Monday December 4 2017

It’s time for government to review its priorities

William G. Naggaga

William G. Naggaga 

By William G Naggaga

Recently I read a story in the Daily Monitor , which gave me a ray of hope. The story was from an unlikely place, Karamoja, in particular the Tepeth people on the slopes of Mountain Moroto. These people resisted the cutting down of more than 5,185 native trees by the National Forest Authority (NFA) because they valued these trees; planted nearly 80 years ago by the colonialists.

According to the Tepeth, these trees protect the environment and are a source of rain, shade and harbour medicinal plants to cure various diseases. On the other hand, Michael Mugisa , the NFA director, wanted the trees ‘harvested’ because they were now mature! In a country where the forest cover is fast disappearing and where the rate of tree cutting is more than twice that of replanting, Mugisa and his colleagues should be more than glad that there are communities ready to protect their beloved trees.

Besides, what is the definition of mature? I visited a forest in Gabon, nearly 40 years ago and saw trees that were more than 500 years old ! Sadly, I have learnt that most have been “ harvested” for timber for export to Europe!
There are trees in the Amazon Forest in Brazil and in the jungles of Indonesia, which are about 1,000 years, sustaining our climate to date. So the question of maturity is relative and many times dictated by greedy government officials, who are superintending over the destruction of our forests instead of protecting them. If NFA had compelling reasons to harvest the trees, they should have planted a new forest five to 10 years ago and sensitised the community.

Recently, I watched a documentary on Lake Victoria, the largest fresh water body in Africa and the second largest in the world. Lake Victoria is dying because of mankind’s selfishness and greed. Overfishing, inappropriate fishing nets, lake sand mining, human encroachment on shores of the lakes, dumping of untreated industrial and human waste, and other dangerous chemicals, etc, are all contributing factors to the death of God’s gift to the people of Africa.

While this is happening, the three countries, Kenya Tanzania and Uganda which share the lake , are watching; hoping for a miracle to reverse the situation. Meanwhile the locals who depend on the lake are in a dire situation, with their source of livelihood destroyed and with nowhere else to go.

The overfishing was a result of the uncontrolled fish exports to Europe and the introduction of large fishing vessels which harvested fish indiscriminately, both mature and non- mature. The irony is that the locals were denied a vital source of protein as most of good fish was exported. Markets which sold fish are now selling left overs (fish bones, heads and skins) and any good fish left for the local market is out of reach to the poor given the price. One should do a study and determine if the foreign exchange earned from fish exports is worth the deprivation suffered by the poor masses. My ‘quick calculation’ is that these exports have left a negative balance sheet. Fish exports should be banned except within the region. With Lake Victoria and others dying, there will be no fish left to export and all this talk about “fish farming’’ is nothing compared to a god-given massive fresh water body, which with a bit of common sense in our heads, we must save before it is too late. A regional organisation, the Lake Victoria Basin Organisation, was created for the purpose of developing and regulating activities on Lake Victoria and is funded by Lake Victoria basin countries and development partners. It would be a shame if they allowed the lake to die in their hands.

Uganda’s wetlands have also been encroached on and destroyed, many times with the connivance of people and bodies that are paid to protect them. The National Environmental Management Agency (Nema), has failed miserably in its task of protecting our environment. It has allowed ‘big people’ to bully it into bending rules or turning a blind eye to environmental degradation. Wetlands have been dished out to the well connected to grow rice!

Uganda has for nearly 20 years placed a great emphasis on infrastructure such as roads, hydro-electric power dams and lately the standard gauge railway (SGR). These are increasingly consuming a lion’s share of the budget. Some of us have argued that perhaps the emphasis should have gone to health, education, agriculture, job creation and the environment. In budgeting, the government should have reduced allocation for power generation and roads in order to provide more funding for the other crucial sectors mentioned above so as to avoid a lopsided budget.

As things stand, Uganda is posed to have twice more power than it is able to consume with the completion of Agago and Karuma dams and more roads carrying fewer goods. There is also the unthinkable, where there will not be enough water to run the dams and little rain to grow enough crops. Government should stop ‘burying its head in the sand’ and wake up to the looming catastrophe.

Mr Naggaga is an economist, administrator and retired ambassador.