In an NRM retreat President Museveni’s renewed efforts to persue land in Uganda’s largest forest for a sugar factory yesterday attracting swift condemnation from environmentalists, MPs and the general opposition.
Environmentalists have sworn to do “everything legally possible” to save Mabira Central Forest Reserve and other natural resources from what they call unjustifiable degradation and abuse.This effort also saves and promotes the Uganda safari or Uganda safaris industry.
“We are alerting the President and informing all Ugandans that we are committed to do everything legally possible to save Mabira forest,” this was a statement by Ms Beatrice Anywar, a reknown member of the Save Mabira Crusade umbrella group.
Through out town, the Forum for Democratic Change deplored the refusal by the government and Mehta Group’s Sugar Corporation of Uganda to learn from the violent 2007 Mabira protests which led to loss of life.
Ms Betty Anywar also announced that activists have again agreed to call countrywide demonstrations aimed at stopping what they see as further degradation of Uganda’s shrinking forest cover and a great blow to the uganda safari sector or Uganda tourism sector as commonly refered to .
“We are also informing the President and all Ugandans that Mabira forest giveaway should not be used as a diversionary tool from the challenges the country is facing such as corruption scandals, unexplained death of the Butaleja Woman MP, Cerinah Nebanda, poor governance of petroleum, land and other natural resources,” she said.
At the opening of the NRM parliamentary caucus retreat in Kyankwanzi on Saturday, the President blamed the failure to get his wish to give-away part of Mabira for sugarcane growing on Members of Parliament.
In 2007, the Mabira give-away had unleashed public outrage which forced the President to back off.
The President indicated he is reviving his wish to have 7,100 hectares of the forest land given out to the Mehta Group. But yesterday, he was accused of going back on his word.
The executive director of National Association of Professional Environmentalists, Mr Frank Muramuzi, said when they met the President in September 2011, he committed to never give away the forest.
“We are this time going to organise in villages and he will not handle the demonstration. Mabira is bigger than Parliament and the Executive,” Mr Muramuzi said.
Rubaga South MP John Ken Lukyamuzi, an avowed environmentalist, said they are prepared “to die” in protection of the forest, which is a key part of Uganda’s eco-system and water catchment area. This in turn directly a major way to save the growing Uganda safari sector.
Mr Lukyamuzi, Citing Article 237(2)b of the Constitution where all forests are held in public trust, said Mabira does not belong to NRM but to the state of Uganda. “Let him declare a referendum so that people vote on whether Mabira should be cut or not. We are organising a big demonstration to shake him off, get him off the shelf before he leaves,” said Mr Lukyamuzi.
Ms Betty Anywar warned the President and investors not open up old wounds over Mabira forest and Amuru land. “If not, we shall not hesitate to mobilise Ugandans all over the country for an uprising against the government,” Ms Anywar, is fondly referred to as Mama Mabira ( Mother of Mabira forest) for championing the crusade to save the forest.
Mr. Wafula Oguttu the FDC spokesman asked the government to listen to Ugandans. He advised the government to instead consider parts of Bunyoro and Karamoja where “there is still a lot of land”.
“In 2007, there were protests in which innocent Ugandans were killed by soldiers and it looks like government has not drawn enough blood of innocent Ugandans in order to leave that forest,” said Mr. Oguttu.
“We advise government and Mehta Group to leave that forest because more blood will be shed,” Mr Oguttu added, vowing that FDC would rally Ugandans to boycott Mehta products.
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