General Caleb Akandwanaho aka Salim Saleh, the Senior Presidential Advisor on Security and Defence has backed the excavation of sand from Uganda’s lakes, rivers and swamps saying the country has no choice if it's to embrace industrialisation.
Recently, various leaders and environmentalists led by Wakiso District Chairman Matia Lwanga Bwanika accused Chinese companies of degrading the Lake Victoria while carrying out massive excavation of sand.
There have been a similar outcry from Masaka where Chinese firms were accused of degrading wetlands in Lwera on the Kampala-Masaka highway.
Most of this sand is sold to construction sites in Namunkekera Rural Industrial Centre in Kapeeka town, Nakaseke District. It’s alleged that the sand is being used as raw material in making ceramic tiles.
Gen Saleh, a younger brother of President Yoweri Museveni, who is also the chairman of Namunkekera Rural Industrial Centre says that the “revenue and employment” that would be generated from industries being constructed using the sand outweigh the environmental concerns being raised.
Gen Saleh said the Chinese companies were licensed by Uganda Investment Authority, Ministry of Water and Transport and the National Environment Management Authority, among others, to engage in sand mining with a view that they would carry out the work while considering the protection of the lakes.
He, however, says that area politicians have delayed the activities which has paralysed construction of industries in the Industrial Centre adding that Uganda must make a “painful choice to either allow sand mining to facilitate industrialisation or allow its citizens remain jobless.”
Mr Jerry Zhou the Business Supervisor of Goodwill (Uganda) Ceramic Company Limited, a company being constructed under Namunkekera Rural Industrial Centre says they currently need 2,000 tons of sand to complete the construction of industries that would make ceramics.
However, he says, they are facing a supply shortage.
Mr Zhou said they have so far injected $15 million (about Shs54 billion) in construction works and they want the company to be operational by March this year.
He said 10 companies are interested in setting up ventures Namunkekera Industrial Centre adding that the government should decide whether the raw materials (sand) is available or not.
Mr Mendy Yu, the Business Officer of Mango Tree, a company engaged in sand mining refuted the accusation of degrading the lake and instead accused local politicians of frustrating their activities. Mr Mendy said they are working within Uganda Investment Authority and Ministry of Works guidelines.
Last year, district leaders and officials from National Environment Management Authority (NEMA) blocked Mango Tree Group from excavating sand in Kawuku village, Nkumba Parish, and Katabi Town Council on grounds that the sand mining had a negative impact on the eco-system of Lake Victoria.
NEMA also issued a statement indicating that the license they issued to Mango Tree, is only limited to making ships and not sand mining.
The company started operations in 2015 while making cargo ships and later crossed to sand mining. Company officials have camped at Gen Saleh's home in Kapeeka asking him to intervene and ask government to allow them to proceed with their activities.