The Monitor (Kampala)

Uganda: Mr President, Stop the Mabira Games

opinion

Kampala — President Yoweri Museveni is at it again; this time around reminding the country that the controversial proposal to give away Mabira forest which led to the death of three people about six months ago, is not yet resolved after all.

His remarks while meeting the NRM Parliamentary Caucus last week in effect mean that government could still go ahead a give away part of the tropical rain forest to a private investor, the Lugazi-based Mehta Group, in total disregard of public opinion.

Most depressing about this debacle though is the fact that Mr Museveni's resolve to parcel out a protected national resource contradicts the announcement made to the world in October by his finance minister Dr Ezra Suruma, at a dinner meeting hosted by the South American President of Guyana, Bharrat Jagdeo, in Georgetown that the Uganda government had dropped the plan to give away part of Mabira forest.

And why should a national leader against all odds push for the alienation of 17,540 acres, nearly a third of Mabira forest to Mehta when there are huge chunks of an utilised public land in this country under government control which can be gazetted for the industrilisation programme.

What's the moral justification for this disdain to an evident national consensus that Mabira forest reserve is a no-go area for the promoters of industrialisation! Quite maddening too, is the apparent lack of government interest to explain to the country why of all places it's Mabira that should be earmarked for 'industrialisation'.

Is it the proximity of the place called Mabira that has attracted the 'investors' to justify its destruction, or is it an element of ego and greed (some of the main factors that erode the principles of good governance) that can possibly explain the determination by the powers that be to destroy what remains of our national forest cover?

Whatever the motive it's our civic duty as citizens to remind our leaders that the constitutionally established principle of public trust applies to all our national resources and public land.

Our leaders including the president have a legal obligation under the public trust doctrine to manage national resources in a manner that doesn't prejudice the interests of all Ugandans.

President Museveni chairs the cabinet which in April studied a damning cabinet memorandum prepared by the Ministry of Water and Environment which paradoxically, strongly argued against the destruction of the forest.

In the cabinet memo, experts noted the negative impact of changing the land use of the 7,100 hectares of Mabira tropical rain forest; which among others will lead to reduction in water flow to the lakes and rivers, change temperatures and loss of unique ecosystem whose economic value is estimated at Shs23.3 billion.

The negative effects that await the country once Mabira is given away, can also be prescient too. Over the years ,there is been too much destruction of our forest cover and the ramifications for this obliteration have been clear for all to see including the unprecedented severe weather conditions experienced in the country this year.

The unpredictability in climatic conditions that threaten the survival of mankind, have led to the development of a basic international environmental precautionary law principle to protect and conserve nature for the benefit of present and future generations.

The precautionary principle which governs the exploitation of natural resources like forests, was developed following the 1982 World Charter for Nature which provides in its principle 11(b); that activities which are likely to pose a significant risk to nature shall be preceded by an exhaustive examination; that their proponents shall demonstrate that expected benefits outweigh potential damage to nature.

Studies carried out so far clearly show that the proposed destruction of Mabira forest shall spell doom for our country. Parliament and the courts of law should therefore urgently intervene to save Mabira forest from being destroyed for selfish benefits of some 'investors'. Ugandans should remain firm in the defence of Mabira forest to prevent irreversible harm to our environment.

The writer is a journalist and advocate

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