Uganda: Put Forest Giveaways to a Referendum
Source: Copyright 2006, Monitor (Kampala)
Date: December 26, 2006
Byline: Daniel Ruhweza
Like most concerned Ugandans, I have been following with sadness the debate on how our environment is being handled especially the proposed giveaway of Mabira Forest land in Mukono and Bugala Central Forest Reserve on Lake Victoria's Kalangala Islands.
In Mr Alex Atuhaire's article "How Long Can The House Stay On The Fence?" which ran in Daily Monitor of December 13, 2006 on Page 26 stated that Kalangala/Bugala forest reserves are not mere forests but categorised as "... core high canopy tropical rainforests...critical sites for biodiversity conservation in Uganda because of their physical isolation in the middle of the Lake Victoria... whose contribution to Uganda's hydrological cycle and biodiversity cannot be overstated.." I certainly agree with him. Our primary and secondary school teachers did a great job in teaching us how rain is made and the importance that forests (especially those in the middle of the lakes) have.
The New Vision articles of December 13&17, 2006 respectively entitled "Africa Is Drying Up" and "It Is High Time We Took Climate Change Seriously" should therefore wake us up to revaluate the way we are handling our environment.
Rev. Canon Grace Kaiso said in his article "Cutting Forests Suicidal" of December 15, 2006, that "prudent leaders (emphasis mine) and well informed communities all over the world are working hard to protect the natural diversity of the ecosystem and increasing forest cover so as to mitigate the effects of global warming (emphasis mine). We all remember the terrible drought that we have been experiencing which I am told partly led to the lake Victoria water levels receding.
The Thursday December 14, 2006, KFM's Hard Talk Show featured Minister of Environment who said that it was not fair for the developed world to destroy their environment in the name of development and then expect Africa not to do the same and remain undeveloped.
This statement is sad to say the least, because we all know that "experience is the best teacher". If someone has been bitten by a snake, I am sure that is the best person to tell you how terrible snake bites can be. However to stubbornly refuse and insist on being bitten by the snake to be able to tell for yourself is unfortunate. Our development partners, who have helped us reach this far, now unfortunately "...send our President to sleep, (See "Why NFA director had to leave his job" Kelvin Nsangi Sunday Monitor December 10, 2006)" are advising us not to make the mistakes they made.
The Ugandan public should also understand that management of some resources like forests, waters and air are considered to be of global significance. Some resources are essential for the survival of humanity and should be protected to serve the common interest by all civilised nations and peoples.
We are not against development. I do not think that Mr Olav Bjella (who comes from a developed world) is against development per se. Neither are the experts and technocrats that resigned from NFA before him. Let's not forget that the President's own Adviser John Nagenda and his Uganda Wildlife Authority Board, refused to sanction golf courses in national parks for the same reason of protecting environment.
Interestingly the Minister of Environment went on to interpret the relevant law, saying that the palm trees will be a forest as envisaged in the laws since they shall allow undergrowth therein. Give me a break. The mere fact that a cow has been placed in a forest does not qualify it to become a wild animal. Similarly, we know what type of forests were envisaged by the Act; these are not man-made.
I am hoping that my learned friend Mr Kenneth Kakuru and his team at The Environmental Action Network (TEAN) will seek a court injunction against this looming danger on Bugala Central Forest Reserve.
As for Ms Hope Rwaguma who is now the acting NFA director, Mr Andrew Kasirye and his UWA Board and all members of Parliament, I encourage you to be patriotic and refrain from sanctioning illegalities.
Look at the NSSF mess, Tri-Star, electricity crisis, Global Fund, the Besigye rape trial etc. The examples of Ugandans who have sacrificed their professionalism at the altar of personal gain is long.
The current catastrophe will not merely be resolved by amending the National Forestry and Tree Planting Act 2003 in order to enable a presidential directive to give away natural forests.
That is why I suggest that we have a referendum and ask Ugandans whether they would like to have these forests given away since history has shown that Parliament can easily be influenced.