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Uganda: Ugandans Take Fight to Save a Rainforest to Internet

Mabira is the word almost every Ugandan on social networking sites has mentioned in the last one week. The Mabira Forest is found in central Uganda near the capital Kampala. It’s one of the few natural rain forests that remain after years of degradation took away many hectares.

Uganda’s forests cover loss is already driven by an increasing population which largely depends on agriculture but the fight this time is against the government and a sugar production company, Sugar Corporation of Uganda Limited (Scoul), which intends to take part of the forest for sugarcane production. In 1990 Uganda had 5 million hectares of forest but by 2005 this was reduced to just 3.5 million. Uganda is one of the ten African countries with the highest net loss of forest.

Fred Senoga Makubuya depiction of Mabira Forest saga. Image courtesy of Fred Makubuya.

Ugandans first took to the streets in 2007 to demonstrate against President Museveni’s government's move to give away parts of the Mabira Forest to Sugar Corporation of Ugandan Limited (Scoul). The move to de-gazette the forest met stiff resistance and saw over 1,000 Ugandans pour in the streets of Kampala. At least three people were killed.

Last week President Museveni announced that he will go ahead and give away part of the forest amidst sugar shortage. And the sentiments haven’t changed. The Mabira Forest is an important catchment area with a lot of biodiversity and this time environmental groups as well opposition parties are planning protest. Members of President Museveni’s governing party, the National Resistance Movement (NRM), also opposed the give-away at meeting they held with the president this week.

On Facebook many groups have been created ranging from Ugandans Against Mabira Forest Give Away to Save Mabira Now.

Lots of discussions are going on at the moment. Ugandan Facebook user Osotto Denis wonders why the president is insisting on giving the forest and questions if the president has personal links to the sugar business:

Why is the President hell bent on giving Mabira to Mehta for some million dollars and more sugar?could it be that the President and Mehta are business partners?An investigation into how much of scoul and other investments Mehta actually owns should be carried out, I have a feeling we will find the answer as to why M7 is hell bent on decimating Mabira.

Patricia Sembuse is thankful for the Buganda Kingdom and the church, which have offered alternative lands to the sugar corporation in a move to save Mabira:

Mubende – Mityana road has a lot of inhabited land, why doesnt SCOUL go there and so many other areas? We thank the Kabaka of Buganda and Mukono Anglican church for the offers!

Scoul is owned by a Ugandan of Indian origin and the forest give-away has resurrected discussions on divides between the Indian and native Ugandans. This is largely because the president says the move to give away the forest is to provide more jobs to locals.

Mary Kelly discusses the salary divides and who occupies most of the top positions in the company:

All section heads and departmental heads are indians, in summary, just at managerial level scoul has a minimum of 36 indians. Apart from de managerial level, some lower positions are also held by indians e.g in factory dept alone, de fuel clerks, cane yard supervisor, are indians. So there's a minimum of 100 indians employed in scoul. Now wen it comes to salary it's a disaster: indian top managers each get atleast 1500 us dollars(salary) which's deposited on their accounts back home so it's not taxed, on top of that they each get atleast ug shs 500k every week. Now for black managers most of whom are assistant managers are paid at most 500 shs.

Ochan Moses thinks the 1000 plus members of the Facebook groups need to do more:

I think we should go beyond protesting mabira give away.This group members should spearhead the reafforestation campaign for the degraded portion.I believe UGANDANS would generously support the restoration of mabira.

Peter Nyanzi believes the renewed Mabira give-away efforts from the President are an attempt to divert Ugandans from paying attention to the current inflation and economic problems:

With Mr Museveni beset from all sides by the economic crisis, the depreciating shilling, a scotching cost of living and the resultant strikes from all and sundry, he wanted something to divert public attention and sap the excess energy…oh how successful the Mabira hoodwink has been!

Many Ugandans on Facebook are sharing this message on their status:

Let all your friends who value this beautiful forest to join the SAVE MABIRA NOW… Let's see if we can collect 1,000 signatures this week. Let's start saving Mabira today.

Fred Senoga, whose political cartoons have quite a following on Facebook, drew a cartoon featuring President Museveni and the owner of the Sugar corporation, Mehta group.

On Twitter, Ugandan tweets are using hashtags are #Mabira and #SaveMabira:

@AndyKristian says
cutting down Mabira would be irresponsible on the president’s part:

Dear President @KagutaMuseveni. Please do not cut down #Mabira #Forest. That will be very irresponsible! #Environment #ClimateChange #Uganda

@UgandaTalks indicated that Mehta Group carried a report claiming that the part of the forest they wanted to expand their sugar business was degraded.

On Monday government took journalists to the forest and but they could not locate the degraded part of the forest.

@andsjeff claims that money has already changed hands between the Mehta Group and President Museveni’s government, a claim that has been rife in the country:

@TusiimeSamson its said that #Mabira already belongs to Mehta! was given as deal for the Money Injected in 2006 campaigns!!

@pjkanywa says the Mabira pending give-away has little to do with sugar or economics:

this whole #mabira saga is not about sugar or economics, it's just about a bully trying to remind himself who is boss in the school yard.

It is about control and absolute power:

#Mabira is more about Mzee showing us that he can do what he wants, when he wants… control & absolute power! @TimKalyegira #uganda

Thumbnail image of Mabira Forest by Flickr user Tattooed JJ (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0).
  • Steve NDIKUMWENAYO

    Thank you Rosebell for sharing those reflections. I really hope reason and logic will help all stakeholders to transcend their ego and differences to make wise decisions, for the good of the Country, for God and Our Country!

  • http://wildugandablog.com Wild Thoughts from Uganda

    Great article, Rosebell. Keep the pressure up! Like drilling for oil in Murchison, this is an example of looking at a short-term gain for a few, with a long-term loss for many.

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