JINJA – When I recently read Sian Herbert’s article: “Refugees in Uganda: Instability, Conflict and Resilience,” which I received from academia.edu,” I decided to come up with a piece, specifically on the interaction between the refugees (and former refugees on the environment of Uganda.
I have been environmentally and ecologically interested in the issue of refugees in the Great Lakes region since 1995.
This particular article is about how refugees are impacting the Uganda environment negatively. These refugees physical live and act in the physical ecological-biological dimension. However, they are impacting the environment in all its dimensions – physical and non-physical. I have, in other articles on refugees, surmised that in Uganda refugees (either former or current) predominate in every aspect of the economy, and that the whole economy of Uganda is now a refugee economy. They dominate in all dimensions of the environment, with indigenous Ugandans participating either as sources of cheap labour or as slaves – internally and externally – to sustain the refugee economy, which now heavily depends on borrowing from domestic and international money markets. Domestic agricultural production and marketing are at their lowest ebb and largely in the hands of traditionally nomadic pastoralists who, in the past, were no more than refugees. Institutions such as Operation Wealth Creation (OWC) have been erected and are managed by nomadic pastoralists. Production, distribution and marketing processes are now in the hands of nomadic pastoralists whose human energy system is dependent on cow, grass and water. Unfortunately, serious academic research to establish the extent of damage exacted on Uganda’s productive capacity by the refugee economy has yet to be undertaken at any of our numerous university campuses. It is important that the research is done since there is distortion of the agricultural sector and the human energy system directly dependent of land for centuries.
Twenty-seven years ago (in 1995) the late Prof. Foster Byarugaba and I wrote a paper jointly, titled: “Environmental Impact of Refugees in Africa. Some Suggestions for Future Actions.” We were targeting our thoughts at a conference on population displacements, which was organised at the University of Lovaine, Brussels, Belgium. I travelled to Brussels to present the paper, which was acclaimed by the mostly European and American audience. The 63-page paper was in the same year 1995 published in book form by the Department of Political Science and Public Administration, Makerere University, under the same title. The book, which also exists as Google Book indicates the authors as Foster Byarugaba and F.C. Oweyegha-Afunaduula. I recommend it to all interested in East African and Great Lakes region political and refugee affairs.
We were thrown into gear to write the paper by the environmental debacle in the rain forests of Zaire (now Democratic Republic of Congo) occasioned by the influx in 1994 of millions of Hutu refugees fleeing the carnage reigned on their ethnicity by the new Tutsi rulers in Kigali, Rwanda. The refugees overwhelmed the Zaire State. They just settled in the rain forests and a lot of environmental destruction took place. The refugees were like bees or safari ants attacking a helpless human being; in this case the Ituri Rain Forest. The new regime in Kigali pursued the Hutu refugees with fury. The Rwandese Patriotic Army (PRA), a Tutsi rebel outfit, formerly part of the National Resistance Army (NRA) of Yoweri Tibuhaburwa Museveni of Uganda, crossed into Zaire without permission by the Kinshasa government. Millions of the Hutu refugees were massacred in what looked like a ruthless revenge over the 1994 genocide in which hundreds of Tutsis were massacred by Juvenal Habyarimana Hutu regime’s killer machine constituted by paramilitary groups collectively called Interahamwe. It was tit for tat sort of revenge. Our academic and intellectual concern in our paper assumed an environmental orientation. We viewed environment, not in the wrong and misleading manner whereby it is perceived in only physical terms only as land, soil, plants, animals, forests, water, minerals, air, mountains, louds, rivers, crops, bacteria, viruses, fungi, et cetera. We perceived environment as consisting of and organized in three dimensions: ecological-biological, socio-cultural and socio-economic. However, environment is incomplete without the temporal dimension. We wrote that all the problems, issues and challenges of environment and development can be assigned to these dimensions separately and interconnectedly. All physical aspects of the environment are assigned to the ecological-biological dimension, and all the non-physical aspects belong to the other three dimensions. Unfortunately, the nonphysical aspects of the environment are ignored yet they are more dynamic and impact society far more badly and in diverse ways.
In the ecological-biological dimension, refugees – former or current – own factories, separately or as ventures with Asians (Indians and Chinese); large extensive farms and ranches; plantations of sugarcane and oil palm; aquaculture farms; mining enterprises; shops and supermarkets; hostels and hotels; petrol stations; private schools, hospitals and dispensaries; trailers; buses et cetera. A lot of land grabbing, even in designated national park and game reserve areas, and in whole communities, is being carried out by them or people connected to and protected by them. This is how and why public forests are endangered. Some of the grabbed land contains water resources, which the deprived public can no longer access. Natural water falls have been destroyed, ostensibly to produce and supply hydroelectricity to Ugandans. However, increasingly the electricity has become too expensive for the majority of Ugandans to afford. It is refugees and those connected to them, such as their Asian business actors and partners that can afford perhaps the most highly priced electricity in the whole world. The majority of Ugandans cannot manage to pay for it. Many individuals, institutions and small-scale industries habitually steal electricity and electrocutions and fires are on the increase. Human life is continuously being lost as a result, engineered by policies and laws designed to serve the interests of refugees and former refugees at the expense of indigenes.
Twenty-two years ago, when the late Martin Musumba, Frank Muramuzi and myself, representing the National Association of Professional Environmentalists (NAPE), made a moving appeal to the Government of Uganda and the World Bank to invest heavily in the poor man’s energy source – solar power – instead of destroying Bujagali Falls, we were told off: “If you want solar seek other funders. Our interest is hydropower from big dams”. Today, however, I hear government and World Bank are investing in solar. Big dam-based hydropower has failed to satisfy the Uganda’s and people’s energy needs. However, even then their investment in solar is minimal compared to what people and institutions are individually or institutionally doing to satisfy their energy needs through solar power
Consequently, refugees and former refugees dominate in the socio-economic dimension of the environment, where they have resisted reinstating minimum wage for Ugandans. This is causing many Ugandans to lose interest in their country and to flee to foreign countries. Instead of encouraging investment in whole communities, refugees and former refugees have chosen the path of money bonanzas to a few select individuals, many of whom emerge as connected to them either politically or ethnically. This may explain why the absolute majority of Ugandans are not experiencing development, transformation and progress in the 21st century. Rather than ensure that communities experience improvement in their income bases and livelihoods, refugees and former refugees are presiding over a country in which communities of indigenous Ugandans are getting poorer and poorer with the passage of time. Many Ugandans are worried that genuine patriotism and nationalism are being eroded as the country’s socioeconomic environment gets more and more captured by refugees and former refugees. Besides, places of sacred value, including burial grounds in settled communities are being desecrated as refugees and former refugees go on rampage in pursuit of social and economic interests beyond their essentially nomadic-pastoralist energy system. Settled communities have become socioeconomically hapless and hopeless and are increasingly being disconnected to the land. This can be traced to the time when the cooperative movement in Uganda was destroyed by the Luwero Triangle bush war combatants before and after they captured the instruments of power in Kampala on 25 January 1986. The cooperative movement had empowered Ugandan indigenes socioeconomically in all parts of the country. The process of socioeconomic disempowerment is continuing. The country has effectively been converted into a land of beggars and slaves at the hands of a possessive, acquisitive and exclusive group of people in and with power to access and exploit national resources at the expense of the indigenes.
In the social-cultural dimension of the environment, the cultural and the social structures and functions sustained for centuries by the diverse cultures of the indigenes have been systematically- eroded. Land grabbing and settlement of an alien group of people in all parts of the country where the traditional ethnic groups of Uganda have thrived for centuries, have brought in focus a well-coordinated plot to own every resource in a cultural void. They have used some misguided indigenes; some highly educated and highly placed to facilitate their population displacements, desocialization and deculturalization of whole communities. Because the culture and sociality of traditionally-settled communities have been shaped by the total environment, destruction of the total environment has been accentuated as the main avenue for destroying the cultures and sociality of indigenous communities, and converting them into disorganized congregations of beggars and slaves. Beggars and slaves have no culture and are no longer meaningfully attached to the land. Neither can they meaningfully be involved in production, or even pay taxes. This could, partly, explain the rising dependency of Uganda government on the dwindling donations and/or debilitating loans, which are unfortunately being abused or stolen by politicians and government functionaries. Besides, the pervading and permeating foreign culture of money is destroying the social and cultural fabrics of society, as government sticks to the falsehood and outmoded idea that, if money bonanzas are given to a select few individuals, community development will be achieved through a trickle-down effect. However, most of the money hardly reaches the bottom of society. Due to rising income poverty, families, extended families, clans and whole communities are breaking up. Simultaneously society is decaying ethically, morally, spiritually, socially and culturally. It will be extremely difficult to rebuild it. Even leadership in the rural area, which used to be based on the culture of the people, has been systematically destroyed and replaced by NRM party leadership. This is dangerous. It decentralizes and dissocializes leadership converting it to political leadership of the NRM Party. Alternative leadership is muzzled and disabled. It is worse than was the case under British colonialism.
Last but not least, the temporal (or time) dimension of the environment is getting destroyed because of rising abuse of time, the most critical resource available (24 hours) for development, transformation and progress of the country. Time is central to every process in development, transformation and progress. If it is grossly abused, as it is in Uganda, then it becomes extremely difficult to experience meaningful and effective development, transformation and progress. When planning, implementing, monitoring and evaluating of projects and programmes are done without respect for time, then the results are unlikely to be the ones envisaged. Or else production will be consistently and persistently under capacity. The most consistent thing will be to spend money to sustain the workforce, increasingly unprofessional and unskilled since the selection of the workers seems to be based more on technical know who rather than resourcefulness, experience and qualifications. The overall result is that on a given timescale failure superseded success.
I must emphasize that the environmental dimensions are not mutually exclusive but are mutually inclusive. They are, therefore, interconnected and interact dynamically in any environmental milieu. There is need to manage the environment as an integrated whole rather than emphasizing only the ecological-biological dimensions and the professions therein. Professionals only nurtured in the ecological-biological dimension will be inadequate because they will lack knowledge, wisdom, understanding and insights necessary to manage the environment holistically. Because reducing the environment to ecological-biological dimension is overwhelmingly the case, this could explain the degradation in the other dimensions of the environment and across them, mainly by possessive, acquisitive, exploitative and exclusive activities of refugees and former refugees. To manage the environment meaningfully and effectively, it will be necessary to re-empower the indigenes to repossess their environments and manage them towards reconstituting their time-tested human energy systems within their cultures and sociality. Environment is not a technical or political matter but a social and cultural matter. It can only be meaningfully managed (protected and conserved) in the language and cultures of the indigenes, which constructed the environment.
There is need to liberate the environments of Uganda from their capture and occupation by refugees and former refugee. If not then the capture and occupation of the environments of Uganda by the invasive nomadic pastoralists will be the ultimate fundamental change that President Tibuhaburwa Museveni did not explicitly mention when he said on 25th January 1986 that “This is not a mere change of guards but a fundamental change”. This will express itself in the total decay and collapse of Uganda’s time-tested bio ecological systems, which were the basis of a thriving agricultural production system before the invasion, acquisition and occupation by nomadic pastoralists.
For God and My Country.