Virtually all people of age have definitely heard of the term democracy but few are aware of the phrase Environmental democracy. It does not necessarily true that the two coexist.
A country may be practicing democracy but far removed from practicing environmental democracy. A country may be a democracy but not an environmental democracy.
For a society to be a democracy, everything is organised in such a way that the citizens are sovereign, control the government from bottom to top. There is no discrimination or tendency for one group to be supremacist and racist in its relationship to other groups of people or the resources. All effort is made to ensure that all citizens have equal opportunity for justice, health, education, nutrition, public services, freedom from hunger, torture, and for security, employment, promotion, housing, et cetera.
A democracy as a State is distinguishable from a monarchy, aristocracy and dictatorship. Its government is erected and based on supreme power and authority being invested in the people by constitutional design; not in an individual. The people exercise their supreme power directly or indirectly through a system of representation, usually involving periodically held elections.
The leader or ruler becomes sovereign and supreme instead at the expense of the people, and may direct the making of laws and policies that free him from the people so that he or she pursues his wishes and choices onto the people through the Executive, Legislative and Judicial arms of Government. He or she ends up owning the Executive, Legislature and Judiciary and using all of them to achieve his or her goals of power and legitimacy.
He or she, therefore, will ensure he or she allows people to engage in regular or periodic election, not to empower them to exercise supreme power, but to legitimize his or her rule or leadership by casting him or her as popular, but he or she makes sure the people do not vote freely to choose their leaders. He or she will have complete control over the electoral process so that the results are the ones he or she desires.
The strategy is “The End prescribes or justifies the Means. Under those circumstances, the leader may become perennial but still claim that his country is democratic and that he or she is committed to building a democratic country, although it is apparent that the elections are a matter of life and death, which the leader or ruler must win at all costs – in terms of money and life.
This explains why such leadership and rule tends towards monarchical, hereditary and dynastical rule dominated by ethnic and kith and kin preferences, and maintained and sustained by gun power. Accordingly, any democratic principles and practices that may persist end up being eroded, along with the necessary ethical and moral threads. The ruler or leader becomes the mega and alpha, the beginning and end of everything. Where ethnic and kin selections are pronounced, a country is lucky of Apartheid-like governance does not completely replace democratic rule, with a minority occupying and controlling the majority.
Where supreme power is invested in an individual constitutionally, it will be a miracle if that individual does not become dictatorial guided by presidentialism and bigmanity. Without saying, both presidentialism and big-manity are averse to institutionalism, formal power and formal structures. The one who exercises power will begin thinking, believing and being convinced that he or she is the embodiment of democracy and that without him the country he leads or rule cannot be.
Unfortunately, over most of Africa, what I have so far written is obtaining. Some rulers stick to power and rule from abroad, but when elections are held, they win by over 90% of the vote even when they do note interact with the citizens. A good example is President Paul Biya of Cameroon, one of the longest ruling leaders in modern Africa. President Yoweri Museveni, who is entering his 38th year in power, and has been subjecting himself to periodic elections since 1996, at least allows his nearest opponent to get 30% of the vote. However, he makes sure that as he rules, he does not allow his opponents to organize and access the electorate. Almost after every Presidential election he is on a campaign trail alone till the next election. However, since the 2023 Presidential elections, he has allowed his son, Gen Muhoozi Kainerugaba, and his son-in-law, Odrek Rwabogo, to also access the population, at public cost, as the leaders of the alternative political parties are chained as of old.
Uganda experienced a five-year rebellion from 1981 to 1986 in the Luwero Triangle, which the combatants, now in power in Kampala have continually sold and celebrated at public cost as a liberation war despite the fact that numerous Rwandese refugees were involved in its execution and leadership. One mushrooming school of thought has persisted in characterizing it as a war of attrition, conquest and occupation, intended to remove indigenous people from centrality in determining leadership, governance and destiny of their country, owning it and its resources, or even controlling government. With this political and military reality, it is far-fetched to continue holding that Uganda is a democracy, or that it is democratizing. It is de-democratization continually taking place.
Therefore, repeated periodic elections organized by the long-staying politico-military regime in power have not meant that the country becomes a democracy. It is best categorized as both a politico military and militia-political country because politics and the military have been purposed to create and ensure power does not lie with the indigenes but people with exogenous roots. The imbalance of power is continually determined by people of enormous military roots in the bushes of Luwero who have reserved their roots in the army and also function as powerful politicians. The dominate the Executive and Legislative arms of government, with many of them serving as Ministers and legislators, as by nomination or even election. With passage of time, they are enhancing their leverage and influence on the Judiciary, and consequently influencing appointments of judicial officers and the judicial processes and their outcomes. The journey to democracy in Uganda has not started and will not start if the status quo continues.
For a society to be an environmental democracy, the leadership, at whatever level, must put environment at the centre of every decision it makes in governance – whether the decision is a by-law, law, policy, curriculum or development. If this is the case in a given country or group of countries, then that country or group of countries is an environmental democracy. The society thereof will be an environmental democracy.
For the purposes of this article, environmental democracy will be taken as an area of knowledge and practice that is concerned with environmental resources, such as forests, water, land, nature, and the environment itself, and how fairly they are shared by the people and countries (especially if they are trans boundary resources between localities, countries or regions). Accordingly, it is concerned with the laws, policies, strategies, guidelines and practices designed to ensure equity and justice in access and use of the environmental resources.
Unfortunately, greed and selfishness are rising in severity locally, nationally, regionally and globally, far more than was ever the case in the past. Whole ecosystems, habitats and agro ecological systems are being unfairly appropriated by men and women of power or connected to power, firms, governments, or even governments in league with foreigners and foreign firms. In some cases, resource wars are being initiated in other localities, countries, regions and globally, disregarding existing by-laws, laws, policies and guidelines regarding shared resources.
Although the requirement that Environmental Impact Assessments (EIA) should be carried out and ensure public participation regarding decisions regarding resources desired by governments and firms and institutions have been established to ensure both environmental democracy and environmental justice, everything is being done by absolute rulers, dictatorial governments corporate firms to abuse human and animal access rights to certain resources such as land, water and forests. Political and corporate corruption of the EIA has become the rule rather than the exception. Genuine EIA designed to ensure environmental democracy and environmental justice is continually denied.
The Challenge of both democracy and environmental democracy, and for that matter, environmental justice, is real. This is being confounded by the rising tendency everywhere to monetize and commodify everything conceivable, including water and human life. Consequently, complex environmental problems (including the wicked ones such as Climate Change, which cannot be solved by applying the orthodox simple solutions of disciplinary knowledge and practice) and issues are being created on a continuous basis. Indeed, the solutions proposes become the new problems in the environment. Nearly always when they arise, we have no solutions for them. We just let nature take its own course. This explains the ever rising, proliferating environmental decay and collapse, followed by disasters due to floods, landslides, hurricanes, earthquakes, pollutions and wars such as the one that has raged between Russia and Ukraine, which now threatens to abuse environmental democracy and environmental justice well in te future, perhaps bringing a third world war in focus.
For Uganda, the greatest threat to environmental democracy, and by extension to environmental justice, will be the government’s commitment to proliferating the sterile culture of money and drawing everyone into the environmentally-empty money economy. Virtually all the programmes and projects government has come up with to achieve this end can only be implemented by exploiting natural resources such as water and land. Renewability of the environment is not inbuilt in the programmes and projects. Those supervising or implementing them are environmentally illiterate.
We have seen in our lifetime the political power that be undemocratically deciding to erase whole ecosystem and habitats to replace them with extensive plantations of oil palm and sugarcane grasses. Many more lands in Northern, Eastern and Southern Uganda were at the beginning of the new millennium planned for opening up to oil palm grass growing, falsely arguing that it is a tree. Elsewhere, land is being opened up to foreign trees best adapted to the hot deserts of Australia and the cold hemispheres pf the globe. The false argument is that they are preventing desertification and combating climate change. But the plantations of those trees are themselves biological deserts. They do not allow anything else to grow amongst them. The best method to fight desertification and climate change is to use local, traditional plants and methods of conservation.
Besides, the over-dependence on foreign loans, particularly from China puts democracy, environmental democracy and by extension, environmental justice at risk. High-handedness in government will be increasingly exacted on the people to cause them to pay taxes to raise the money needed to pay the loans. Or else, the Chinese will do what they have done in other countries, such as Zambia, which have failed to pay their loans. The Chinese will extend their ecological footprint into Uganda by seizing the countries environmental assets or resources, which will compromise democracy, environmental democracy, and by extension, environmental Justice further.
Already, government’s exaggerated preference for refugees and former refugees is putting natural environmental resources and the indigenes themselves to stress. The refugees and former refugees, armed with government’s soft spot towards them and the dirty money they have unfairly appropriated, are penetrating the communities and the traditional lands of the poor indigenes, already impoverished by environmentally unconscious laws and policies. They are forcing them off the land, either by buying them off cheaply or are driving them away to nowhere. Many of the indigenes unfairly displaced are encroaching on natural resources such as national parks, swamps and forests to make ends meet.
The refugees and former refugees are establishing ranches and monocultures of crops such as rice and coffee, completely oblivious to time-tested conservation systems inherent in the seven or eight agro ecological farming systems, which have produced food and sustained indigenous communities for centuries. Unfortunately, the agro ecological farming systems also contain underground reserves of natural resources – a big motivation for the proliferating land grabbing by people with origins located outside the country. The agro ecological farming systems are being erased from the face of the Earth by these people from the nomadic-pastoral human energy system. The country is likely to become a desert and hotbed of violence, of the type we are attuned to in Somalia, in case the indigenes wake up to reclaim what was or is theirs.
Therefore, if Ugandans were liberated, it was from those of their own who misused their power and misruled them, to those who are busy grabbing their land and land-based resources to uncertain futures. This is only possible where democracy, environmental democracy and environmental justice have diminished or are continuing to diminish.
There can be no freedom, meaningful development, transformation and progress in the 21st century if a locality, country, region or our globe, is faced with rising undemocratic practices and diminishing environmental democracy and environmental justice. The majority of the people will be at the periphery of development, transformation and progress.
It is said that all development is people’s development, but this is so only when development is negotiated, justly shared and does not erode democracy, environmental democracy and environmental justice. Enforced development and destructive development, which is the case in Uganda, will not allow these essentials of meaningful and effective development to obtain.
So, development, transformation and progress jointly become a gigantic lie, diversionary and misleading. It is possible to achieve development, environmental democracy and environmental justice if leadership and governance do not exclude the majority of the people and honesty from the development process, and if greed and selfishness are not at the centre of development initiatives. These are the conditions for sowing the seeds of corruption on a continuous basis. No amount of institutionalization of the fight against corruption will erase it if leadership and governance promote and preserve exclusion, dishonesty, domination, segregation, injustice, greed and selfishness in the body politic of the country.
We must all allow democracy, environmental democracy and environmental justice to work in our favour if we want experience genuine development, transformation and progress in a clean, safe and secure environment. This should be the foundation of “Securing our individual, community and collective future” in this century and beyond. If not then we are living a gigantic lie with dire consequences. Violence will dominate our country well in future.
Virtually all violence in the past and currently can be ascribed to environmental failure in either of or across the dimensions of the environment – the ecological-biological, the socio-economic, the socio-cultural and the temporal. This is because democracy, environmental democracy and environmental justice have inadvertently been either eroded or excluded.
We must resolve to rethink our economic, political, social and ecological conduct and reintroduce ethical and moral values ahead of the monetary value in our environment, which is our only gigantic home on our only Planet where life is possible.
For God and My Country.