We Can Dodge the Oil Curse By Minding the Environment

My new role in the shadow cabinet is increasingly becoming interesting and I have no regrets for being the minister for Tourism and Wildlife.

I am a naturalist and a great friend of Zakayo at the Uganda Wildlife Education Centre, Entebbe. I also founded the wildlife clubs of Uganda. The ministry of Tourism has many challenges. Growth in that sector can only be stimulated through the acceptance that Uganda needs a green economy in pursuance of the doctrine of sustainable development.

In its current policy statement, this ministry has not demonstrated that Uganda’s livelihood must be based on a well-preserved environment it has neither expressed worry over the danger oil production is bound to inflict on our bio-diversity. If we begin oil production without an anti-kaveera law, all unscrupulous investors will run to the manufacture of kaveera materials. The kaveera is a by-product of oil.

In the Albertine graben, which is the habitat for the oil wells and endangered wildlife species such as the mountain gorilla, the greater kudu and the flaked duiker, there is no sign in the policy statement that oil production can become a curse.

A mere disruption of the ecology of Lake Albert, through oil production, is enough to contaminate the waters of Lakes Kyoga and Victoria as well. Once the lake waters lose life, they weaken and will no longer command River Nile to generate hydroelectricity. I understand that wildlife around River Semliki has started dwindling due to oil experimental activities.

The doctrine of sustainable development, on which we would rely to invest in bio-diversity, is at stake. The existing national parks, game reserves, forests and wetlands are in danger of extinction. Uganda is one of the countries that have not honoured their commitment to the global bio-diversity protocols they signed and even ratified.

Our agricultural policy should have been enriched with a dose of agro-forestry practice by now, but where is it? How effective has Agenda 21 been in Uganda?

If Zakayo’s life at the Uganda Wildlife Education Centre is not safe, then even those of his brothers in the traditional national parks are not. That centre is very meaningful to tourists and should have attracted greater funding in terms of maintenance, far from what has been reflected in the budget.

The allocations show that about 40 per cent of the budget goes to wages and allowances, 35 per cent goes to processes, while only 25 per cent goes to capital investments.

When I founded the wildlife clubs of Uganda so many years ago, I had a vision to inculcate a natural desire of wildlife conservation among young people. That vision entailed the enhancement of people’s knowledge on wildlife education in Uganda, including the need to understand Uganda’s natural history.

Those people would eventually become the guards of wildlife wherever they would be, at no cost. That is not what I am seeing today. Government took over the clubs, but is starving them. Those clubs cannot effectively fulfil their mission when they are under government direction. They should be freed from government supervision. Government can still fund them under a non-governmental organisational status.

I am, and continue to be, worried. The ministry of Tourism has expressed no concern about the danger facing wildlife. Should oil production and refinery begin, anything can happen. Up to now, the environmental impact assessment for the oil refinery due for construction at Kabaale is still a mystery.

The National Environment Management Authority is silent about the fumes and gas emissions that may be harmful to people, including the tourists. Also, who is going to fund the oil refinery?

Should we mortgage it? And if we do, the situation will be worse. The investors will be at liberty to do what they want.

The author is the MP for Lubaga South and the shadow minister for Tourism, Wildlife and Antiquities.

Source : The Observer

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