The temperature in Kampala these days averages 34 degrees Celsius during daytime. It drops to about 27 in the evening and to 24 degrees in the night.
Measuring temperature using Celsius means water boils at 100 degrees and freezes at zero. The temperature in Kampala and in the biggest part of the country used to fluctuate between 21 and 24 degrees. Kampala now is as hot as Dubai, Doha or Jeddah.
I think I no longer need a scientist or an environmentalist to preach to me the importance of protecting Uganda’s environment. It is the reason I got excited when Wakiso district chairman Matia Lwanga Bwanika in March last year raided Kasanje and arrested some Chinese nationals he found mining sand from Lake Victoria.
The story of excavating Lake Victoria or mining sand from Lwera wetland near Masaka, to which I will return, is dominating parliamentary debates especially after the violent constitutional amendment.
Maybe destroying forests has had a bigger impact on our weather than sand mining, which is the reason I want to link the two. Our revolutionary leaders may not be accomplished economists, but have used their 32 years in power to master tricks of public property acquisition.
When they seized power in 1986, naturally they occupied government residential houses in Kololo, Nakasero and all over Kampala. They then coined what they called the housing loan scheme.
Each sitting tenant in a government residential house was given an opportunity to buy it. Most of these houses were sold at about $30,000 (Shs 100 million). I know of two former ministers who walked into a commercial bank, processed a loan to pay for the houses and then immediately sold them off for profit.
Then they came up with the motor vehicle loan scheme under which Mercedes Benz cross-country vehicles were sold at Shs 2 million which, in some cases, was not even paid.
In 2003, the National Forestry and Tree Planting Act was enacted. Government was allowed, under this law, to subdivide forests and lease them to the so-called private tree farmers.
I hope you still remember who the beneficiaries of this bonanza were. A total of 3,610 people were identified and given 111,056 hectares of public forests. These fellows were supposed to plant trees where degradation had taken place.
Instead, they cut the remaining trees and sold timber. More than 1,000 of them abandoned the forests immediately the harvesting of timber stopped. Others cut all the remaining trees and planted beans, matooke, maize, etc.
As a result, the country started losing 9,000 hectares of forests every year and is only able to officially plant 3,000 hectares. I hope you have followed the Justice Catherine Bamugemereire-led land probe. The story of how Kajjansi central forest reserve landed in the hands of Ephraim Ntaganda sounds like a movie. Ntaganda is the same man who bought a KCCA hospital along Nkrumah road and part of Nakasero primary school.
Now that land, forests, buildings, vehicles, parastatals, etc, are all finished, what else do you want our revolutionary leaders to feast on? Isn’t it time for Lake Victoria?
One of the accusations that angered our revolutionary leader during the 2011 general election campaigns was that of selling Lake Victoria. The revolutionary even wanted Dr Kizza Besigye arrested for “telling lies”.
If I didn’t believe Dr Besigye in 2011, I don’t have any reason not to believe him now. Senior presidential advisor and commander of Operation Wealth Creation, Gen Caleb Akandwanaho (Salim Saleh), a very influential young brother of the revolutionary, is involved in the sand mining business.
And his justification is that it is better to get industrialized than preserve the environment. He probably doesn’t know that both are possible. And that is the blackmail they have been using. To them, it is either their way or no way at all.
Eng Irene Mulono, the minister of Energy and Mineral Development, told parliament on January 30, 2018 that it takes nearly 1,000 years for a centimeter of sand to form.
“This can be correlated with studies of sediments in the Albertine graben, where a thickness of about one kilometre was deposited over a period of about 30 million years,” Muloni told us.
And Agriculture minister Vincent Ssempijja told parliament that dredging will destroy habitats for fish. Dredging is an excavation activity usually carried out underwater, in shallow seas or freshwater areas with the purpose of gathering up bottom sediments and widening the trough.
Ssempijja said maintaining these habitats was the basis for not permitting fishing by seining and trawling in shallow waters. He said tilapia will eventually disappear with any further degradation of shallow, near-shore areas.
Already, Ssempijja said, the stock of tilapia has significantly dropped since 2005. Maybe Gen Saleh doesn’t know that fish export is among the top three major foreign exchange earners for this country. If well protected, fish has capacity to give Uganda up to $1.4 billion a year and becoming number one foreign exchange earner.
And the other day I saw a state minister, Michael Werikhe, launching a Chinese boat which he said would clean up the lake for transport. He said dredging is fantastic work.
In truth, I don’t know what this country will have by the time we begin marking the first anniversary of the fall of the revolutionary.
The author is Kira Municipality MP and opposition chief whip in parliament.