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Why is the law silent on Mabira give away?

By Vision Reporter

Added 31st January 2007 03:00 AM

NO incident in the recent past has brought out ironical capitalist and conservation-filled drama like the collision of two government ministers in Mabira Forest, with different agendas, in September last year.

NO incident in the recent past has brought out ironical capitalist and conservation-filled drama like the collision of two government ministers in Mabira Forest, with different agendas, in September last year.

By Godfrey Anywar

NO incident in the recent past has brought out ironical capitalist and conservation-filled drama like the collision of two government ministers in Mabira Forest, with different agendas, in September last year.

Through Gerald Tenywa’s narrative story, ‘Ministers clash on Mabira Forest tour “page 3” The New Vision, September 4, 2006, one could see how controversial matters of investment and environment concern could become.
Although state minister for environment, Jessica Eriyo and tourism, trade and industry minister, Janat Mukwaya have many doctrines, in Mabira, there was evidently no love lost.

Mukwaya, who was in the company of SCOUL managers, who have keen interest in having a large chunk of the forest degazetted to hold their sugarcane, was obviously fronting her ministry’s industry portfolio. She declined to join Eriyo on her ‘fact finding mission’ with a team comprising the National Environment Management Authority (NEMA), the National Forestry Authority (NFA) and officials from her ministry.
As the politics of investment interplay in Mabira’s case, it is important to revisit what our law books say about sustainable development.

Like a senior Makerere University law lecturer, Emmanuel Kasimbazi, says, Uganda has adequate environmental laws, which for strange reasons are being ignored at our greatest hour of need.

Seven thousand hectares of Mabira Forest; a divine gift of a tropical rainforest, risks being sacrificed at the alter of investment politics. The Environment Act, which established NEMA in 1995, empowers the agency to scientifically weigh options with sister agencies and advise the Government.

It is worth asking at this stage for who the environment laws in our statute books are intended. What happens when the institutions which were set up to enforce them are pushed aside by the executive arm of government which initiates laws?

I recently read the 2001-2003 Poverty Eradication Action Plan with amazement. Uganda’s national strategy on poverty eradication through modernisation, employment creation and industrialisation reads: “Modernisation of agriculture will need to ensure that renewable natural resource assets are conserved and not ‘mined’ in pursuit of short-term growth. Therefore, judicious management of land, forests, wetlands, rangelands, rivers and lakes are essential for sustaining any gains...”

Would you believe that while Kampala suffers the wrath of floods due to wetland encroachment, Uganda has a national policy for conservation and management of wetland resources, which is the second to be adopted in the world, after Canada?

Considering the importance of natural forests, would it be morally right to replace trees with grass – which sugar cane essentially is?

This country is faced with an energy crisis, owing to falling water levels in Lake Victoria, whose reading is said to be as low as the one recorded in 1927, which should be an alarm bell enough to cause restraint.

About a decade ago, President Yoweri Museveni told a world food summit in Rome that Uganda’s food output could feed 200 million people, but unfortunately, nature chose to contradict this soon after his return.

This is the the same period when reports of famine-related deaths began filtering in, prompting the then Prime Minister, Cosmos Adyebo, to offer to sleep on the grave of a famine victim in apparent denial of the effect of an acute drought in eastern Uganga.

Not to be outdone, then agriculture minister, Victoria Sekitoleko is said to have weighed in with her grass and lizards advice as alternative nourishment. Even the less drought-prone western Uganda was not spared nature’s warning shots at that time. Herdsmen lost their treasured animals because of lack of pasture and water.

Recent reports show that 80% of the beggars in Kampala have fled Karamoja to scavenge for a living, while in eastern Uganda towns, these underprivileged lot are competing with pigeons for grain along the streets.

Considering that article 39 of the Uganda Constitution provides for a clean and healthy environment for every Ugandan as a fundamental right, it is high time we sorted out investors who exhibit disrespect for our laws, our citizens’ well-being and the President who is in leadership because of their trust.

Proof that the establishment of NEMA with a serious mandate is the fact that besides the usual board of directors, its supreme organ is a policy committee chaired by the prime minister, which comprises of 11 cabinet ministers.

It must be very frustrating working for the lead government conservation agencies, going by the recent resignation of the former NFA head, Olav Bjella, because of disregard for procedure.

From recent political pronouncements, it might only be a matter of time before bulldozers begin ploughing down trees in Mabira Forest which have supported bio diversity for centuries.

Friends of our country around the globe must be wondering why Uganda bothered to sign and ratify the following treaties:

The 1992 Rio convention on biodiversity and the 1992 framework convention on climate change.

Nearer home, the African convention on conservation of nature and natural resources, Maputo 2004, the tripartite agreement on the preparation on an environment management programme for Lake Victoria 1994, the agreement on the conservation of African-Eurasian Migratory water birds 1995 and the protocol for sustainable development of Lake Victoria basin, 2003, are likely to earn us regional suspicion.

The current justification for giving away tropical rainforest land for agricultural use is leaving many environmentalists hoping BIDCOs palm oil proceeds and SCOUL’s enhanced sugar output profit will procure bottled water for livestock when foreseeable drought strikes.
I now understand why a Swedish trade expert, Kurt Westerlund once blamed complacency in development planning in Uganda on favourable climate.

Westerlund argued at a National Chamber of Commerce training seminar in Masindi three years ago that, if Uganda had winter for just one month, policy makers would have an opportunity to plan, because even their very existence would be at stake. Sir Winston Churchill must be turning in his grave as our beautiful natural trees are being replaced by palm trees and sugarcane with political approval.

Our comparative advantage is neither sugar nor palm oil, but tourism. If Winston Churchill were alive today, he would repeat this description of Uganda ‘For magnificence, for variety of form and colour, for profusion of brilliant wild life, plant, bird, insect, reptile and beast, on a vast scale. Uganda is truly the pearl of Africa.

Why is the law silent on Mabira give away?

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