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Pulling in the opposite direction

16 Apr
Opinions | May 3, 2007 – The Monitor

Pulling in the opposite direction

Stephen Twinoburyo
I have been following the campaign to boycott sugar products from Sugar Corporation of Uganda Limited (Scoul) in an effort to save Mabira forest with keen interest.

The problem with Uganda is that it is a land of few suppliers of crucial items — mainly oligopolies/monopolies, which makes boycotting a product a very difficult exercise. If a boycott can be organised it would hit the sugar producers hard in only the short-run.

However the need is to send a message to those guys up there who are selling our country left, right and centre – oh plus top and bottom. I am waiting to see Uganda being offered on eBay to the highest bidder. Any right thinking person cannot give away such a prime natural forest reserve for a sugar plantation or anything else.

I was reading a report where a major highway had been built decades ago in the centre of Seoul, South Korea only to be replaced recently by a walkway and trees at a cost of billions because they belatedly realised that nature was the best companion. Businesses that had left that part of the city slowly returned.

I think civil strikes like the one organised by the judges are more effective because that makes the sellers pause and listen. It is the sellers who need to know that people do not want them to sell their land for a destructive cause – the sugar corporation is just acting as a business entity and as long as they buy that land, it will remain theirs until they get an opportunity to pillage it.

President Yoweri Museveni may have a vision as he claims but whatever that vision may be, it is destructive – period. It is indeed not helpful to Ugandans.
In the report ‘Forest genetic resources conservation and management: In managed natural forests and protected areas (in situ)’ – volume 2 – prepared jointly by the Food and Agricultural Organisation, the Danida Forest Tree Seed Centre (DFSC), IPGRI (International Plant Genetic Resources Institute) and a number of international institutions, lack of institutional and political framework are cited as some of the major hindrances to nature conservation. In Uganda, we don’t only lack but have created an institutional and political framework to destroy nature.

It is not only the trees that are in danger in Mabira. The destruction to the bird life and all other forms of life in that area is enormous. All of them are part of the ecological balance. Already Mabira has shrunk to unacceptable levels and Museveni was one of the first people to criticise the previous governments for having allowed this to happen. It is amazing how he is now at the forefront of its destruction.

Furthermore, I do not know if Uganda has shed its tourism enhancement position. Mabira is so close to Kampala that if well maintained, it can produce enormous revenue for the country.

President Museveni usually visits countries like South Africa but he unfortunately stops at the hotels in Johannesburg and Pretoria. If he were to go further inland, he would see how the country promotes tourism with the barest of natural resources. If such a forest existed in South Aafrica I cannot fathom how much revenue would be generated from it. Throwing a lit cigarette butt on Table Mountain in Cape Town can earn you a number of months behind bars because fires on the mountain destroy nature and affect tourism.

Tourism revenue is hierarchical in that it starts from the airport and goes down to the local man who sells maize by the roadside, not forgetting Ugandan tour agencies. Just imagine a trip from Kampala through a guided tour of Mabira drive or walkways, then on to the Source of the Nile and other parts of the country. We are removing something that reduces stress and replacing it with something that causes frustration – food insecurity (climate) and exploitation.

It always defeats logic as to why our government chooses to be counter-trend. While the rest of Africa is democratising, we are undemocratising. While the rest of the world is planting trees and protecting the environment, we are actively tearing down the forests.

President Museveni came to power with the help of forests. I think that he has since learnt that forests are not a friend of those in power and knows the reason to hate them, especially if they are situated near the capital.
The writer is based in Cape Town, South Africa.

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