By Spy Uganda
Ugandan activists are lobbying the European Union to back them in a campaign to halt the clearing of part of the country’s third-biggest forest, which is home to chimpanzees, forest elephants and unique plant species.
Conservationists want the EU, a key funder of state environmental agencies, to exert pressure on authorities to reverse a decision to clear 8,000 hectares (19,768 acres) of the 41,000-hectare Bugoma Forest and grow sugar cane, said Dickens Kamugisha, chairman of the “Save Bugoma Forest” campaign. Almost 60 non-governmental organizations are involved in the campaign.
Diplomatic intervention may help with a swift court hearing of a challenge against an approved environment and social impact assessment of the project and prompt an investigation into the way land titles were issued by government officials, he said.
“We want the European Union to help us access maps, engage government to do an independent survey and work with the justice, law and order sector to ensure courts hear our cases quickly,” Kamugisha said.
The activists have invited a delegation of EU diplomats to visit the forest, which the Uganda Wildlife Authority says is key to preserving the local ecosystem. The EU is opposed to the destruction of the forest and several of its officials in Uganda have engaged with authorities about the issue in July, according to a statement on the website of the EU’s Ugandan office.
The development comes days after a Ugandan environmental activist John Robert Turyakira dragged the government of Ugandan to regional East African Court of Justice in a bid to rescue the perishing Bugoma forest reserve which government handed over to foreign sugar cane investors.
In a suit filed by Environment Shield Limited and Turyakira before the court, “The project area neighbours Bugoma central forest reserve which was gazette in 1932, tropical high forest and home to over 600 chimpanzees and is part of its ecosystem. Sugarcane growing has adverse environmental and climate change impacts including pollution of water bodies, rivers and streams soiling water quality.”
Angry environmentalists added, “NEMA made the project approval without transparent, maximum and effective community or public participation or hearings in breach of the foundational principles of good governance, accountability, democracy, rule of law, transparency and universal human rights standards. The approval, therefore, threatens the area’s individuals, community’s and public’s universal human rights standards.”
TheSpy Uganda has since learnt that Uganda earned more than $1.6 billion from tourism last year, drawing foreign visitors with attractions such as mountain gorillas, tree-climbing lions and the source of the Nile River and this money was generated out of attractions in Bugoma Forest.
The country has about 1.3 million hectares under forest cover, with 15% managed by the Uganda Forestry Authority. At least 200,000 hectares of forest are cleared annually, mainly for the establishment of plantations, according to Kamugisha an environmentalist.