Fighting for Mabira. Again.
Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni announced last week his plan to give away part of the Mabira Forest Reserve to the Sugar Corporation of Uganda Limited (SCOUL) for sugarcane plantations. This statement shocked the public who thought the future of the forest had been secured in 2007 when the very same issue arose and the plans to deforest were suspended.
The Mabira Forest Reserve covers about 120 square miles of the Buikwe District of Uganda and has been protected since 1932. The reasons for its protection are several. Mabira is home to several threatened animal species, serves as a water catchment area for the Lake Victoria Basin, provides ecosystem services to its surrounding communities and is also a source of revenue due to its eco-tourism appeal.
In 2006, the President announced his intention to turn over one third of the forest to SCOUL in order to use the land for sugar cane plantations. The decision met stiff opposition from environmentalist and local communities who started a campaign to save Mabira. Civil society groups filed a case to prevent SCOUL to take over the forest. The petitioners were Advocate Coalition for Development and Environment (ACODE), Greenwatch, The Environmental Action Network, Environmental Alert and the Anti-Corruption Coalition Uganda (ACCU) with the Attorney General and the National Forestry Authority being the respondents. The efforts to save Mabira culminated in a deadly demonstration in April 2007 in which three people were killed. In May 2007, the Uganda Minister of the Environment announced that the plans to degazette had been suspended and that the government was trying to find new land for SCOUL.
Last week’s announcement came as a shock to the public who thought this issue had been put to rest. Under the Ugandan Constitution the government can’t simply decide on the fate of the forest without due diligence and a Parliamentary decision to that effect. Article 237(2)(b) states that the government or a local government as determined by Parliament by law shall hold in trust for the people and protect natural lakes, rivers, wetlands, forest reserves, game reserves, national parks and any land to be reserved for ecological and touristic purposes for the common good of all citizens.
The decision also undermines the government’s international obligations under the Convention on Biological Diversity, and Uganda’s commitment to sustainable development.
The Access Initiative coalition in Uganda, led by Advocates Coalition for Development and Environment (ACODE) urges President Musevini to reconsider this decision.