MABIRA RHETORIC GETS SHARPER
While the World Bank has given the clearest indication yet that they will use all means at their disposal to hold the Ugandan government to its commitment to leave Mabira alone as part of an ‘offset agreement’ signed between the parties in 2001 over the financing of the Bujagali hydro electric power plant, has the language used in Uganda escalated once again. President Museveni was reported to have called opponents of Mabira arrogant and taking alcohol while visiting bars, insisting he needed no lessons on forests while meeting a delegation of teachers representatives who called on him to advance their demands for salary increases to make up for years of stagnant pay and inflationary erosion of their earnings.
While applauding the World Bank’s stand on Mabira, conservationists in Uganda took exception to the President’s outbursts with one in particular saying to this correspondent during a conversation: ‘I have been voting for the president every time because I support NRM. But if he now starts calling those of us who oppose the Mabira give away to Mehta drunkards, he only exposes that he lost the plot. We are not drunkards and we do not oppose the forest destruction in bars but in offices, in workshops, in consultations and through sensitization of the public. We build a coalition with international bodies of big reputation, those are not rabble rousers but people and institutions of substance. If he says he needs no lessons on forests, he is mistaken because he has been either misled or else knows little about the impact of giving a quarter of this forest away. Let him show us degraded parts of Mabira, his minister failed to find any degraded part to give away. The president needs to learn a little lesson in humility and should understand that he is not always right. We have an enshrined right in the constitution to speak our mind, oppose peacefully government project which are not good for the environment and he and his staff should stop describing us as terrorist, drunkards and the like’.
A source close to the World Bank office in Kampala confirmed that their office had contacted the Ministry of Finance for clarification, saying they had not been informed of any plans by government to propose degazetting sections of the forest, which in its entirety was to remain untouched. On condition of anonymity the source added: ‘The body to degazette in Uganda is parliament and government has to bring this to the house. There is a lot of opposition in parliament against the plans to cut down so much of Mabira. The recent revelations on Mehta Sugar are also not good for them and that government has divested from that sugar company over constant losses is making the case even weaker. But our main issue is the agreement over Mabira the World Bank has with Uganda. Such agreements are very strong and firm and not easily broken without consequences. There is a lot of rhetoric now going on but this matter will be solved when all fact are on the table, not by discussing it in the newspapers’.
Civil society organizations, the conservation fraternity and the environmental lobby in Uganda are now strategizing on the way forward and how to use legal means to halt the Mabira give away plans, boosted by news from Arusha that the East African Court of Justice has overruled objections by the government of Tanzania against a legal case brought against them by environmentalist groups over their Serengeti Highway plans. Here the court just ruled that the case was to go ahead on its merits and groups in Uganda are also now consulting with their legal advisors over their option to take this issue to Arusha as well to save the Mabira forest from destruction.
Watch this space for future updates.