MABIRA SAGA HEADING FOR CONFRONTATION
President Museveni was reported to be in a defiant mood earlier in the week when he met a delegation from city traders and business, who had asked for meeting him to discuss a long list of grievances, over licenses, unfair competition by foreign nationals posing as ‘investors’ while engaging in retail trade and the falling shilling value, amongst other issues. Also on the agenda was apparently the Mabira saga, but the president was in no mood for compromise when promising ‘to go to war’ over the forest to make sure that an Indian tycoon was to get the free land they had asked for.
Clearly in a belligerent mood the president then poured more oil into the fire when reportedly saying that the beneficiary, the Mehta Group, did not mind at all the sentiments of Ugandans and would take the land when given it for free in the face of public opinion.
This triggered a wide range of sentiments, not only against the Mehta Group which once again now faces a consumer boycott call for all their products, not just their sugar, while also fueling anti Asian and anti investor sentiments. Wrote a regular conservation source overnight: ‘It is very irresponsible of the president to talk of ‘war’. We know his background and recall the use of security forces to suppress the 2007 Save Mabira demonstration and more recently peaceful political protest. Is this what the NRM fought for when they chased away the dictators in 1986? Are we not getting a new dictatorship into place now where foreigners can at will demand our prized assets like Mabira and get away with it? Suppose I bring an investor and he wants to be given free land and free this and that? I am suggesting that there are vested interests at work here, and maybe some payback due for favours given and taken before, who knows. I have long supported the president on many issues but here we part company. His reference first to terrorism and now to war over Mabira is not acceptable by any standards. We shall now lobby World Bank to demand that the offset agreed with government, which includes Mabira, be totally respected. We shall also involve global organizations and friendly governments. We are inspired by the way you triggered the Save the Serengeti movement last year. That fight is not over by far but a lot of progress was made. Now we have our own test case in Uganda with Mabira. The worst part is, that the kingdom offer is being snubbed by Mehta with the backing of government to prevent Buganda to get more income, at least that is the way it is perceived. The connection is clear here. Mehta has land on offer but is too greedy to pay for leases and rent and rather sees a quarter of Mabira destroyed to enrich their empire more. The president is plain wrong to support such greed at the expense of a national water tower. He should listen to the people and not do such things in isolation. And finally, NRM should be aware that the opposition will thankfully jump on this bandwagon and join hands with everyone opposed to the Mabira give away to make political capital out of it. The opposition is not very popular but government is doing a lot to drive voters into the arms of the opposition by making such bad decisions.’
Meanwhile has parliament demanded yesterday that a substantive executive director be immediately appointed for the National Forest Authority which has been under an Acting Executive Director for some time. Conservation sources link the two issues claiming that a weakened NFA could not stand in the way of political dictates and directives and that the appointment of a new chief was being delayed to make sure NFA would not stand in the way of cutting down over 7.000 hectares of prime rain forest to make way for Mehta’s new sugar fields.
Watch this space as this saga rages on and both sides dig in deep to defend their positions.