19 February 2018

Uganda: Nema, NFA, and Others Must Prove Their Relevance

opinion

A few days ago, I watched a heart-breaking NTV documentary by Sudhir Byaruhanga on the "disappearing Mabira forest". Mr Byaruhanga followed it with a detailed expose in the Daily Monitor of February 12, 2018.

I must thank NTV for enabling its best investigative reporter to undertake this very dangerous assignment, which enabled the public to have a glimpse into what is happening inside the 325sq km natural forest.

The forest is now disappearing at a rate faster than what many of us imagined.

God's gift to Uganda, which the British colonialists demarcated for preservation and all earlier post-independence governments managed to jealously keep intact, has fallen victim during the more than 30 years of the NRM government.

This is terribly discomforting because NRM was supposed to be a government of enlightened people with answers to Uganda's problems. As someone observed some years ago, there are more degrees (though some are fake) in this government than in all past governments put together. If you add to this the 'highly qualified' people manning parastatal bodies, nothing surely was expected to stop Uganda from cruising to a "lower middle income" status by 2020 and a "higher middle income" one by 2040!

Few knowledgeable people seriously brought into this dream, having observed over the years that the government was actually getting "off track'? Moving Uganda from LDC with GDP per capita of $615 to the middle income, which starts at $1,100 per capita, definitely needed much more focus and commitment.

What was easily achievable, however, is what was neglected. Mabira natural forest, for instance, was easily preservable with very little sweat. As things stand now, Mabira forest will be history, if nothing drastically changes, probably as soon as 2040; when Uganda's population is expected to reach 80 million from the current 40 million.

Mabira Forest is one of the main water catchment areas for Uganda as well as neighbouring countries, a preserve of hundreds of native tree species, fauna, rear animals, insects, etc.

Its tree cover guarantees us rain, a cool climate and a healthy environment. With it going, we should expect harsh dry weather, violent winds and storms and an impoverished population as food and cash crop yields plummet. The beautiful green Uganda will become brown as the Sahel moves southwards. What will happen to the 80 million people and possibly more inhabiting the Pearl of Africa?

With the demise of Mabira forest, there will be a 'domino effect' as other forest reserves become next targets. Actually, the dominoes started falling earlier. Does anyone remember the beautiful natural forest that used to be on Mityana Road in Bujuuko? Well it is all gone! Even the eucalyptus forest that was planted in its place was harvested, leaving behind ugly stumps.

As a resident in that general area, I can testify that the weather has changed quite a lot since that beautiful thick forest 'deserted' us. I am sure there are many other areas across the country with similar stories. As the saying goes, "we haven't seen nothing yet".

There are many other environmental catastrophes that have befallen the country in the last 30 years - destruction of the wetlands, sand mining in Lake Victoria, overfishing in the lakes, charcoal burning, destruction of soils for brick making and increased demand for firewood.

All this is happening while the relevant ministries, National Forest Authority (NFA), National Environmental Management Authority (Nema), National Planning Authority (NPA) and a host of high powered parastals are watching.

Part of the problem certainly is underfunding and political interference from big shots. Add to this an incompetent Parliament and because it is dominated by ruling party members, it has abandoned its oversight role over government.

What is the relevance Parliament if protecting the environment is not high on its agenda?

All you hear from the August House is prolonging their stay in Parliament, allowances for consultations on lifting age limits and of course bigger salaries for themselves and large gas guzzling SUVs.

It is only when Sudhir Byaruhanga blows the lid on the Mabira forest's eminent disappearance that some feeble noises are made in Parliament. Nema, NFA and Parliament have, unfortunately, proved that they are not up to the task.

For Mabira forest, I would suggest as a last resort that UPDF, which expelled the al-Shabaab from Mogadishu in Somalia and carried out other adventures in South Sudan, etc, be deployed to eject illegal loggers and their accomplices and seal off Mabira so as to give it time to regenerate. This is a national emergency where the army can intervene where other organs of government have failed.

Mr Naggaga is an economist, administrator and retired ambassador.

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