Uganda conservation news – Keep Mabira, we don’t want it says Mehta

In an unexpected turn of events has the head of the Mehta Group family publicly turned down an offer from government, to give the ailing sugar company over 7.000 hectares of prime rain forest to expand their sugar cane plantations. The comments were reportedly made at a meeting of Ugandas Indian Association.
It is however understood that the Indian community in Uganda, foremost the leading business families, had come down hard on the Mehta Group, citing the violent outbursts against the entire Asian community in Uganda during the violent anti Mabira demonstrations, when police tactics to contain an otherwise peaceful demonstration prompted the protests to turn violent. Public opinion at the time in 2007 turned suddenly from broad tolerance and generally a warm welcome to foreign investors to hate speech and targeted attacks, when anti government elements managed to hijack the peaceful agenda of anti Mabira give away protesters and activists.
In the present economic climate, Telecom companies have just started to double tariffs in the face of a 21.4 percent inflation rate for August 2011, the value of the Uganda Shilling falling to record lows, fuel prices rising to record highs and looming strikes in the education sector which led to the closure of Ugandas top public university Makerere, analysts believe that another round of Save Mabira Forest protests could be the trigger for more unrest, strikes and opposition figures attempting to again inject their fifth column into the conservation battle for their own ends.
A statement reportedly signed by over 100 prominent Indians living in Uganda was circulating in Kampala yesterday, supporting the Save Mabira Forest movement, adding more woes to President Musevenis hard stand that the forest must go and making that position more unsustainable by the day. Development partners have called on the Ugandan government to keep the forest intact, the World Bank is insisting that signed off-set agreements with Uganda be respected which guaranteed the physical integrity of Mabira and in particular the tourism sector has pointed to the enormous damage which the Mabira saga could inflict on the industry. Citing the Stop the Serengeti Highway campaign, which went global like a tsunami, the attention it brought to Tanzania was overwhelmingly negative and resulted in ever more environmentally damaging projects by the current government being unearthed to the detriment of promoting Tanzania as a tourism destination. Ugandas tourism stakeholders fear a similar campaign to take hold, and combined with a more volatile political situation caused by a sagging economy and record inflation it could brew the perfect storm, keeping tourist visitors away.
An eco tourism lodge, award winning for that matter, the Rain Forest Lodge operated by Geo Lodges, would be hugely affected as the planned sugar plantations would literally come to its doorsteps and existing plans to turn Mabira into a tourism hub with hikes, cycling tracks and possibly a treetop canopy walk would evaporate, should sugar cane substitute the rain forest.
Conservationists also took exception to be called unarmed terrorists or to be dismissed as anti government and phrases used as going to war. We are the voices of nature in Uganda and only want to see our environment kept intact to serve future generations of Ugandans. Look at Rwanda where they are committed to increase forest cover. What is wrong with our officials not to see that there is a direct link between intact forests and a prosperous future. Mabira is a water tower, the green lung between Jinja and Kampala absorbing carbon emissions. What exactly is it those people who call us terrorists do not understand said a senior conservationist following the breaking of this news story through a tweet by Daniel Kalinaki of the Daily Monitor. The source also reiterated: We will use our right to peaceful protest, to build a global alliance and we will not permit this noble task to be undermined by third parties aiming to create mischief. Government should once and for all abandon this crazy plan to cut 7.000 hectares of forest and Mehta must make binding commitments if he wants us to believe him.
Watch this space as this latest twist in the Mabira saga now plays out and how it ends.