Godfathers, politics eating up wetland
| MUBATSI ASINJA HABATI | The sprawling Kehong Farm in Lubenge in Luweero district produces rice, bananas, eggs, and chicken meat. It is the pride of the area with its Chinese machines and scientific methods and a promise of over 30,000 jobs when fully operational.
But the success has a sting in its tail that President Yoweri Museveni appears unable to escape from. The 1,000 hectares on which Kehong Farm sits is partly what is technically called a `wetland’; an area of land that is permanently or seasonally water-logged. That means it is a protected area under the law and no development is allowed on it under the National Environment Management Authority (NEMA) guidelines.
But somehow, the Chinese Kehong Group acquired the land in 2016 as the China-Uganda Agricultural Cooperation Industrial Park and the farm was officially opened by President Museveni amidst protests from environmental activists.
Meanwhile, almost in panic mode, the Minister of State for Environment; Beatrice Anywar, is daily seen threatening to evict ordinary Ugandans who occupy wetlands. She recently embarked on a tour in Kalungu district, under heavy police escort, ordering peasants on tiny half acre patches to vacate wetlands or else they will be forcefully evicted.
Minister Anywar’s threats to peasants in wetlands and President Museveni’s embrace of big Chinese farms in the same wetlands appear to be a contradiction but they may not be. It appears that if you have the right sums of money or the right Godfather, you are above the Uganda wetland laws.
“The people who build factories in wetlands have godfathers in the central government,” says the Luweero district Chairman Ronald Ndawula.
Ndawula was attempting to explain to The Independent why, in his view, presidential directives on wetlands are never implemented.
He was commenting on a June 04 speech in which President Museveni condemned investors who build factories in wetlands.
While giving his annual State of the Nation Address, Museveni mentioned several areas where factories have been built in wetlands and called that “a mistake”.
“We want more and more factories, but build on dry land, not the wetlands,” the President said.
Then he added: “Those already built or being built should be allowed to continue. Demolishing an already built factory is not common-sense. They are very expensive and very useful.”
Perhaps unknown to the President, his comments reinforced an already entrenched practice which has seen some investors constructing at breakneck speed in wetlands, including at night. The goal is to ensure that their development is up and, therefore, unbreakable.
Arthur Bainomugisha, executive director of Advocates Coalition for Development and Environment (ACODE), a non-government organisation, says what appears to be defiance is actually a reflection of how politics has killed institutions.
“I think the institutions charged with managing the environment have been weakened. And they have been weakened by politics. The legal regime is in place but politics always interferes with NEMA’s activities,” Bainomugisha says.
As a result, factories of varying beautiful designs, size, and function have been built in wetlands all over the country. Driving along major highways leading out of Kampala and other towns and urban centres, one sees rows upon rows of steel framed factory buildings and sprawling farms in former wetlands.
On the Kampala Jinja highway, for example, one can count hundreds of such factories. Such factories include Abacus Parenteral Drugs Ltd (APDL), Tian Tang Group, Global Paper, Landy and others. Uganda’s main industrial park, in Namanve outside Kampala lies on 1000s of hectares of what were once wetlands.
The factories produce goods previously imported into the country, making them cheaper and available. Some of the products are being exported, bringing in the much needed foreign currency.
Tian Tang Group produces metal products such as iron bars and steel sheets, APDL produces infusion products like IV fluids, eye, ear and nasal drops. Such economic gains appear to dwarf any environmental benefits from wetlands that conservations speak of. No wetland is safe.
Environmentalists argue that construction in wetlands deprives the marshland of its water storage and filtration roles, kills plants and animals whose only habitats may be a wetland. But these benefits are indirect, almost invisible while the money from salaries of factory workers, taxes, and sale of products areas are as visible as the clouds of dark smoke fuming from the factory chimneys.
Effects of encroachment on wetlands
There was a time when almost 16% of Uganda’s surface area was wetland. Since building factories in wetlands became normal, it is not clear how much of the remains.
The latest Biomass study indicates that in the last 15 years, the country has lost 569,021 hectares of wetlands in various parts of the country.
The 2019 water and environment sector review report shows that the wetland cover has reduced from 15.6% in 1994 to 8.4% in 2019.
A 2015 study by researchers at Makerere University states that 56% of the original Nakivubo wetland in Kampala had been modified, mainly due to industrial development and small-scale farming.
Another study by World Bank study found that the eight major wetlands in Kampala district declined from 18 percent to 9 percent of the area between 2002 and 2010.
Across the country, urbanisation, industrial development and agriculture have spurred swamp losses, influencing the rise of severe flash floods; particularly in eastern Uganda. They destroy infrastructure, homes and crops. People drown.
There are 25 major wetlands systems in the country that treat wastewater and serve as a source of safe water for local communities, according to the Wetlands Management Department. But data from Uganda’s Ministry of Water and Environment indicates that up to 30% of Uganda’s wetlands were lost between 1994 and 2008. In this period, Uganda’s wetlands reduced from 37,575.4 sq. km in 1996 to 26,307.7 sq. km in 2008.
EACOP Was Anchored On Disinformation, Persons Affected By Pipeline Declare
At least 30 persons affected by the East African Crude Oil Pipeline (EACOP) in Uganda and Tanzania have resorted to pushing beyond compensation for losses incurred in the project’s initial stages.
The EACOP Project Affected Persons (PAPs) from Uganda and Tanzania grassroots met for the first time at a three-day conference in Nairobi, where experiences and lessons learnt were shared. They were also joined by participants from Nigeria, Sierra Leone and Gambia, who shared their experiences with fossil fuels, especially in Niger Delta.
Both the Ugandan and Tanzanian PAPs, some of them faith leaders, complained of misinformation, disinformation by the project’s proponents’ agents, intimidation, bribery, forced land possession, coercion to accept government terms for land acquired and unfair subsequent compensation for the property lost. The PAPs also complained of intentional classification of primary PAPs as secondary to reduce the compensation due them.
“During the social Impact Assessment, a lot of clans, especially the Bagungu, were given volumes of literature to read within two weeks, then decide to relinquish their property. But we could not make head or tail of the documents. Those who signed them were not left with copies,” said Jealusy Mugisha, a religious leader and PAP from Uganda’s Hoima District.
His sentiments were echoed by Swalleh Nkungu from Tanzania, who added: “Information scarcity played a huge role in enabling EACOP. We are knowledgeable enough to tell that the project is harmful, but a lot of secret planning went into this project before it was made public. Some people acting as CSOs also came to the grassroots and intentionally shared false and misleading information to boost EACOP acceptance”.
The participants, including those from Laudato Si Movement and youth in Kenya, were grateful for the event dubbed “Experience sharing meeting for grassroots persons affected by EACOP in Uganda and Tanzania”.
TotalEnergies holds 62 per cent stake of EACOP. Others stakeholders in the would-be world’s longest heated pipeline expected to cover 1,443km from Northern Uganda to Tanzania’s Tanga Port are Ugandan National Oil Company (15 per cent), Tanzania National Oil Company (15 per cent) and Chinese National Offshore Oil Company at 8 per cent.
Pastor Mugisha said: “I declined to receive money in exchange for my land and instead demanded to be relocated. This made the Uganda government to mark me and others, claiming we were sabotaging its project,” he said.
“Is it wrong for me to demand justice over my damaged home? Once I was chained and harassed at the Entebbe airport when I returned from France where I had attended a hearing about rights of PAPs. After release they kept sending my friends to tell me to be silent about EACOP. I became louder on it, even at funerals”.
Several other participants at the event organised by GreenFaith Africa spoke of bribery for people opposed to the EACOP to change their minds. “My father was very decisive when EACOP started, but he later caved in to pressure. We lost acres of land. What this means to women and children is helplessness, less food and loss of sources of living. But we can still act because EACOP is evil,” said Mwajuma Tunu from Tanzania.
Kamili Fabiano from Tanzania said: “It is no longer about compensation; it is now about climate justice. We need a conducive environment to farm and take care of our current and future generations”.
Julius Caesar, a faith leader from Uganda, urged the affected persons to act fast. “Staying near the anthill turned the antelope brown. Anyone lying to you in broad daylight is capable of deceiving you more in the dark. The disinformation was to divide us and keep us in the dark,” he said.
Mugisha said currently the EACOP’s Central Processing Facility for the oil was a key polluter through dust. “Multiple letters were written to TotalEnergies regarding this, but nothing much has happened. I fear for our water sources.”
The conference that ended yesterday also featured Baraka Lenga, an anti-EACOP activist from Tanzania, and a grassroots organizer for GreenFaith. “For people of faith, water is central to life in many ways. The pipeline is a threat to over 200 precious water sources that support our livelihoods and biodiversity. This is an attack on the very foundations of our spirituality,” he said.
Baraka outlined the projected pollutant emissions, should the project start, as millions of tonnes of carbon, adding that it would worsen the climate crisis. “The roads constructed in the Murchison National Park to enable easy transportation of oil is the reason cases of human/wildlife conflict have gone up. This also affects food security”.
Maxwell Atuhura of Uganda said not only were oil and gas firms from developed nations targeting Africa. “They are more likely to be successful where dictatorship seems to work.”
He urged participants to study Kenya and Nigeria cases. “I’m inspired by how Kenya fought the Lamu coal project. They knew they had a UNESCO-recognised heritage to protect. They defended their indigenous identity, even coming up with policies around it. East Africa can have such an identity,” he said, giving an example of powers that the EU Parliament wields. “Europe respects decisions made at the EU parliament. We can use the East African Legislative Assembly the same way; with binding laws for East Africa. Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania are, for instance, joined by Lake Victoria. An East African law protecting the lake basin can be great.”
Pius Oko, a Lift Humanity Foundation leader, narrated Nigerians’ experiences with oil. “Oil drilling in Niger Delta started in 1950s, but people are poorest there. Residents eat oil contaminated fish and cassava. Water bodies are filled with oil. Land is filled with oil, making farming untenable. The atmosphere is filled with suit. People inhale a lot of dirt. Diseases are more rampant in the Niger Delta. Life expectancy has gone below 50 years. EACOP will benefit a few rich people. The rest will suffer like those in the Niger Delta,” he said, sharing images of women and children scooping oil from ditches, fire, gas flaring and fish laced with oil, but which many consumed for lack of alternatives.
Early this year Uganda and Tanzania cabinets approved EACOP construction license. The project continues to face opposition, including from grassroots people.
Last year the EU Parliament pointed out human rights abuse in EACOP. In addition, 25 multinational financial institutions have either disassociated themselves from EACOP or vowed not to loan it for the $5 billion dollar project that still needs over $2 billion loan to be financially secure.
At the end of the Nairobi conference, Meryne Warah, the GreenFaith’s Global Director for Advocacy, urged the PAPs to remain focused in their quest for justice guided by their beliefs and values. “From participants’ sentiments since the beginning of this conference, it is clear that the governments of Uganda and Tanzania did not listen to project affected persons. However, despite all the atrocities committed, we need each other. We need to stand together as one, encouraged by our faiths teachings.
She said the meeting gave the persons affected by EACOP and Tilenga an opportunity to share their experiences about the various adverse effects of the pipeline, as well as build resilience towards effective continued campaigning against the EACOP.
Press statement: CSOs call on NEMA to disclose Bugoma forest restoration plan
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE KAMPALA & KIKUUBE
NEMA MUST ENSURE HOIMA SUGAR LTD RESTORES BUGOMA FOREST
Today, as various actors across the globe mark World Environment Day (WED), the Save Bugoma Forest Campaign (SBFC) has written to the National Environment Management Authority (NEMA) requesting that the authority avails the SBFC and general public with a copy of the approved restoration plan for Bugoma Central Forest Reserve (CFR), which is found in Kikuube district in Western Uganda.
The SBFC consists of the forest host communities, civil society and private sector entities whose main objective is to defend Bugoma CFR from land grabbing, sugarcane growing and oil threats.
The SBFC is also calling on NEMA and the National Forestry Authority (NFA) to ensure that Hoima Sugar Limited (HSL) halts all its destructive activities in Bugoma CFR and restores the forest.
Despite protestations from NFA, Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA), Kikuube District Local
Government (KDLG), civil society and the general public, NEMA authorised HSL’s activities in Bugoma forest in August 2020.
The authority illegally and irregularly issued an Environmental and Social Impact Assessment (ESIA) of approval allowing HSL to do the following in Bugoma forest:
- Set up a sugarcane plantation on 9.24sq. miles;
- Develop an urban centre on 1.206 sq. miles;
- Set up an ecotourism site on 1.97 sq. miles;
- Land for a cultural site covering 0.156 sq. miles; and
- Leave a natural forested area and set up nature trails on 6.17 sq. miles.
While NEMA allowed HSL to grow sugarcane in some parts of Bugoma forest, reports by the SBFC in January 2021 and investigations by NEMA in September 2022 showed that the company had grown sugarcane in the area reserved for ecotourism purposes. The area reserved for natural forested purposes was also degraded.
In September 2022, NEMA acknowledged that HSL had violated condition 4.3 (i)(c) contained in the company’s ESIA certificate of approval. NEMA therefore exercised her powers under section 129 of the National Environment Act, 2019 and among others, directed as follows:
- That HSL immediately stops any further destruction of the natural reserved forest area, eco-tourism area, cultural site and the land reserved for an urban centre;
- That no sugarcane is planted in the above-mentioned areas;
- That no urban centre is developed;
- That HSL restores all the degraded areas of the natural reserved forest area, ecotourism area, cultural area and land reserved for an urban centre at its own cost; and
- That Hoima Sugar prepares a restoration plan for the degraded areas of Bugoma forest in consultation with the Forestry Sector Support Department of the Ministry of Water and Environment (FSSD), NFA and UWA and submits the same to NEMA for approval within a period of not more than three months from the date of the aforementioned order. “Over eight months have elapsed since NEMA ordered Hoima Sugar to submit a restoration plan. While the forest host communities and the public are highly interested in the restoration of Bugoma forest, NEMA has not publicly shared the restoration plan that Hoima Sugar submitted to the authority, if any was,” Mr. Dickens Kamugisha, the chairperson of the SBFC, says.
He adds, “NEMA must build goodwill and show that it is interested in promoting public participation in forest conservation by publicly disclosing the restoration order. The forest must also be restored and all destructive activities by Hoima Sugar Ltd stopped.”
Mr. Hassan Mugenyi, the chairperson of the SBFC local taskforce adds, “We do not know if any restoration plan for Bugoma exists. If it does, we were not consulted on it yet as people who have lived near Bugoma forest for a long time and have enjoyed benefits from the forest, we are interested in conservation of the forest. We can also share information to inform restoration of the forest.”
Ms. Lamla Asasira who lives near Bugoma forest says, “Women are very unhappy that Bugoma forest from which we used to get free herbs and which brought us rain is being destroyed. We are worried that if the forest is not restored and the destruction by Hoima Sugar continues, government will not be able to stop other encroachers and the entire forest will be destroyed.”
BUGOMA FOREST’S TOURISM POTENTIAL
Research conducted by the Inclusive Green Economy Network, East Africa (IGEN-EA) to determine the tourism potential of Bugoma forest, showed that the forest has immense potential. The research found the following:
- That Bugoma forest is home to tourist attractions including 570 or 11.4% of Uganda’s chimpanzees, 225 bird species, the Uganda Mangabey, bush elephants and others.
- That entities such as Jane Goodall Institute were engaged in habituation of chimpanzees and the Ugandan Mangabey to make them ready for trekking (tourist visits). The habituation of chimpanzees was expected to be completed early in 2023.
- Further, that tourist activities such as chimpanzee and Uganda Mangabey trekking, forest walks, tree climbing and others could be promoted in the forest.
- In addition, that if the above activities were promoted, Bugoma forest could earn the country more than half a million dollars a year.
- Over 90% of tour operators who participated in the study were willing to sell tourism experiences within Bugoma forest.
To save Bugoma forest, the SBFC recommends the following:
- NEMA should publicly share a copy of the approved restoration plan for Bugoma forest by HSL.
- The ongoing destruction of Bugoma forest should be immediately stopped.
- The Ministry of Lands, Housing and Urban Development (MLHUD) should make public the boundary opening report of Bugoma forest. The ministry opened the forest boundaries in 2021 and 2022.
- The Ugandan government should ensure that the conservation of Bugoma forest is promoted under the Forest Partnership that government signed with the European Union in November 2022.
- Bugoma forest should be turned into a national park so better conserve the forest and protect the environment.
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