Wise and focused leaders cannot give away forests!

style="float: right; margin-bottom: 10px; font-weight: 600;"Tue 22nd Jul, 2014

I saw a young boy driving a huge horse along a narrow path directing it whenever it tried to turn around. I asked myself, assuming it refuses; can't it kill this innocent boy? Later I realized that it was wisdom, not only power/force that is needed in most of our works and decisions. This kind of wisdom goes with courage and foresight (the ability to think ahead of time) because the future that we study and plan for begins today. It is better to make use of the passing now, for another moment it will become forever worthless, unstable thing. With this in mind, our leaders need to be wiser than other people even if they do not tell us, because to profit from good advice requires more wisdom than to give it. A good leader must have two important traits first, he is going somewhere, and second, he should be able to convince others to go with him. More erroneous conclusions are due to lack of factual information than to errors of judgment- a leader who would be able to distinguish the truth from falsehoods must have adequate knowledge of what is true and false. True opinions can prevail only if the facts to which they refer are known, if they are not known, false ideas are just as effective as true ones, if not a little more effective when accompanied by propaganda. A heap of things going on in Africa do not make sense to the onlookers and even to the listeners. But the Chinese say, "fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me".

Others may argue that we can't advance without new experiments, but no wise leader tries everyday what he has proved wrong the day before. Unfortunately, our leaders are emotionally barren, looking for means and ways of today's survival or wealth accumulation without any concern for the future generation. Recently Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni started lobbying members of Parliament to approve the proposal of giving away part of Mabira forest reserve to Sugar Corporation of Uganda (SCOUL) for Sugarcane growing for the company to extend its production capacity. This comes at the time when African leaders assembled in Equatorial Gennea in an African Union Summit to discuss Deforestatation and Climate Change.

Today, pollution problems have increased to the degree that polluted air and water, with other environmental hazards follow the would-be urban escapist to his country hideaway! Henceforth, a world of no forests is a crisis we cannot afford. The environmental devastation that would come with the planned destruction of Mabira Forest in the guise of "increasing economic growth" or sugarcane production would bring about not just a catastrophe but a series of catastrophes, for in nature, things are dependent one upon the other e.g. after a long drought, there may come heavy rainfall leading to dangerous floods. Based on research by the Sustainable World Initiative (SWI), the cost of taking away Mabira can be estimated as follows; land is valued at $ 25 million dollars, Wood is at $ 698 million dollars, actual physical damage $ 440 million dollars; all totaling $ 1163 million dollars. Yet the current forest cover is $ 460 million dollars worth of carbon. With such a value, Uganda can temporarily import sugar but it is impossible to import rainfall or forest cover. Mabira is a safe habitat for Fauna and Flora, and one of the most active eco-tourism centers Africa has. It harbours a wealth of Biological diversity, for instance, Namibia and Uganda have the largest number of bird species in Africa. (There are over 1500 and 1000 species respectively) because of the favorable environment for them especially their life-supporting forest cover e.g. the Banta species (found only in Mabira forest and Kidepo National Park having migrated from South America due to the highly shifting weather to the detriment of their survival) and the Fiankolin (now found only in Mabira forest). Yet over 20% of all bird species in the world over are found in and around Mabira forest. With the removal of Mabira, trees like Mahogany, Conidia Milan, Prunos Africana, Cofea canafola are in danger because of their economic value. These trees are very scarce; they are mostly in Mabira forest in Uganda, and in larger forests of Indonesia, Gabon, Columbia, Brazil and Congo. The situation is not so different in Garbon, Tanzania, Democratic Republic of Congo, Malawi, and Madagascar where over 30% of the forest cover is either degraded or deforestated in the last two decades alone. Deforestation in the tropics is now estimated at nearly 3.5 million hectares annually, an area almost equivalent to Malawi. There is no stand-alone reason that will explain the failure of African countries to manage forests sustainably, but the political leaders are quick to attribute the loss of forest cover to poverty. Although I agree that poverty and forest degradation in Africa have a link, the problems of forest sector management cannot be explained by this link. What I consider the main problem is poor forest governance and most scholars/practitioners in forestry management agree to this view. Forest governance is simply the system of decision making, legal and policy framework, enforcement and accountability in the management and utilisation of forest resources. It entails principles of accountability, transparency, fairness and equity, participation and involvement in decision making and planning process through a consensus methodology, efficiency and effectiveness in the enforcement of policy and administrative decisions-which are all lacking! In Africa, good forestry governance has been an exception rather than a general rule.

It is greed and conflict of interest that greatly haunt the forest. Man's necessities and perceived enjoyments are the cause of the unwise use of our valuable natural resources and facts reveal that his destructive propensity is still greater. Even in some areas like Mabira, where the works of the creator are nicely balanced, the greedy man want to infringe on them with impunity. In our quest for balance between sustainable socio-economic development and environmental conservation therefore we should always remember that the state holds valuable natural resources like forests, wetlands, wild life, water catchments etc in public trust, so they must be protected by the government at whatever cost. African governments have been attributing deforestation to increasing population, but again, it is the same governments that have a responsibility to plan for and manage population growth in their cradles. The continuing decline in the forest cover, degradation of forests and failure in institutional governance are compounded by political interference and the cancer of corruption which have become embedded in the forest sector because of the economic benefits therein. Many forest conservation and development programs suffer from weak financial, legal and institutional support. With our dream of industrialization, some critics see doom in every aspect of development projects with concerns and reactions that generate an atmosphere charged with hostility against natural resources, environmental pollution and economic greed/corruption. Uncoordinated government institutions guided by unrealistic policies and selfish politicians, and the interpretation of the diverse political/socio-economic behavior are themselves becoming problematic and need urgent revision!! Our great concern here is the uncertainty that resource depletion as a way of effectively using the environment will be the forerunner of its conservation as our leaders shamelessly tell us! This seems to be very difficult like standing in front of the mirror when our eyes are closed to see how we look when we are asleep.
In this era of capitalism (pseudo-capitalism in Africa's case) and resource depression through corruption and economic rent through unwise management of natural resources with high destructive propensity under the doctrine of "survival for the fittest". This time all stakeholders should stand up and oppose any plan to take away forests. Worry is the interest paid to those who borrow trouble as only stupidest calves choose their own butcher- so we cannot get hold of a modern tool and have an ancient mind. Let our leaders cheat us only in price but not in goods themselves. Not many people are born wise but watchfulness about the course of events makes the so. The further forward we can look the further forward we can keenly see.

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