet resolved after all.

His remarks while meeting the NRM Parliamentary Caucus last week in effect mean that government could still go ahead a give away part of the tropical rain forest to a private investor, the Lugazi-based Mehta Group, in total disregard of public opinion.

Most depressing about this debacle though is the fact that Mr Museveni’s resolve to parcel out a protected national resource contradicts the announcement made to the world in October by his finance minister Dr Ezra Suruma, at a dinner meeting hosted by the South American President of Guyana, Bharrat Jagdeo, in Georgetown that the Uganda government had dropped the plan to give away part of Mabira forest.

And why should a national leader against all odds push for the alienation of 17,540 acres, nearly a third of Mabira forest to Mehta when there are huge chunks of an utilised public land in this country under government control which can be gazetted for the industrilisation programme.

What’s the moral justification for this disdain to an evident national consensus that Mabira forest reserve is a no-go area for the promoters of industrialisation! Quite maddening too, is the apparent lack of government interest to explain to the country why of all places it’s Mabira that should be earmarked for ‘industrialisation’.

Is it the proximity of the place called Mabira that has attracted the ‘investors’ to justify its destruction, or is it an element of ego and greed (some of the main factors that erode the principles of good governance) that can possibly explain the determination by the powers that be to destroy what remains of our national forest cover?

Whatever the motive it’s our civic duty as citizens to remind our leaders that the constitutionally established principle of public trust applies to all our national resources and public land.

Our leaders including the president have a legal obligation under the public trust doctrine to manage national resources in a manner that doesn’t prejudice the interests of all Ugandans.

President Museveni chairs the cabinet which in April studied a damning cabinet memorandum prepared by the Ministry of Water and Environment which paradoxically, strongly argued against the destruction of the forest.

In the cabinet memo, experts noted the negative impact of changing the land use of the 7,100 hectares of Mabira tropical rain forest; which among others will lead to reduction in water flow to the lakes and rivers, change temperatures and loss of unique ecosystem whose economic value is estimated at Shs23.3 billion.

The negative effects that await the country once Mabira is given away, can also be prescient too. Over the years ,there is been too much destruction of our forest cover and the ramifications for this obliteration have been clear for all to see including the unprecedented severe weather conditions experienced in the country this year.

The unpredictability in climatic conditions that threaten the survival of mankind, have led to the development of a basic international environmental precautionary law principle to protect and conserve nature for the benefit of present and future generations.

The precautionary principle which governs the exploitation of natural resources like forests, was developed following the 1982 World Charter for Nature which provides in its principle 11(b); that activities which are likely to pose a significant risk to nature shall be preceded by an exhaustive examination; that their proponents shall demonstrate that expected benefits outweigh potential damage to nature.

Studies carried out so far clearly show that the proposed destruction of Mabira forest shall spell doom for our country. Parliament and the courts of law should therefore urgently intervene to save Mabira forest from being destroyed for selfish benefits of some ‘investors’. Ugandans should remain firm in the defence of Mabira forest to prevent irreversible harm to our environment.

The writer is a journalist and advocate

Tuesday, December 18, 2007


On December 10, the world marked the international human rights Day, with no significant progress in the protection of people’s fundamental human rights registered anywhere in the world.

It’s well over half a century since the Universal Declaration on Human Rights was adopted by the United Nations, and yet millions of people across the globe continue to suffer gross human rights abuses-many silently.

While governments are the worst violators of fundamental rights, these abuses are also very evident right in our homes and workplaces. Women are battered at home, while children are maimed at school and the relentless abuse of the people’s inherent rights to dignity and life goes on unabated.

Even professionals, ‘well’ trained people –some are even experts at their trade- cannot escape the blame for trampling on people’s rights, which in many cases assumes the element of criminal liability. The disabled are not accorded the same opportunities irrespective of a popular saying –that disability does not mean inability.

In this column, harrowing cases of human rights abuses have been highlighted including harassment and intimidation of journalists by the government, the case of Julius Lukyamuzi who was sodomised by one of Kampala’s notorious pastors and he is yet to receive justice three years since he first reported the matter to police.

Remember the traumatic case of Mercy Nafuna, the nine-month old baby who lost her arm due to the negligence of a medical practitioner in Mbale district? In another recent incident, 40-year old George Mugagga, a resident of Kinawataka in Mbuya parish in Kampala, beheaded his wife who was six months pregnant because the lady was HIV negative and the man was positive.

Then there was the exclusive report about ‘ invisible torture’, a new method of torture by state operatives to inflict maximum pain without leaving marks or scars on the bodies of their victims. These are but a few cases of the human rights abuses that have graced the pages of Daily monitor this year alone.

Sadly though, Parliament which is mandated by our constitution to rein in the excesses of the state (government) has shamelessly not debated any of the annual human rights reports prepared by the Uganda Human Rights Commission, for the last ten years.

This means that critical recommendations and findings concerning abuse of human rights where innocent people have lost their lives, have been maimed, detained for long periods without trial, discriminated against, displaced or forced into exile, have not been paid damages awarded to them by human rights tribunals because the government is not interested. They have passed without any parliamentary intervention.

It’s explicitly provided for in Article 20(1) of the constitution that human rights are inherent in a person by reason of his or her birth and are therefore not granted by the state or any law. In the Supreme Court case of Tinyefuza v. Attorney General , Justice Oder as he then was, laboured to explain this constitutional principle.

He reasoned, and I agree with him, that although modern constitutions like ours, enact human rights in their provisions it doesn’t mean that such provisions create ‘the human rights’; rather the constitutional provisions are meant for the recognition and the intention that they should be enforceable in a court of law.

This means that fundamental human rights are universal and are due to every human society. They do not depend on the status of an individual, class, race , nor gender. They are uniform to all the peoples of the world.

Courts of law have emphasised a universally acceptable principle of international and domestic human rights that the constitutionalisation of human rights imposes a fetter on the exercise by the legislature (parliament), the executive and the judiciary of their respective powers to protect and promote the strict observance of human rights.

Equally important is the fact that human rights and the right to individual freedom are inextricably tied to the concept of human dignity. This means that freedom is a condition of human self respect and that of contentment which resides in the ability to pursue one’s own conception of a full and rewarding life.

The writer is a journalist and advocate

Tuesday, December 11, 2007


For over a month now, another pair of Daily Monitor journalists have been subjected to periodic visits to the police Criminal Investigations Department to explain themselves over an August 19 Sunday Monitor scoop.

The story said that the Inspector General of Government, Justice Faith Mwondha, had irregularly opted for the higher Sh4, 575, 000 monthly salary for judges instead of her official IGG remuneration of Sh2, 900, 000.

The IGG instructed the police to prefer criminal libel charges against News Editor Robert Chrispin Mukasa and Senior Reporter Emmanuel Davies Gyezaho- who are out on Sh500, 000 non-cash police bond.

For starters the offence of criminal libel is archaic and offends the spirit of our constitution which allows freedom of the press, speech and expression. If the IGG strongly feels that she was wronged by the Sunday Monitor article, she can claim damages by filing a civil suit for defamation (civil libel).

Ugandans are entitled, by the provisions of our constitution, to receive information in oder to make informed decisions. That’s why the fourth President of USA James Madison once said that knowledge will forever govern ignorance and a people who mean to be their own governors, must arm themselves with the power knowledge gives. A popular government without popular information or the means of acquiring it, is but a prologue to a farce or a tragedy or perhaps both.

Madison’s statement clearly shows that the man understood the true values and principles of democracy which call for an atmosphere of trust , openness and accountability between leaders and the people they govern.

The right to access information is codified in Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights adopted by the UN General Assembly resolution ob December 1948. Similarly Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights which came into force on March 23, 1976, to which Uganda is a party, provides that everyone shall have the right to hold opinions without interference.

That everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print , in form of art or through any other media of his choice.

Why then has the government not repealed the obnoxious laws that still exist on our statute books? Why again, should public officers like the IGG, herself a learned judge, hide behind an obsolete piece of legislation – to intimidate and harass journalists?

Perhaps the answer to these questions can be found in Uganda’s abhorrent culture of secretiveness and impunity; where the leaders of this nation at all levels are under an illusion that they are immune or above the provisions of law.

They shameless fear public accountability and scrutiny . They don’t want their actions to be questioned by anyone, least we the ‘lesser mortals’. They will try everything within their means to stifle free speech, to gag the media, civil society, the opposition and even the people they lead.

It’s this culture that breeds intolerance, violence and dictatorship, which ultimately leads to failed states. And who bears the brunt of all this mess-- the ordinary people– you and me. Our misery is in most cases colossal and we have nowhere to run to because most of the institutions that would ensure our very survival are in most cases compromised.

Some of these sacred rights of an individual were well expounded in the Supreme Court case of Charles Onyango Obbo and Andrew Mwenda versus the Attorney General.

The court considered the decision of the Supreme Court of Canada in which Mclachlin J, who wrote the majority judgement rightly observed that tests of free expression frequently involve a contest between the majority view of what is true or right and an unpopular minority view. She however ruled that while a particular content of a person’s speech might “excite popular prejudice” there is no reason to deny it protection.

In other words, if there is any principle of the constitution that more imperatively call for protection, than any other it is the principle of free thought-not free thought for those who agree with us but freedom for thought that we hate.

The writer is a journalist and advocate

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Uganda sliding freely to climatic tragedy

Uganda sliding freely to climatic tragedy
In rising seal levels and expanding deserts in ravaged rain forest like Mabira and mushrooming slums Uganda, just like the rest of the world, is already experiencing human and environmental degradation with catastrophic ramifications.

It’s only two weeks ago that most low lying areas in and around Kampala city were flooded to un-precendended levels that left at least three people dead. And the situation can only get worse.

The Fourth Assessment of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) states that the impacts of human-induced climate change are likely to be felt in poor countries and poor communities like Uganda first. Uganda has already been listed among the 100 most vulnerable countries whose over a billion people face a bleak future.

And the IPCC is emphatic in its assessment; stressing that human-induced climate change is likely to have the heaviest impact on small low-lying Island and coastal states, African nations, and Asian mega-deltas.

Ironically, the 100 most vulnerable countries have contributed the least to total global carbon emissions with the United States of America, European Union, China and India being the major world polluters.

With well over a billion people in 100 countries faced with a volatile future, the IPCC has warned that this worrying situation, coupled with entrenched poverty, degraded or threatened environments will lead to more frequent natural disasters that could tip the poor nations like Uganda over the edge into chronic famine or forced migration.

The greatest impact of climate change is already being felt on one of the world’s poorest continents - Africa, with unpredictable and unusually harsh weather conditions being felt in most countries including Uganda this year alone.

In Uganda , we don’t need to look else where to understand the causes of the erratic climate changes. Our forests are under severe attack by some of the most imprudent policies and decisions of our national leaders to destroy the forest cover in support of industrialisation.

In Kampala alone, corrupt and short sighted officials have released wetlands and green open spaces for unplanned construction sites.
Human social economic development activities including forces related to population growth, technology lead to increase in the concentration of green house gases (GHG’s) in the atmosphere that greatly affect the global climate.

The Heads of Government of the Commonwealth, who have been in Kampala for Chogm 2007, noted and expressed grave concern about the threat that climate change presents to human security and economic well- being. But is it enough for our leaders to just sit and mourn about a sickening situation without doing much to avert it?

This is not the first time that the Commonwealth leaders and their colleagues in the rest of the world have signed conventions and declarations that remain good on paper- as millions of people continue to suffer under severe climate conditions.

Take a situation of Kampala where slums and low lying areas are submerged whenever it rains leaving thousands of people in hopeless situations.
There is the 1997 Kyoto protocol that expires in four years, the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC); the 1989 Langkawi Declaration on the Environment when the Commonwealth Heads of Government first defined ‘our’ collective concern over serious deterioration of the environment as a threat to the well-being of current and future generation.

While most of these international legal instruments were well intentioned to keep the global environment stable –no serious effort has been made by the governments to enforce them. It’s imperative that threats to the environment be viewed and addressed in a balanced perspective, mindful of the needs to eradicate poverty, provide sustainable development, and enhanced quality of life for all.

The cruel wealth conditions experienced in several parts of the country this year should serve as a wake-up call for our national and local leaders to jealously protect our environment. The inter-generational environmental law principle calls for equity in the exploitation of environmental resources between generations.

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

The writer is a journalist and advocate
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