Walking across the degraded swamps of River Mpologoma at the Tirinyi highway bridge in eastern Uganda in December last year, President Museveni – in the company of UNDP Resident Representative, Ms Rosa Malango, – made a very important declaration at a time the country was experiencing drought: He “declared war against environmental degradation”.
To demonstrate the linkage between swamps and forests, the President on his way back to Kampala – again accompanied by his guest – took a rest under the receding canopy of Mabira Forest Reserve - from where he again emphasised the need for Ugandans to conserve the environment to stem climate change that is responsible for drought and irregular rainfall.
This week, the country learned that 500 or more forest guards that are tasked with protecting our forests have not been paid by the National Forest Authority (NFA) for the last five years!
Little wonder that from 1990, Uganda has been losing an average of 85,500 hectares of forest per year! The current extent of loss is not accurately known but between 1990 and 2005, the country lost 26 per cent of its forest cover (or about 1,297,000 hectares).
Clearly there is a mismatch between what government wants to do to protect our environment and what it is actually doing in the belief that it is “protecting it”.
By deploying forest guards whom it is not paying, the likelihood that the guards will cut deals with illegal loggers to be able put food on the table is real. With this kind of scenario, it is perhaps a miracle that we still have any forests left.
Unfortunately, the executive director of NFA has taken a rather nonchalant attitude, describing the plight of his guards as simply “one of the areas of domestic arrears” that will be paid when NFA generates money from other sources.
It is obviously lost on the NFA leadership that if the guards connived with loggers – like many are wont to do – there will be no forests to generate resources from and this will have devastating impact on the environment.
Realising the failure of NFA as an institution, the President last year assigned Uganda Wildlife Authority the responsibility of managing the country’s forest reserves in addition to wildlife conservation. This is not a sustainable solution!
The government should make NFA leaders deliver on their mandate or get them out. It is too risky for us all to leave the future of our environment to hungry poor unpaid men and still massage their leaders for too little or no work done!