Issuing land titles to investors on wetlands must end

Joel Okao Tema

What you need to know:

  • Government must significantly raise the cost of wetland degradation to the encroachers. 

The government has been drumming up the importance of investments, especially Foreign Direct Investments, to our economy for many years now. Investments, the government argues, creates jobs and brings taxes.

 Granted. However, this government’s industrialisation drive appears reckless and there are some serious problems with it.  Firstly, the drumming up has been so loud that it creates the impression that only foreign investors really matter to the economy, and to the government.  Secondly, to the growing number of desperate jobless young people, it creates the illusion that jobs will fall from heaven overnight and their situation will improve in the twinkling of an eye. As we all know, this is not true.

 According to Uganda Investment Authority’s own review of its 2016-2020 Strategic Plan, on the job score, the performance was so poor that out of the anticipated one million jobs, only 150,000 (a miserly 14.8 percent) were created over 5 years. Uganda is therefore not getting the jobs. But there is another problem.

 The government seems to be in love with investors who have a high propensity for environmental degradation as witnessed in the way they are destroying Uganda’s wetlands in the name of setting up factories. As the government counts the number of factories, the number of wetlands that have been destroyed for industrial development grows. 
The National Wetlands Atlas places the national loss of wetlands at 75,000 hectares annually. While industrialization is not solely responsible for the above figures, they are staggering and mind boggling by all accounts.  

 In the face of this disastrous loss of wetlands, hence biodiversity, President Museveni has been issuing endless but feeble orders to his government to end wetland destruction and to evict encroachers. It is tempting to believe such orders. However, when one looks at the litany of them that remain unenforced over several years, one gets to the sad conclusion that the President is either not serious, or the people who work for him no longer take him seriously.

 Government must end this madness. At a time when Uganda desperately needs help to undertake robust climate adaptation measures, she cannot be turning her wetlands into wastelands, in the name of creating jobs which remain non-existent. There is no doubt that Uganda needs serious investors that can create the jobs and the taxes. But it needs her wetlands even more. 

 Government must take concrete actions to restore the wetlands now and end the madness of issuing land titles to investors on wetlands. Land acquisition is part of one’s investment costs. And it must be the responsibility of the investor to source and buy the land needed for his or her investment. Wetlands belong to Ugandans, and the government is only entrusted to manage them for posterity and not to dish them out to investors as if the future will somehow not need them.

 The continued destruction of wetlands in the name of building factories stands in contrast to the position stated in Uganda Vision 2040 that “Ugandans desire a green economy and clean environment where the ecosystem is sustainably managed, and the liveability of the urban systems greatly improved”.
 As Uganda races towards the attainment of her own Vision 2040, and the SDGs, it’s urgent, and crucial, that the government moves quickly to ensure that encroachers on wetlands restore the same. 

 In a country where forest cover is rapidly disappearing due to human activity, and weather patterns are changing at an alarming rate with temperatures rising, one can only take the destruction of wetlands with government collusion as suicidal. Government must significantly raise the cost of wetland degradation to the encroachers. Wetlands are a resource for all Ugandans and the government must live up to its responsibility to preserve and protect them for posterity.

Mr Joel Okao Tema is a Lira based journalist and FDC’s Secretary for Trade, Industry, Economy and Investments