Tuesday, August 16, 2011


Woe unto you if you are for or indifferent to the conversion of part of Mabira forest reserve for sugar production. That is the way sections of the mainstream media, citizen media and social network platforms, together with so-called environmentalists, are trying to have an advantage over those who agree or are passive to President Museveni's recent suggestion in light of the current economic problems. In particular, sugar prices have joined other commodity costs in an upward spiral. Sugar prices, on the other hand, should not be rising the way they have because Uganda has the internal capacity to produce a lot of it to meet domestic demand and even have surplus and thus keep prices low. However, we have a deficit, hence exploitative pricing, and the answer is to produce more.

This debate should be devoid of sentiment and taking the moral high ground. These very two aspects, however, are the central motivator in those against President Museveni's suggestion, in addition to political differences. First and foremost, the sentimental side cries about the price of sugar being beyond what the poor can afford. That seems noble except for the fact that it does not mention that when sugar prices recently dipped they did so only in Kampala and, even then, in places where the rich usually shop! Why is that? Should we not be appealing, for the sake of saving Mabira, not just to President Museveni, but to traders too? The poor already have it hard saving for the future on little incomes and high prices. Wouldn't it be sensible to 'sacrifice' part of Mabira now and look at mitigation measures for the future? Are we completely without the technical knowledge and capacity, with the thousands of university students the poor pay tuition for in government institutions, to come up with ways to mitigate any effects of a possible Mabira conversion? I don't think so!

Those who take the environmental moral high ground are some of the biggest hypocrites and polluters in Uganda. Honourable Beatrice Anywar, for instance, drives a big fuel-guzzling Toyota Land Cruiser sports utility vehicle, which each day emits more carbon dioxide into the environment than an average rural household does in a month. Is this the kind of person that we should believe is sincere about the environment when she opposes the conversion of part of Mabira forest reserve? When she and those like her travel to Nairobi or Juba, I bet they prefer to do so by aeroplane, which is the biggest contributor to the accumulation of greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere and therefore climate change and environmental degradation. The common poor Ugandan, who pays more for his sugar but emits less CO2, has to bear the bulk of the 'sacrifice' in 'saving Mabira'. Where is the 'sacrifice' of these do-gooder political activists hiding behind the environment? In their 'public servant', 'people's representative' status? I don't think so.

I urge the media not to just regurgitate what the activists are saying just because it is fashionable to be concerned for the environment. The hard questions must be asked on both and all sides. Asking the hard questions will make us all wiser because, for sure, Mabira forest is not the alpha and omega of Uganda's environment. Of the two sides, I believe the blackmailers are those opposed to the Mabira forest reserve conversion, not President Museveni.

Martin Makara,
Kansanga, Makindye Municipality, Kampala.