JINJA – According to the Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary, the word ‘scourge’ is what causes suffering or trouble. The assumption in this topic is that environmental illiteracy is causing suffering and trouble not only to the peoples and communities of Uganda but also to the country as a whole.
Before I delve further into this topic, let me introduce you to the term literacy. When one mentions literacy in Uganda the general perception evoked is that one wants to know how many people can read and write. The Other day the Government of Uganda was boasting that the literacy rate in the country is now 80% in a veiled attempt to show that most Ugandans are now able to read and write. However, the Universal Primary Education-UPE and Universal Secondary Education -USE aspects of Uganda’s Movement enforced education system, one of the fundamental changes to emerge in the country since 1986 when President Yoweri Museveni captured the instruments of power through the barrel of the gun, are producing more and more people who cannot read and write coherently. This is now apparent at the university level where an increasingly big number of graduates cannot write a coherent application letter for a job.
Besides, as I wrote recently, many so-called educated people have over the decades become secondarily illiterate because they no longer feel a compulsion to read and acquire new knowledge, renew their knowledge or modify their knowledge in the fields of knowledge where they were nurtured while at university. Also, many students claim that their lecturers and professors cite authorities or their own notes of more than 20 years ago to instruct them, mainly for examinations.
On the whole, the struggle for critical thinking, genuine interaction and sustainability in all spheres of human endeavour is being frustrated by the over commitment of the powers that be to use education to ensure power retention, disempowerment of indigenous groups of people and the politics interests, mostly ethnic and refugee interests. Apparently, refugees have started to demand that they are represented in the Uganda Parliament. This is happening amidst declining levels in the political development and political literacy of Ugandans as the general message to the country is that what matters is integration in the money economy.
Without political literacy and political development Ugandans cannot protect themselves from political manipulation for the benefit of interests that do nt benefit the country. They soon sink into slavery and lose their local democracy, sovereignty and ownership to refugees and former refugees who have used the Uganda Constitution to access everything that was essentially Ugandan -including power and land.
With political and military power, they and their politically illiterate supporters are grabbing land and land-based natural resources for themselves as the disempowered Ugandans look on with naked eyes and fear under obnoxious laws enacted purposely to de-radicalize, inactivate and disempower them. With citizens who are politically literate and politically developed on a continuous basis this would not be possible. However, it is necessary for the citizens to be literate in many dimensions to be able to resist threats of conquest, decitizenization, denationalization, occupation, depoliticization, displacement, dispossession, dehumanization, deradicalization and deintellectualization, which must occur concurrently for a people to lose their country to others.
In the 1800s the word literacy did not exist, but the word illiteracy did exist. However, when the word literacy emerged, it referred only to ability to read and write. It is more than having ability to read and write. Therefore, when assessing and determining the literacy rate of a country such as Uganda, we need to have a broader view of it. When we do we recognize a diversity of types of literacy. Indeed, there is an array of types of literacy, including : primary literacy, educational literacy, social literacy, scientific literacy, technological literacy, mathematics literacy, civic literacy, financial literacy, cultural literacy, development literacy, regionalism literacy, globalism literacy, militarism literacy, sexual perversion literacy, human rights literacy, spiritual literacy, Covid-19 literacy, climate literacy, sustainability literacy, cooperation literacy, Apartheid literacy, literacy of the causes of violence, negotiation literacy, imperialism literacy, neocolonialism literacy, leadership literacy, governance literacy, political literacy, resistance literacy, resilience literacy, climate literacy, environmental literacy, ecological literacy, eco-literacy and complexity literacy, to name but a few facets or dimensions of literacy. Therefore, it is sensible and reasonable to view literacy, not simplistically but as a complex, multidimensional term or concept. Indeed, complexity is always better than simplicity.
In this article, I want to write about the centrality of environmental illiteracy in virtually everything, including the actions of government in development, such as budgetary allocation to different spheres of human endeavour (i.e., security, human development, agriculture, energy development, social development, tourism and social development). Where there is environmental illiteracy, there can be no meaningful and effective development. The idea of environmental literacy is central to survival.
Before I dwell on the centrality of environmental illiteracy in Uganda’s development, let me articulate and clarify what environmental literacy is. The term environmental literacy is due to a man called Roth who innovated it in 1968 in an article in the issue of Audibon of that year. It has grown in stature and influence since then. I can now introduce it and its significance to you. Let me start with its definition.
Environmental literacy has been variously defined as:
Having the knowledge, skills and disposition to solve problems and resolve issues individually and collectively that sustain ecological and environmental stability and sustainability,
An individual’ understanding, skills, and motivation to make responsible decisions that take the relationship of society and human endeavours to natural systems seriously,
Encompasses knowledge, awareness and concern about the environment (in all its dimensions: ecological-biological, socio-economic, socio-cultural and temporal) and its associated problems, issues and challenges as well as well as the knowledge, skills and motivations to work towards the solutions of short-term, medium-term and long-term problems (including the wicked problems -those that cannot be subjected to simplifications such as environmental and climate ones)
Therefore, an environmentally literate person has the capacity to make decisions and act individually and with others to initiate environmentally, ecologically and socially sensitive efforts towards building the environmental literacy of everyone and the whole society. An environmentally-literate person is also seen as a one who will work individually and with others to make sound decisions concerning the environment, and in the environment, is willing to act on those decisions to improve the well-being of other individuals, communities and the whole society in a clean, safe and secure environment. Hence, real security is not military security, as some rulers think, believe and are convinced it is, but is found only in a clean, safe and secure environment. If the environment is unclean, unsafe and insecure, military insecurity will go on, accompanied by huge investments in military hardware, training of military personnel, creation of paramilitary groups and spying rings. Government will fear its people and everyone will fear every other. There can be no production in a sea of fear.
We should remember that when we talk of a clean, safe and secure environment, we mean the local, national, regional and global environments, which are all interconnected and interdependent. We must, therefore, be all environmentally-literate enough to ensure clean, safe and secure local, national, regional and global environment. Government (s) must be environmentally- literate enough to create conditions (civic, political, social, economic, cultural and so on) in which all of us participate fully in the leadership, governance, civic life as well as production in the environment, which is our gigantic outdoor home. They must ensure we and our kids are all environmentally literate and fearless enough to demand for a clean, safe and secure environment.
In summary, to be environmentally literate one:
Must be politically literate and developed politically to demand for a clean, safe and secure environment and its de-militarization
Must possesses knowledge and understanding of a range of environmental concepts, problems, issues and challenges (such as pollution, militarization, land grabbing, cultural erosion, refugees)
Must have a set of cognitive and affective dispositions
Must have a set of cognitive skills and abilities (such as reading, writing, critical thinking and critical analysis, connecting phenomena)
Must depict the appropriate behavioural strategies to apply such knowledge and understanding in order to make sound and effective and innovate ideas in a range of environmental contexts
Must be open to new ideas and interpretations of environmental problems, issues and challenges and strategies to resolve them
From what I have written so far, you can discern that I do not think and believe that Uganda – her people and leaders -are environmentally literate. The opposite of being environmentally literate is being environmentally illiterate. If you ask me what it means to be environmentally illiterate, I will answer you by saying that it means “Inability to put environment at the centre of our thinking, convictions, decisions and actions in all spheres of human endeavour”. For example, in the presidentially led development process in Uganda, the philosophy of development championed by President Museveni is that “Infrastructure development should come first, followed by nature, environment and people”. This philosophy of development ignores the interconnections and interdependences between nature, environment, peoples and societies. Therefore, in pursuit of development in Uganda under President Museveni environment is just an add-on essential, which may or may not be integrated in the development process. Environmental development is a distant possibility. How environmentally illiterate our political, environmental and technical leaders who make the decisions in and about the environment and the citizens who are affected by those decisions are is critical to the working of environmental literacy in the conservation of our environment.
The scourge of environmental illiteracy is real and deep from top to bottom and an antithesis of development. Where environmental illiteracy reigns there can be no meaningful and effective development. Neither can there be meaningful and effective leadership in a century of information, communication and environment. With the current emphasis of monetization of everything conceivable and government determination to put money first and both environment and people last, we can expect environmental illiteracy to mushroom and environmental degradation to accelerate. There is no doubt that the development programmes such as Bonna Baggagawale, Myooga, Parish Development Model and Operation Wealth Cooperation, being committed to monetization of humans and their environment, are so environmentally empty and run by environmentally illiterate agents that they will end up ultimately undermining meaningful and effective development. However, they will prove to be politically useful under circumstances of development failure because the people will sink further into poverty out of which they will not be able to emerge well in the future. Exploitative and consumptive development, with little feeling for the environment always promotes environmental decay and collapse, accompanied by impoverishment, which may be localized or regionalized. We are suffering and in trouble economically because we have allowed environmental illiteracy to predominate in our economic life. Our leaders who are excluding our indigenous people from development are environmentally-illiterate by choice and design. They have decided to ignore environment and put it at the back of development. They are using the National Environmental Management Authority –NEMA to approve environmentally destructive development projects, such as dams, and cast its leaders as environmentally-illiterate managers.
We must build environmental literacy in government and the private sector and de-hook ourselves from the orthodox culture of money, which thrives on environmental destruction.
If we are to build environmental literacy, or a population and leadership that is environmentally literate enough to put environment and environmental literacy at the centre of everything we desire and do, then we must erect an environmental literacy plan for environmentally literate and sustainable communities, leadership and governance at all levels of society. However, this will only be possible if we recognize at all levels of society the various environmental, ecological, cultural, socio-economic and socio-cultural heritage based directly on the natural resources subtending our communities and society.
Unfortunately, in Uganda the scourge of Presidentialism, whereby everything begins and ends with the President, threatens to prevent a genuine culture of environmental literacy being part and parcel of our civilization and development efforts this century. Everything is done for politics, with politics and by politics to create pathways for foreign interests to dominate the development process, leadership and governance of the country at the expense of indigenous communities of Ugandans.
There is need to rethink Uganda and its development, leadership and governance and recognize the centrality of environment and environmental literacy to any meaningful change, transformation and progress in the 21st Century. A word to the wise is enough.
For God and my Country.