Protecting Uganda’s environment

August 9, 2016

If you’re reading this article and has never been to Uganda, then you’ve no idea why Winston Churchill dubbed the East African country ‘the Pearl of Africa’ and why to this day, despite all what the country has gone through in its post independence history, remains one of the most beautiful country you can ever visit.But for the country to retain that Churchill’s description, it need to do more to protect its environment.When it comes to protecting the environment, Uganda perform very poorly. The unsustainable use of biodiversity, pollution of water resources and failures to mitigate against the effects of climate change are three examples.Much of the blame for this can be laid at the door of governments and other organisations, as well as the legacy of poor leadership in governing the sector. Another key factor is a legal framework that has failed to keep pace with current environmental challenges.Any threat to the environment is particularly significant in Uganda because around 80% of people still live primarily off the land. Many Ugandans also depend on tourism as one of their primary sources of foreign currency earnings. Wildlife-based tourism ranks among the top three contributors to the GDP.Poor governance and political turmoil that bedevilled the country after independence played a key role in creating the framework for conservation on the continent by dividing up Uganda, thereby confining biodiversity to man-made boundaries. During that period, many Ugandans were pre occupied with their civil war and not interested in a common approach to conservation.To avoid further damage to the environment a different approach is needed in Kampala. Ugandan experts have long argued for an end to resource exploitation driven by a focus on national territorial sovereignty. They have called for a more collective approach.

Kampala, the capital of Uganda
Kampala, the capital of Uganda in this picture I took couple of years ago

Since the end of civil war, there have been a number of attempts to introduce an approach to conservation. The Ugandan charter set the parameters for conservation efforts on the continent and in one section states that all Ugandans shall have the right to a general satisfactory environment favourable to their development.At the time it was introduced, it was seen as a pioneering development in the country’s environmental law and was expected to go a long way in securing ecologically sustainable development and use of natural resources.The current applicable framework governing environmental conservation in Uganda prescribes and guides the country as to what is expected of it in terms of conservation.When it was first adopted, fenced conservation without considering adjacent or other interdependent processes or role-players was accepted as the norm especially in Western Uganda. Today, many other conservation approaches are considered better. This is but one example of the outdated content in management of environment in Uganda.Perhaps one of the greatest shortcomings is the lack of institutional arrangements. There are also no mechanisms to ensure that the policy can be updated and that the provisions in it can be enforced. Accordingly, regions that are not abiding cannot be brought to task because in some areas of Uganda the land belongs to clans.To address these shortcomings, a more comprehensive version should be adopted. This will help provides a potentially solid framework for conservation and sustainable development in Uganda. It is unfortunate that the urgency to protect Uganda’s biodiversity is lost at the moment.The revised policies should be more in line with contemporary environmental law and must be better suited to meeting present day challenges facing the country with an estimated 34 million people as of 2015. It should recognise issues such as protecting the environment for future use, the importance of protecting plant and wildlife specific to a certain region, community involvement and rights and trade in natural resources.Emphasis need to be placed on co-operation in harmonising laws and policies, particularly where natural resources or ecosystems cross national borders. Under the policies, districts have a duty to co-operate in conserving areas that go across their boundaries.This will create a mandate for conservation approaches that go beyond communities politics.The rigid approaches to community sovereignty continue to hinder co-operative approaches to conservation at a regional level. It is important that co-operative approaches are found to conservation as the natural environment knows no community boundaries.

Contador Harrison