18 December 2006

Uganda: Why All This Forest Fuss, Isn't a Palm Tree a Tree?

guest column

Even among peasants and wretched people, there are men who command respect for being better off than their peers.

In this respect, Kigayabibira has Rwakatemeramiti. When the booze is on Rwakatemeramiti - as is often the case - any member of the drinking party who interrupts or challenges him, risks going home sober.

That evening, they simply listened and cheered him on. As is Rwakatemeramiti's style, he began with a long humorous tale. The one about the legendary loafer who feigns illness, as an excuse to remain home, when the men set out to hunt.

The sound of triumphal hunting songs makes him feel better. When the skinning of the animal is completed, the loafer is 'fiddle fit' and busy dispensing unsolicited advice on who should get which part of the carcass.

According to Rwakatemeramiti, when the clarion's call to fight dictatorship, was sounded many years ago, some people sought the comfort of their soft beds, under which they would occasionally dive for safety.

They would then wake up and criticise those who were busy sacrificing their lives as 'bandits.' But God and time sided with the 'bandits.'

They came home tired, tested, much wiser and with the animal firmly in their hands. As usual it took time to slaughter, clean, and skin it.

Now that the softest parts are being distributed, a group of people, (many of whom did not take up the 'bandit' challenge) have come up with unfounded 'anti people concerns' of 'environmental...this' and 'ecosystem...that!' For heavens sake, what's wrong with cutting down a forest to give way to industrialisation?

First of all, what's a tree? It is said that if it looks like a duck, walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, then it's a duck! A sugar cane grows out of the soil like a tree, has a stem like a tree and leaves just like a tree! So, a sugar cane is a tree. Period! Therefore when you cut down Mabira forest and plant sugar cane, aren't you creating a 'sugar cane forest?' As for Bugala Islands, there's no contest since 'trees' are being replaced by 'palm trees.' It's a question of English not philosophy or environmental science!

Secondly Mehta has 'Keyekoledde' (physical assets as proof of hard work.) He's only asking for land not money like Kananathan. Land he can't run away with in case things get tight.

Can't we trust that with the gift of Mabira forest, the sky is the limit? Sugar output will go so high thus pushing the price so low.

After fully saturating the domestic market and flooding the world market, there surely will be such a huge surplus that there will be no option but to use some to fill the pot-holes on our roads.

Again, this is not environmental science it is just common sense!

Thirdly, migratory birds that fly in from Europe during winter are known to find sanctuary in Mabira forest, the wetlands around Lake Victoria and the River Nile basin.

These birds have the potential of carrying the deadly bird flu virus. Luckily, the Lake is drying up, and we are slowly but steadily sorting out the wetlands by building factories and houses in them. Why not deal a lasting blow to these birds and their dangerous, disease-carrying potential by denying them a home in Mabira? Aren't we overwhelmed by HIV/Aids, tuberculosis and malaria? Since there is almost no money coming from the Global Fund, won't an incidence of bird flu decimate our population?

Isn't chopping the forest a reasonable health solution far beyond the understanding of environmental scientists? Still talking about health, aren't too many trees known to be the cause of too much rain, the type which floods Bwaise and spreads cholera?

Aren't we better off without some of these forests? Yes agriculture needs rain, but forty years of bananas, without progress points to a change of strategy. We can grow bananas after the factories! Isn't it the Basoga who are famous for using the phrase 'jyamera jyenne' (the trees grew on their own) when chopping down trees without remorse? Has anything ever happened to them? Is there anyone, environmentalist or otherwise who planted Mabira forest? Won't another forest rise up 'naturally' the way Mabira did?

Do Saudi Arabia and Kuwait have forests? Aren't they richer than Uganda? If it is because of oil, haven't we also discovered our own oil? Why the fuss?

Our problem is lack of factories not forests! It is easier to plant trees than find investors to put up factories. Only those without a vision can't see this!

Rwakatemeramiti saw this long time ago. That's why he always buys the booze as the rest drink themselves silly and sheepishly cheer him on!

Then Rwakatemeramiti concluded, with a biblical warning from Matthew 7:6, "don't give dogs what is sacred; don't throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet and then turn and tear you to pieces!"

For whosoever he meant this warning, ignore it at your own risk and peril!

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