Seven Questions-“This country does not belong to Museveni”
Executive Director of the National Association of Professional Environmentalists, Mr Frank Muramuzi
By Risdel Kasasira
Posted Saturday, September 3 2011 at 18:00
The proposal by the government to giveaway Mabira Forest has sparked a big debate across the country with environmental activists threatening to repeat the kind of demonstrations that degenerated into riots in 2009 and left a number of people dead. After the riots government was forced to abandon the proposed giveaway. But in the renewed debate, President Museveni has said he is determined to give the forest to Sugar Corperation of Uganda Ltd, for sugarcane planation. The Executive Director of the National Association of Professional Environmentalists, Mr Frank Muramuzi, spoke to Sunday Monitor.
1. Why are you against the give-away of a small part of Mabira Forest to produce sugar which has become increasingly expensive and Ugandans cannot afford it?
Yes, we have the scarcity of sugar but Mabira is more important than these crystals for purposes of human life. We can plant sugarcane in other places, not in Mabira. There is no way you will transplant this forest to another area in Uganda but you can plant sugarcane in another place. That’s why we are against the giveaway of a third of this forest. If Mabira is given away, it will be the worst precedent because you will see many other forests going in this similar manner. While we appreciate the need to increase the production of sugar in the country, we should also know the importance of forests in Uganda. If I can tell; in the next 20 to 30 years, the rate at which the forests are being degraded, we shall remain with no forests and that will be a disaster for the country and the generations to come.
2.You can stop government from giving away the forest to Mehta but will you stop threats like human settlements and food cultivation to the forests as a result of high population growth rate?
If we accept to bow down to the population pressure and allow forests to be cut, allow people to settle in swamps, reclaim lakes and river, this country will be trouble in the future. I know in the last 20 years, we were 20 million people, meaning that in the next 20 years, we shall be 60million and in 60 years, we will be 100 million. But that does not mean that we are going to remove all the lakes, rivers and forests. We have to learn how to live with this increasing population. Get other ways and means of meeting the increasing population needs but not cut trees. We might also need to limit the population.
3.What would be the environmental impact if one third of Mabira forest is cut for sugarcane plantation?
That forest is not only important for this country but the whole region, if not the whole world. Being a water catchment for Lake Victoria and River Nile, it is important for our electricity generation, lives of millions of people depend on Lake Victoria, we are talking about transportation across the region, fisheries on Lake Victoria, medicines and others. But also in the era of climate change, that forest alone can attract millions of dollars into this country in form of carbon trading. The world can give us money to protect the forest such that it can generate oxygen for us but also absorb carbon dioxide. We have already got three million dollars from carbon trading.
4.There are those who say that you actually not fighting for maintenance of Mabira Forest but conniving with the opposition to frustrate government projects. They also say that you have incited sectarian sentiments because Mehta is a Ugandan of Asian origin.
No, the need to have this forest conserved is beyond Muramuzi, it’s bigger than Mehta, it’s bigger than politicians, the President and other political groups. It’s 30 million Ugandans who are at risk. The figure is even more than 30 million because you have Tanzanians, Kenyans, Egyptians and Sudanese whose lives are at risk if this forest is degraded. Those political groups you are talking about including, Parliament, Cabinet, the army and police are small entities compared to the importance of Mabira. For sectarianism, I have never mentioned anyone’s origin in this campaign. I have talked about traders and businessmen involved, not races. The environmental catastrophe that may come as a result of cutting down the forests does not know people’s races, religion and tribes. I have many friends who are Indians. They are very good people. What I’m saying is, that businessman [Mehta] should respect the interests of Ugandans.
5.Government says the bigger part of Mabira has been cut by the people living around the forest and that the part to be given to Mehta has already been degraded.
That’s rubbish and ignorance of those advancing that argument. When we talk about reservation, we don’t talk about only trees. Secondly, if people have cut the trees, that shouldn’t be an excuse of giving the land away. They should instead plant trees. Some people are just thriving on ignorance.
6.What do you plan to do if government goes ahead and gives this forest away?
We have already drawn a redline and people should know that this country does not belong to only a clique or a group people, it belongs to 30 million Ugandans. Uganda does not belong to the President or Cabinet, there is a bigger authority and that’s the people of Uganda. There is no way they will sit as a cocoon of ministers and giveaway that highly-valued natural resource and think Ugandans will keep quiet. The army, police, Cabinet and the President are employees of the 30 million people. I urge Parliament not to approve this suicidal plan. We have groups that have gone to Kenya, Rwanda and other countries to fight this plan. We are in touch with the World Bank over this matter. There is an indemnity agreement between the government of Uganda and the World Bank to protect this forest. In this agreement, the World Bank agreed that we can have Bujagali project but protect Mabira. We are calling upon the World Bank to prevail over these selfish people.
7.Are you sure all 30 million Ugandans support you?
If government has any doubts, let them put it on a referendum. Let the President and his Cabinet put this issue on the vote. That’s when they will know that Ugandans are not with them on this issue.