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.
Tuesday, May 08, 2007
The BBC World Service Have Your Say programme of 4th May, revealed something that made me shiver. On the subject of the introduction into the market of a device that helps expectant parents know the sex of their unborn child, some contributors to the programme supported its potential for causing widespread abortion of unwanted babies. They argued that the world is overpopulated and therefore the device can be good for population control.
Though shocked at that line of argument, I had chosen not to give it any more attention but it came back to haunt me when the programme went on to discuss global warming. Listeners were being asked what they thought about the fact that developing countries are being told that if they developed to the levels of the first world countries, planet Earth would not be able to cope with the resultant negative effects on the environment. It got methinking: if some people in the western world are concerned about the global population being too big, what would stop a deliberate move to increase carbon emissions thus triggering accelerated global warming that would decimate those most vulnerable in the third world in order to achieve desirable population levels?
This may sound a little far-fetched but if such questions were asked in their respective situations, the Holocaust and the Balkan and Rwanda genocides would probably have been foreseen and stopped before they happened. The thought of this has increased my resolve to support accelerated economic growth and industrialisation in Uganda at whatever cost because time is not on our side. Only a richer and self-sustaining Uganda can defend itself best against any threats including global warming as we now see with China, India, Singapore, Malaysia, Brazil and other countries. These countries have used economic growth to ensure that their people are insulated against many of the threats that Uganda is still very vulnerable to.
Contrary to what the Ugandan elite would like to believe, Uganda's is not a stand-alone environment. The whole world is warming up (that iswhy it is called global warming) not just because Uganda's forests are threatened but more because of the economic growth, industrialisation and increased consumption in developed countries. Tackling climate change is supposed to be a global effort with every country working in tandem. However, the world is far away from reaching any concrete agreement because of the inequalities among nations. The richer nations will not sacrifice their growth so that poverty-stricken Uganda can survive while, ironically, some Ugandans are willing to sacrifice human lives that would be saved through the gaining of livelihoods that comes with growth.
The Ugandan and third world elite and governments should look at global warming and industrialisation more as questions of national security, sovereignty and survival than merely issues of the environment and economics.
Posted by Martin Makara at 11:52 am