Today, GERALD TENYWA looks at the state of Mukono district’s wetlands
To mark 50 years of Uganda’s independence, New Vision will, until October 9, 2012, be publishing highlights of events and profiling personalities who have shaped the history of this country. Today, GERALD TENYWA looks at the state of Mukono district’s wetlands
HIS ascension to power in 1986 saw the birth of a new era of environmental awareness. For the first time in the country’s history, a ministry was created to take charge of environmental issues. Though not much was done at the time and in the few years that followed, at least the population became aware of the issues that affected their lives in relation to the environment, thanks to President Yoweri Museveni efforts.
In 1988, President Museveni also halted the large-scale reclamation of the country’s wetlands describing them as water granaries. Away from wetlands, he also moved swiftly to evict encroachers, who had been settling in forest reserves during the Idi Amin’s era of “double production”, which encouraged the local people to settle and grow crops in the forest reserves.
The first group of encroachers to be evicted came from Mabira Forest, which was the worst affected. The Forestry Department, backed by the National Resistance Army flushed out all encroachers paving way for restoration of the forest reserves. The team also camped in South Busoga and Bukaleba in Mayuge evicting thousands of encroachers from different parts of eastern Uganda and western Kenya.
Five forests gazetted
Fast forward, five forest reserves that included Bwindi, Mgahinga, Rwenzori, Kibale and Mt. Elgon that were under the threat of being wiped out were rescued when President Museveni ordered they get elevated to national park status. Apart from Kibale, the rest of the forest reserves were sheltering mountainous areas and also housed unique biological diversity.
Bwindi and Mgahinga are home to more than half of the world’s mountain gorillas whose population is estimated at 800, while Kibale has the largest number of primates in Africa, estimated at 13 different species. President Museveni reasoned that national parks have higher conservation status than forest reserves, which are protected by unarmed guards.
This bold step saved forests such as the now Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, which used to be swarmed by bounty hunters. Today, this forest patch is the chief revenue earner for the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) while the gorilla reserve is a money-minter that helps fund other national parks that do not generate as much revenue as Bwindi.
Museveni led Uganda to first international environment meeting
In 1992, Museveni led a delegation to Rio de Janeiro in Brazil to the UN Summit on Environment and Development, also referred to as the Earth Summit. World leaders agreed on 21 issues and the Rio declaration on which Museveni appended his signature.
Government watchdog created
In 1994, a process, National Environment Action Plan, which was initiated to create an institutional framework for environment culminated into the National Environment Statute that in turn gave birth to the National Environment Management Authority (NEMA). NEMA is the top watchdog on environment and is mandated to coordinate, monitor and supervise environment management in the country.
Dr. Aryamanya Mugisha, the former executive director of NEMA, says the Rio conference took place at a time when Uganda was formulating her Constitution and other environmental laws. This, he pointed out, provided a chance for legislators to capture principles of governance and environment into the legal framework. For instance, Ugandans are entitled to a clean and healthy environment.
Creation of UWA and National Forestry Authority
In 1996, the Game Department and Uganda National Parks were merged forming UWA. With funding from the World Bank, UWA took charge of the protected areas, the animal population started growing, but they are still far from the numbers of the 1960s.
UWA, in partnership with the Rhino Fund Uganda, established a sanctuary for breeding rhinos, which had become extinct in Uganda. The last rhino in Murchison and Kidepo were last seen in the early 1980s. In 2004, the National Forestry Authority was formed replacing the colonial set up Forestry Department that was in charge of forestry from 1898. This was after five years of reform that also created the District Forestry Services and Forestry Sector Support Department.
Museveni proposes give away of Mabira
In 2007, Museveni dropped the bombshell that proposed that part of Mabira forest should be given away to Sugar Corporation of Uganda Limited. This attracted angry public protests and three people, including one Ugandan and two Indians, were killed in a demonstration in Kampala.
At the heart of the debate is the need for increased production of sugar to avoid importation and creation of more employment. The conservationists say it is cheaper to grow sugarcane outside the forest and that the giveaway will affect the unique biological diversity including endangered monkeys and birds in the forest.
They also say the forest lies in the catchment of lakes Kyoga and Victoria and rivers Sezibwa, Musamya and the Nile, which is an important trans-boundary resource. Although the Government entered into an agreement with the World Bank to protect Mabira and expand it in size as part of the deal to construct Bujagali dam, President Museveni last year revived the issue.
He insisted that the best way to protect the environment is by getting people out of poverty through industrialisation. As the country transforms from a peasant economy to medium income economy, issues of balancing conservation and industrialisation are likely to generated debates.
Museveni era brings environment in limelight