A CALL TO ACTION: THE “SAVE MABIRA FOREST” CAMPAIGN IN UGANDA


10th March 2008


By GEORGE WILLIAM KASEKENDE


The writer is a Ugandan Lawyer and currently pursuing a Master Program in International Law and Settlement of Disputes at the United Nations mandated University for Peace in Costa Rica.


As Uganda joined the rest of the Commonwealth family on the 9th of March 2008 to celebrate the Commonwealth Day whose theme in 2008 is “Our Environment, Our Future”, I recollected the vicious and unpleasant violent scenes that I witnessed in Kampala, exactly a year ago. Two people were killed at a protest against the Ugandan government plans to allocate 7,000 out of 28, 000 hectares of Mabira Forest land to a sugar company. The two dead people were of Asian descent and hence this absurd event occurred essentially because the sugar company, Sugar Corporation of Uganda Limited also known as SCOUL owned by the Mehta Group, which wants to use part of Mabira Forest, is Asian owned.


His Excellency President Yoweri Museveni, who is the current Commonwealth Chairperson, stated shortly before he set off to attend the celebrations in London, England that this year’s theme is a reminder of both the serious consequences of environmental degradation as well as the collective responsibility to protect the environment, in a letter titled “Protect the environment for future generations” (New Vision, 9th March 2008). I do believe that my dear President may have good intentions of protecting the environment, but I urge him to act now and bring to a halt the contentious issue of giving away ¼ of Mabira Forest to a company that intends to replace the forest with a sugarcane plantation, a low value commodity, at the expense of the future generation Ugandans like myself.


Mabira Forest is one of the biggest natural forests in Uganda, acting as a water catchment area for the Lake Victoria and Lake Kyoga basins. Lake Victoria is the largest fresh water lake in the world and the source of the Nile, one of the longest rivers in the world. Mabira Forest is also a source of many rivers within Uganda, is home to many rare bird species, plants, and animals and, therefore, a boost to eco-tourism in the country. The destruction of the forest will have unimaginable consequences for the millions of civilians and the communities that depend on the surrounding areas for agriculture. The adverse effects on the environment such as increased soil erosion into Lake Victoria and deforestation are inescapable.


SCOUL argues that the sugar plantation is good for the Ugandan economy since it addresses the prevailing sugar scarcity in Uganda, and shall contribute more revenue to the country's coffers. They contend that this project will improve the infrastructure in Uganda and create thousands of jobs. They also claim that part of the forest is degraded and therefore has an inferior type of trees, which can not produce valuable timber anyway. It is important to note that their argument is misleading because it doesn't take into consideration the long term effects of such a project. In my humble opinion, if part of Mabira Forest is destroyed three things will happen; Lake Victoria will dry up, the agricultural environment will become harsher, and millions of people will be displaced.


I am disgustingly perturbed that despite generous and openhanded land offers from the Buganda Kingdom, Masaka Diocese and some Districts in Northern Uganda, in efforts to save Mabira forest, SCOUL and the Mehta Group continue to arrogantly insist on the forest plan. This, in my opinion, is a substantially flawed deal for all Ugandans and the world as a whole. This project is an assault on the natural resources of Uganda as it negatively impacts the livelihood of the Ugandan population, thus creating unnecessary burdens that threaten the stability of the country.


Destroying one of Uganda's few remaining primary forests for sugar plantations, low-value industries at best, would be a significant loss to current and future generations of Ugandans and a long-term setback to the ecological viability of the country. This primary forest cannot be re-grown, at least not in my lifetime or even in my children and grandchildren's lifetime. It is basically irreplaceable and once it disappears, it will effectively be gone for several generations of Ugandans.


It is against the above background that I conclude by saying it's time for my dear President Museveni to do the right thing especially in light of his commitment to protect the environment for future generations as stated in his above-mentioned letter! Uganda would be better served by President Museveni pushing for the conservation of native forests such as Mabira and the rehabilitation of deforested lands, of which there are plenty in Uganda, as opposed to giving the land away to unscrupulous investors.


As of the 10th March 2008, no decision had been reached by the President or the Ugandan Parliament on whether to allocate the 7,000 hectares. Meanwhile, the ‘Save Mabira Forest’ campaign is gaining momentum, with thousands of people sending in petitions. Please sign the petition to save the Mabira Forest by accessing the link below to offer your much needed support: http://www.petitiontime.com/ViewPetition.aspx?key=savemabira


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