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Save Mabira Natural Forest Campaign - Uganda

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NAPE and other members of Save Mabira Crusade, in collaboration with other citizens of Uganda and Friends of the Earth International (FoEI) here undersigned, submit this petition opposing the proposed giveaway of Mabira and other forest reserves in Uganda. Save Mabira Crusade is a network of individuals, NGOs, civic leaders, religious, cultural and academic institutions, political organisations and local communities that have come together to save one of Uganda’s most valuable rainforests. We oppose the government giveaway of 7100 hectares (over 17.100 acres) of Mabira Forest Reserve to the Sugar Corporation of Uganda, Ltd. (SCOUL), to clear cut and establish a sugarcane plantation. For the sake of private gain, this grant of free land would increase erosion, diminish fresh water supplies, destroy a cooling micro-climate and destroy habitats for hundreds of endangered species. It would also violate legal protections as stated in Ugandan law and international treaties and commitments. More important, it would betray the expressed will of the Ugandan people. Barely four years ago, in April 2007, the Save Mabira Crusade staged a grand campaign countrywide that culminated into a demonstration on Kampala streets and other towns to protest the unpopular government decision of giving away of Mabira forest to a foreign investor for another sugarcane plantation. A number of lives and property was lost in the demonstration that saw government imprison and charge its leaders with serious crimes. A judge dismissed those criminal charges in 2010 as baseless, and the government pretended to abandon its plan. However, in August, 2011, government revived its planned giveaway, citing sugar scarcities, and demanded that the Mabira Forest Reserve is the only land in Uganda suitable for a sugarcane plantation. We submit that hundreds of thousands of hectares of land in Uganda are available for sugar growing, that destroying a protected rainforest is abominable, and that a failure to govern responsibility lies at the heart of this injustice. This is not the first time that our government has ignored the rule of law to sacrifice protected forests for private gain. In 1997, Government degazetted 1,006 hectares of Namanve Forest Reserve for development of an industrial estate near Kampala, ignoring public protests that its loss would degrade both surface and groundwater, cause flooding, and ruin forever a site of rich biodiversity and community sustenance. Not only that, it has been a commercial failure. It sits today mostly empty. In 2000, Government degazetted 3,500 hectares of protected forest on Bugala Island, in the Kalangala district in Lake Victoria, and grant them to BIDCO Oil Refineries Ltd. for a palm oil biofuels plantation. Despite protests, the National Environment Management Authority (NEMA) approved the project, which is still pending. BIDCO is still demanding more island forestland, and Government is planning to amend our constitution to legalize any giveaway of protected forests. We strenuously object to changing our most fundamental governing document to benefit purely private economic activities that plunder our precious natural resources. In 2001, the Government degazetted another forest, Butamira Forest Reserve near Jinja, for the benefit of Kakira Sugar Works (KSW) Ltd. Despite public protests and a High Court judgment, Government went ahead to give the land to KSW. In 2002, Government attempted to degazette Pian Upe Wildlife Reserve, draining precious wetlands, for commercial agricultural purposes by Libyan investors. Despite protests, Government is still insisting on giving away the reserve to developers. While we appreciate the role of investors in the development of our country, we also know that only sustainable development will ensure future prosperity and reduce poverty. The systematic and unconstitutional plunder of gazetted forests is deeply disturbing and raises important legal, technical, economic, ethical and ecological concerns about how development is being guided in our country. KEY ISSUES OF CONCERN i. There is growing public outcry locally and internationally against the recent pronouncement by the President on forest give-aways in Uganda, which is likely to sparkoff nationwide and worldwide protests and demean the county's image internationally. Today we are campaigning against the proposed Mabira and other forest giveaways. ii. Article 237(2)(b) of the 1995 Constitution enshrined the public trust doctrine whereby protected natural resources such as forests are not owned by Government, but are held in trust by Government as custodian and guarantor of people's interests. This is reinforced by Section 45(4) of the Land Act that compels central and local governments not to lease-out or otherwise alienate natural resources referred to in the aforementioned provisions. Therefore, any proposal to change the land use of protected forests in the country is illegal and an abuse of the Ugandan Constitution. iii. Government has signed and is governed by international conventions, protocols, declarations, treaties and other agreements that require it to preserve, protect and ensure sustainable utilisation of natural resources. These are the Ramsar Convention, Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), United Nations Convention on Combating Desertification (UNCCD), Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), to name a few. Degazetting protected forests violates international law. iv. Decisions that change land use in gazetted areas, particularly forests, and disregard authoritative scientific and technical findings are harmful to our environment. For example, at current rates of deforestation, Uganda will have no forests left by 2050, according to our National Environmental Management Authority. v. Change of land use in protected forests for private commercial interests has not benefited communities living in the proximity of such lands. There is overwhelming evidence that changes of land use of gazetted areas to commercial purposes have not eradicated poverty in those communities and, in fact, has exploited their vulnerable status. A case in point is the communities living in the vicinity of SCOUL. vi. Clearing the natural forests destroys their ability to sequester carbon. The resulting increase in carbon dioxide will accelerate climate change both in Uganda and throughout the world. Climate change has already created new stresses in East Africa, reflected in the continuing decline of water levels in Lake Victoria and other water bodies in the region. vii. Communities should encouraged and supported to manage their environment and agro-ecology viii. Government should immediately back off Mabira, if Mabira goes, Government will have created the worst precedent in modern times in Uganda and Africa. We call upon all Ugandans to fight against the giveaway of Mabira forest and the environment now. ix. We call upon the world Bank and other funders of Bujagali dam to compel the government of Uganda to abide by the Kalagala off-set indemnity agreement which commits the government to save Mabira forest x. Government should domesticate respect and implement all conventions and treaties that Uganda is signatory to. xi. The rule of law on environment should have checks and balances to ensure that there is a balance between environment and development WAY FORWARD Parliament must halt the proposed degazettement of Mabira and other forests in the country and reaffirm the constitutional requirement to protect our priceless forests from plunder.

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