First of all, I respect the opinions of those who oppose the proposed conversion of a part of Mabira forest to sugarcane growing and I am sure that they have good intentions. However, so does President Museveni and those of us who support it. This is in response to Fr. Alex Ojacor's narrow and elitist views on the said conversion in his article Mabira giveaway: selling life for 30 pieces of silver (Sunday Vision, 6th May). He expresses concern that people today have to look harder for building material unlike in the past and yet in the modern world, if one is employed and getting remunerative income, which the 'Mabira giveaway' is aiming to provide, they would not be expected to go to a forest or thicket to collect building materials. They would not have the time for that because someone is paying for that time. When such people want to build houses, they pay providers of building materials who collect them from a sustainable source which has to be replenished because he (the provider) would be out of business if it was depleted. The more the people with remunerative income, the bigger the market for the building materials provider and the better will be his capacity to ensure a sustainable source of the materials.
Yes, God told human beings to be 'fruitful and multiply; fill the earth ...' but that is the problem. When Ojacor was growing up, Uganda's population was probably just a quarter of what it is now. Now that puts pressure on the little land formerly left for human habitation and on the forests and thickets for building materials to provide housing for increasing populations. Technology is God's gift through the intelligence he gave human beings that has enabled man to live in huge populations on otherwise limited space - urbanisation. Urbanisation would relieve the pressure on the land but it is not possible without industrialisation as we have seen in the developed countries.
Ojacor further decries the fact that trees are being cut down for firewood and charcoal. My take on this is that that is man exercising his God-given permission to have dominion over the earth. People do not use firewood and charcoal as toys but as resources for survival. What Ojacor should be worried about is the non-replenishment of the source of these survival resources. According to his line of argument, I believe that he would pass a very harsh judgement on a mother who cuts down a tree so that her babies do not sleep on empty stomachs but let a man who drives his car to buy airtime from a shop that is just two hundred metres from his home or office get off scot-free. To me, the mother can plead self-defence against hunger for her babies but the man should be judged as the real environmental criminal. The environmental criminals are the rich people who switch on all ten security lights in their compounds at 6:30 pm and not the poor ones who burn charcoal so that they can get money to pay school fees for their children.
If the 'Mabira give-away' is likened to risking selling our heritage and future for a mere 30 pieces of silver, I am happy to support government to take that risk. If the proposed sugar plantation is going to provide 3,500 opportunities for employment for Ugandans (which may be about the total population of Catholic priests in Uganda), the sacrifice is worth it. With the obscenely widening gap between the rich and the poor, how many opportunities do we have to close it with projects of this magnitude? 3,500 jobs means giving a better future to hundreds of mothers and children who are vulnerable only because their households do not bring in regular incomes. If 30 pieces of silver from the 'Mabira give-away' can guarantee that one more expectant mother will go a maternity ward and walk out healthy after a successful birth and with a healthy baby, I am certain God will understand because He is not rigid.