Uganda: Blog Awards, Digital Activism and More
From my latest Global Voices post, available here.
Ugandan bloggers have responded forcefully to the story that the Ugandan cabinet was considering giving away 7,100 hectares of Mabira Forest to private investor to turn into a sugarcane plantation. Mabira Forest is prominently located on the Kampala-Jinja Road and is Uganda’s largest tropical forest. I Have Left Copenhagen for Uganda reports that a boycott of Lugozi Sugar, a brand owned by the company intent on developing Mabira Forest, is being promoted via text message:
Congratulations to the Ugandan civil society for reacting! This is a fine example of a non-violent action, which in no time has created massive attention among the population, not just on individual basis, but also institutions and organisations are reacting. And not just within Uganda, it is going global. Campaign-wise this is a very interesting tool; any person with a mobile and airtime can participate.
However, no one said it should be easy; Police Spokesman Asan Kasingye is now hunting the originators of the text messages encouraging the sugar-boycott. He states that this kind of boycott is economic sabotage, claiming probably rightfully, it is illegal in the country. He is prepared to carry out arrests. In my opinion this man’s reaction is proving that the campaign is working! Guess the Uganda goverment is to learn about modern non-violent campaigning methods…(hopefully before it runs out out teargas).
In his post titled, “Battle to halt Mabira Forest giveaway taken to cyberspace,” Abubaker Basajjabaka shows the effectiveness of the SMS campaign:
With government playing hide and seek, on top of giving contradictory statements about the whole saga, environmentalists took their fight to FM Radio Stations, dgroups and have also resorted to using Short Message Services (SMS) to caution Ugandans to stop buying Lugazi Sugar if their desire to grab part of Mabira Forest is not dropped.
SMS have particularly been effective. Over the weekend, packets of Lugazi Sugar have been piling up in supermarkets besides some business owners withdrawing them from their stalls. Environmentalists have been arguing that apportioning part of Mabira Forest would bring more adverse effects than the sugar shortage. Opposition politicians have also picked up the slack and are busy de-campaigning government for seer lack of concern if they granted a deal like that.
Rainforest Blog calls for action to stop “Great Ugandan Mabira Rainforest Give-Away”:
Let the Ugandan Parliament know rainforests and their ecological services including water, climate and biodiversity are more important than sugar which can be grown elsewhere. Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni continues to pursue legally dubious plans to destroy large areas of Uganda’s last important intact and protected rainforests. Some one-third of Mabira Forest Reserve [search], about 7,000 hectares of an area which has been protected since 1932, will lose its protection for sugar cane production by the Mehta Group.
In his book, Sowing the Mustard Seed, President Yoweri Museveni waxes lyrical about his life-long drive and ambition to liberate Ugandans politically and economically. The jury is still out on whether the political liberation, aka the ‘fundamental change’, is temporary or a mere papering over the cracks. Economic development, however, will certainly not come by pawning the family silver as giving away Mabira represents. To do so would be to see the forest for the trees, instead of seeing the trees for the forest.
There is an online petition to save the Mabira with over 9000 signatures.