Mabira: Activists dare Museveni
Posted Tuesday, January 15 2013 at 02:00
As expected, President Museveni’s renewed efforts to parcel out land in Uganda’s largest forest to a sugarcane baron yesterday attracted swift condemnation from environmentalists, MPs and the opposition.
The President was also accused of using the emotive Mabira matter to divert public attention from the wave of massive corruption scandals that have swept through his government, and the controversy surrounding Butaleja MP Cerinah Nebanda’s sudden death.
Environmentalists told journalists at Parliament they would do “everything legally possible” to save Mabira Central Forest Reserve and other natural resources from what they called unjustifiable degradation and abuse.
“We are alerting the President and informing all Ugandans that we are committed to do everything legally possible to save Mabira forest,” said Ms Beatrice Anywar, a member of the Save Mabira Crusade umbrella group.
Across town, the Forum for Democratic Change deplored the refusal by the government and Mehta Group’s Sugar Corporation of Uganda to learn from the violent 2007 Mabira protests which led to loss of life.
Ms Anywar also announced that activists have again agreed to call countrywide demonstrations aimed at stopping what they see as further degradation of Uganda’s shrinking forest cover.
“We are also informing the President and all Ugandans that Mabira forest giveaway should not be used as a diversionary tool from the challenges the country is facing such as corruption scandals, unexplained death of the Butaleja Woman MP, Cerinah Nebanda, poor governance of petroleum, land and other natural resources,” she said.
At the opening of the NRM parliamentary caucus retreat in Kyankwanzi on Saturday, the President blamed the failure to get his wish to give-away part of Mabira for sugarcane growing on Members of Parliament.
In 2007, the Mabira give-away had unleashed public outrage which forced the President to back off.
The President indicated he is reviving his wish to have 7,100 hectares of the forest land parcelled out to the Mehta Group. But yesterday, he was accused of going back on his word.
The executive director of National Association of Professional Environmentalists, Mr Frank Muramuzi, said when they met the President in September 2011, he committed to never give away the forest.
“We are this time going to organise in villages and he will not handle the demonstration. Mabira is bigger than Parliament and the Executive,” Mr Muramuzi said.
Rubaga South MP John Ken Lukyamuzi, an avowed environmentalist, said they are prepared “to die” in protection of the forest, which is a key part of Uganda’s eco-system and water catchment area.
Demand for referendum
Citing Article 237(2)b of the Constitution where all forests are held in public trust, Mr Lukyamuzi said Mabira does not belong to NRM but to the state of Uganda. “Let him declare a referendum so that people vote on whether Mabira should be cut or not. We are organising a big demonstration to shake him off, get him off the shelf before he leaves,” said Mr Lukyamuzi.
Ms Anywar said the President and investors should not open up old wounds over Mabira forest and Amuru land. “If not, we shall not hesitate to mobilise Ugandans all over the country for an uprising against the government,” Ms Anywar, who is fondly referred to as Mama Mabira for championing the crusade to save the forest.
FDC spokesman Wafula Oguttu asked the government to listen to Ugandans. Mr Oguttu said the government should instead consider parts of Bunyoro and Karamoja where “there is still a lot of land”.
“In 2007, there were protests in which innocent Ugandans were killed by soldiers and it looks like government has not drawn enough blood of innocent Ugandans in order to leave that forest,” Mr Oguttu said.
“We advise government and Mehta Group to leave that forest because more blood will be shed,” Mr Oguttu added, vowing that FDC would rally Ugandans to boycott Mehta products.