Environment Opinion

How NRM Functionaries Undermine Environmental Integrity, Sustainability, and Justice

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Integrity, sustainability, and justice are three virtues that are frequently abused in development that focus more on the exploitation of resources than improving the quality of life of the people for whom development is said to be pursued and implemented. When applied to the environment, integrity means the capacity of the environment to carry out its services to the living world while maintaining its ecosystems in productive states.

Environmental Integrity (EI) means that the actions of an individual, community, institution, or government with regard to the environment match the felt or expressed priorities and values. Environmental sustainability (ES) is the ability to maintain an ecological balance in our planet’s natural environment and conserve natural resources to support the well-being of current and future generations.

The United States Environmental Protection Agency defines Environmental Justice as the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin, or income with respect to the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies.

This article is written with these definitions in mind. Functionaries are people with official duties, especially in a government or political party. When I say NRM functionaries, I mean the political-military and military-political members of the party in power in Uganda, the National Resistance Movement (NRM), and all those who manifest the way they do because of their linkages to the Party or the powers that be.

Since the political party in power and government are more or less structurally fused in Uganda, almost everyone who serves the government is a functionary of the party by extension. Even those working in the President’s Office, State House, and the different paramilitary groups are NRM functionaries. Increasingly even people appointed by the President to serve as Resident District Commissioners, heads of different government institutions, or members of their boards, tend to be NRM party functionaries.

It goes without saying that as the President destroys the Uganda Police by fusing it with the army, virtually all the commanders of both the army and the police are NRM functionaries. This might explain why most of the time is politics time in Uganda. Development is secondary although the word is in the everyday talk of most of the functionaries. Those NRM functionaries in the medium and top echelon of power behave like little gods entitled to access and own everything everywhere, anytime, and by any means, including gun power.

This is what has been and continues to be the case, particularly with regard to resources called “public resources” such as roads, rivers, swamps, lakes, and forests. Even public properties such as parastatals and ranches have not been spared by the powerful grabbers. One time a powerful military functionary of NRM grabbed a road in Kampala and closed it to public use. Our stinking rich of today owe their riches to their being NRM functionaries; not hard work.

The fashion of grabbing is more or less like what happened in Europe during the Dark Ages when people called “The Vandals of Europe” ransacked everything, including the centers of knowledge in Alexandria in Egypt and Rome in Italy. It would not be far-fetched to refer to the grabbers in Uganda as “The Vandals of Uganda”. They have no respect for the law. They are the law unto themselves. However, unlike the Vandals of Europe who were uncontrolled, the Vandals of Uganda can be controlled if the people in power resolve to do so rather than be part of them or entrench vandalism.

As if the acquisitive culture of the Uganda Vandals has no boundaries, all people in all locations where they have biologically, ecologically, culturally, and environmentally belonged and occupied from time immemorial, are in the path of dispossession and displacement by the Vandals of Uganda. Others connected to the Vandals of Uganda are also engaged in vandalizing everything lying in their path. There is a government in place but it is either condoning or helpless against the Vandals.

This partly explains why in the past 30 years Uganda has graduated as one country feared to have the largest number of mentally sick people in Africa. The displaced and dispossessed may be individuals, families, or whole communities, are sinking into “mind derangement”. It is not surprising that recent scientifically backed assertions have put the number of mentally deranged Ugandans at 14 million out of a population of 45 million. If one were not reserved in the use of words, one would say that this deplorable situation reflects the poor governance of the country.

A country is its people and resources. Governance that separates people from resources and concentrates on exploiting the resources without any strategy to renew, conserve, or distribute them fairly among the people or their communities, is failed governance, a result of misgovernance. In this case, the people and their communities are taken as roadblocks to progress. Although there are members of the NRM Party in the top echelons of power that are basically political in their manifestation, those with, in, and of power tend to be the same: those who were active in the Luwero bush war between 1980 and 1985.

In this article, I want to link the proliferating environmental decay and collapse and, hence, the spiraling erosion of environmental integrity, sustainability, and justice to the unconstrained and unrestrained acquisitive activities of the Vandals of Uganda. If this was a proposal for a higher degree at a university, the Thesis statement would read as “The Vandals of Uganda are responsible for the proliferating erosion of environmental integrity, sustainability, and justice”.

This is not to say that other elements involved in the erosion of environmental integrity, sustainability, and justice do not exist. They exist and tend to operate locally. For example, in attempts to endow themselves with energy to power their societies, local people everywhere are deforesting the bio-cultural landscapes of their localities to get firewood, while others are destroying swamps to grow rice, mostly to increase household incomes. This is particularly the case in gold-rich Busoga, which is also extremely poverty-rich.

Some were child soldiers while others were soldiers of President Tibuhaburwa Museveni’s rebel group – Front for National Salvation (FRONASA) – that reigned havoc during the military reign of Idi Amin Dada from 1970 to 1979, when the FRONASA and KIKOSI MALUUM of Apollo Milton Obote seemingly jointly removed him from power. I say seemingly because the Uganda National Liberation Army (UNLA), remained dichotomous rather than an integrated force of FRONASA and KIKOSI MALUUM.

This was confirmed, when after the 1980 General Elections the UNLF/UNLA FRONASA simply walked away as a new rebel group, Patriotic Liberation Army (PLA), with the continued command of President of Uganda, Tibuhaburwa Museveni, under whom the modern-day Vandals of Uganda have emerged. Faced with the threat of the Vandals, the President only promises to deal with “corruption” without including them among the corrupt. By nature, the dominant men and women in power in Uganda belong to the nomadic-pastoral human energy system.

This energy system is characterized by the Grass-Cattle-Man food chain, one of the shortest food chains on land. In water, the shortest food chain includes a sea plant belonging to the algae group of plants, a crustacean, and the biggest whale. The people who belong to the Grass-Cattle-Man food chain believe that all cattle belong to them. I must clarify and articulate that the Karimojong, the owners of the Karamoja region in Uganda, and one of the three main groups of people that belong to the Grass-Cattle-Man food chain, are not integral to the dominant men and women of power.

The dominant men and women of power belong to the Bahima and Tutsi. Those who claim that they know a lot about these two groups say that the Tutsi are the more dominant and that when we hear of the Hima-Tutsi dynasty, it is the Tutsi taking advantage of the Hima to establish the kind of hegemony that existed in Rwanda before they migrated to Uganda in phases. This assertion requires detailed research by social scientists, anthropologists (i.e., people who study the human race, its race, origins, development, customs, beliefs, behavior, and ecology), and political ecologists.

Political ecology is a critical research field within anthropology and related disciplines that examines how and why economic structures and power relations drive environmental change in an increasingly interconnected world. One can actually research the political ecology of NRM and or the people who belong to the grass-cattle-man food chain or human energy system to understand why environmental destruction has been spiraling upwards when they have political control over the country.

Whether or not people who belong to the Grass-Cattle-Man food chain are in power, they all tend to behave as a unit as if the whole country, all power, and all resources (belowground and aboveground) belong to them only. In this case, other people are no more than perturbations in the bio-cultural landscape that must be overcome to make way for them to exploit the resource to satisfy their needs.

For that matter, all the resources, including the land, which subtends them, are theirs and the other peoples must give way. This was the attitude of the Caucasians who were exported out of Europe as criminals to areas such as New Zealand, Australia, and the Americas. They ended up exterminating the indigenous people: the Maoris of New Zealand, the Aboriginals of Australia, and the Red Indians of the Americas. First and foremost, in their belief all the grass on the land everywhere in Uganda is theirs.

They just move in with their herds of cattle and start grazing them without asking for permission. For them, the whole of Uganda is one grazing system, just like the grazing system of the migratory game linking Masai Mara Game Reserve in Kenya and Serengeti National Park in Tanzania. In this case, where there are forests, the people of the grass-cattle-man food chain take the land as more or less like a barrier to their nomadic pastoral energy system.

In some places, if not all places, they freely move with offensive weapons, such as guns, to scare the settled communities away or into helplessness. This is particularly the case in Western Uganda where they are trying to reestablish a grazing corridor. Elsewhere in Northern, Eastern, and Central Uganda, they are establishing themselves as modern-day settlers by grabbing land from the settled communities, especially where resources such as Gold exist.

They derive their arrogance and disrespect towards settled communities from the fact that their kind dominates power. Although the threatened, sometimes endangered citizens, have continually cried out to the government to act, they have more often than not been treated with promises of action instead. econd, armed with power and guns, the people of the grass-cattle-man food chain have “popularized grabbing of anything conceivable for themselves. While in the bush fighting to dislodge past political regimes, they popularized grabbing of public enterprises, ranches, farms, and money from banks.

The grabbing became more or less institutionalized when they successfully captured the instruments of power. With their grass-cattle-man energy system entrenched in their brains, which lack boundaries, they started the process of large-scale grabbing and de-gazetting of public forests, or logging in them, to enrich themselves. I do not need to go into statistics to convince you that Uganda has lost far more vegetation cover under the reign of people who belong to the grass-cattle-man food chain or energy system during the last 37 years than at any other time in the history of Uganda. Greed and selfishness are at the center of the acquisitive culture of the men and women of the grass-cattle-man food chain who now manifest as modern-day settlers at the expense of the traditional settled communities.

As a person trained in ecology and the conservation and management of natural resources, I cannot hesitate to record that the fundamental change in human relations with the ecologies and natural resources of Uganda is the main reason why environmental integrity, sustainability, and justice in the country have been supersonically eroded over the last 37 years. A number of factors seem to be driving the process of eroding environmental integrity, sustainability, and justice in Uganda.

One is the Uganda Constitution 1995, which created the leeway for the Government to claim resources from our indigenous peoples. In fact, legislation is in the process of turning the government dominated by the grass-cattle-man energy system into the sole owner of all the land in the country. Two is Presidentialism, which makes the President of Uganda do anything without consulting anybody. For example, in the early millennium, the President agreed with the Sugar Corporation of Uganda Limited (SCOL) to have 7100 hectares of Mabira Rain Forest ecotone converted into sugarcane farmland. At the peak of its glory, Mabira Rain Forest covered 120 square miles or 30,000 hectares.

The reasoning of power was that converting 7100 hectares of Mabira Rain Forest into a sugarcane estate would not significantly affect the forest since it lay outside the center of the forest. Of course, this reasoning was dictated by ecological and environmental ignorance as well as political arrogance. The same reasoning was behind the conversion of 10,000 hectares of natural Forest to oil Palm estates desired by the President in Kalangala District. The same explanation can be given for the conversion of the Bugoma Forest Game Corridor and extensive areas of the Amuria District into sugarcane estates.

Ecologists and environmentalists tried to restrain the government in all these actions but without success. The same was true of the oil drilling in Bunyoro. We have to wait for the collective catastrophe, perhaps similar to what happened in Morocco and Greece recently. Mabira Rain Forest has now been extensively deforested by the men of military and political power and is recognizable only on either side of a 7-kilometer stretch of the Jinja-Kampala Road. The nucleus of Presidentialism is ingrained in the Uganda Constitution, which puts all power and authority in the hands of one person – the President of Uganda, who is also cushioned by the same constitution from the law in case he or she commits a crime such as “Crime against a safe, secure and clean environment “, which is a crime against humanity.

Three is the craze for privatization and industrialization, which is accelerating environmental destruction, and hence environmental integrity, sustainability, and justice. The two processes more or less begin with the President and end with the President. Although initially the President condemned privatization and dismissed it as a failure, he has in the recent past praised it as the way forward for Uganda’s development, transformation, and progress. He has been inviting investors to Uganda, ostensibly because the government has created an attractive investment environment.

This is based on nurturing a slave society where there is no minimum wage, and investors can pay anything they think suits the workers; tax holidays; freedom for investors to take out all the money they make; and suppressing competition from local investors. Many industrial parks have been established, unfortunately mostly in swampy areas. Indeed, recently the President opened 15 new factories in Mbale Industrial Park, owned mainly by Indians and Chinese. This is good in case environmental and ecological considerations are taken into account, including environmental protection and renewal.

Unfortunately, this is not the case. Yet the Chinese back home pursue development, transformation, and progress concurrently with protecting and renewing their environment. They are extending their (what we ecologists call) ecological footprint into Uganda. I will not discuss this because it is beyond the scope of the article. The Uganda Government should take environmental renewal and protection, and, hence, environmental integrity, sustainability, and justice seriously.

The current stance of environmental pretense is dangerous in the long term. Environmental pretense is characterized by half-hearted conservation measures while doing development through the destroy-then-build strategy. This approach to development is the reason why the Sahara Desert has been advancing southward. The extensive biological desertification is creating conditions for the Sahara Desert to extend its tentacles in Uganda. Heavy rains are these days followed immediately by intense heat.

The rains may be separated by a stretch of 10 kilometers just like in the Sahara Desert. President Tibuhaburwa Museveni and his government must confront the looming Tragedy of Commons spreading in Uganda due to the operations of the proliferating phenomenon of “The Vandals of Uganda”. Later will be too late. If the current sociopolitical, socioecological, and environmental circumstances continue with the Vandals of Uganda at the center, it is unlikely that the institutional environmental manager of Uganda – the National Environmental Management Authority (NEMA) will add any value to the quality of life and survival of Ugandans well in the future. It will manifest more and more as a white elephant project in the dynamics of development, or else continue to be used to legitimize otherwise environmentally destructive projects.

For God and My Country.

By Oweyegha-Afunaduula

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