OWEYEGHA-AFUNADUULA: Whether Environmental Justice Really Matters Anymore In Uganda

Trees prepared for charcoal burning- COURTSEY PHOTO

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By Oweyegha-Afunaduula

When one asks this question, one is implicitly asking whether environment itself matters anymore in Uganda. Environment and justice -whether human or community justice, or animal and plant justice, or even ecosystem justice.  Once environment is destroyed, environmental justice, and indeed all the other types of justice are violated. But this topic is on environmental justice in its entirety.

There has been widespread environmental justice in the last three and a half decades, and there is little hope that the destruction will decline. The main reason why environmental destruction has been rising in decades and between decades is because of President Tibuhaburwa Museveni’s philosophy of development.

The President believes that for development to take place in Uganda, infrastructure development (which he sees as the only development) must come before nature and environment and people (and hence social development) must come last.

He is unaware that there is what we call environmental development (i.e development which puts environment at the centre of all development). Environmental development is multidimensional, with dimensions such as cultural, social, moral, spiritual, ecological, ethical and psychological – all being mutually integrated and inclusive.

As I wrote long ago, and others had observed, perceptions of the term environment differ from one society to another. For the vast majority of Africans, particularly the very poor, it is a question of survival. In fact, it is a development tool. If environment is left out of development, then whoever is pursuing development is pursuing the wind.

He or she may end up viewing buildings in form of factories, skyscrapers, supermarkets and mansions, or huge dams as the only development there is to pursue and effect. Yet these are like rocks in a desert, which produce nothing. The environment is productive and tends to balance production and waste if left in its natural state.

The truth is that when you pursue development as conquest of Nature, you end up conquering yourself and many other beings that derive their livelihoods from its productivity. Environment and survival cannot be delinked. When environment collapses, survival also collapses, and it may be difficult to adapt to the new environmental conditions.

As I used to tell my students of environmental science, environmental management, environmental planning and management, biological conservation and ecology, in the 1990s and early Millennium, eenvironment should be viewed as consisting of three human-oriented dimensions (the ecological/biological; the socio-cultural, and the socio-economic), and one non-human-oriented dimension (the temporal dimension).

The dimensions are not mutually exclusive but mutually inclusive, and are interconnected and interpenetrate each other. All the problems, issues and challenges of environment and development can be assigned to these dimensions. It would be environmentally-literate for policy-makers, lawmakers and governors to take this categorization of the environment in account when pursuing development and order, otherwise they will manifest more and more as enemy number one of the environment and humanity. Their policies, laws and actions will erode environmental integrity and prevent meaningful and effective development taking place, because they will tend to be techno-mechanistic in their perception of the environment and actions therein.

So, we can now repeat the question: “Does environmental justice matter anymore in Uganda”? Some will respond positively and others will respond negatively. Those who will respond positively will have in their minds the many environmental policies and laws that exist to protect and conserve the environment.

They will cite the efforts being taken to protect and conserve the environment. They will say there is even a Ministry of Environment and Water. They will be right to a certain extent, in that they will be stressing the ecological-biological (physical) perspective of the environment, at the exclusion of the other dimensions of the environment (i.e., the social cultural, the socioeconomic, and the temporal). A holistic definition of environment must include all its dimensions.

A definition that excludes all the dimensions of the environment allows for continued abuse `of the environment intellectually and practically. By abusing the environment, the y will be abusing the environmental justice of those who depend on the environment directly for survival. The environmental justice will be abused in all dimensions of the environment.

In the ecological-biological dimension of the environment, we in Uganda are witnessing more and more land grabbing where we used to see our people engage in highly productive bioecological farming, which was socioculturally sensitive to the survival of our indigenous people. Forests, swamps and freshwater lakes are being destroyed by greedy and selfish people whose minds are focused only on money making and primitively accumulating wealth as much as they can.

This is being exacerbated by government’s choice of building money economy at the expense of more environmentally-sensitive human energy systems typical of our indigenous groups of people.

In virtually of Uganda, lakes, forests and indigenous human energy systems are being destroyed in favour of oil palm growing, sugarcane growing or oil drilling. Human, animal and plant communities have been displaced, and the people converted into internal refugees, who without land are now non-productive locally, or have streamed to towns and cities in search of survival, yet there is no survival there.

However, while there, they constitute a pool of cheap labour that can be easily hired and fired by the foreign investors, who are increasingly Indians and Chinese, or some local people who are increasingly closely-related ethnically and kinship.

The interconnections between environment, culture and spirituality are more or less being permanently destroyed. In their paper “The struggle for Environmental justice in Uganda”, which is published on Reaserchgate.com Oweyegha-Afunaduula and Isaac Afunaduula wrote:

“Environment, culture and spirituality, at least in the case of the indigenous group called Basoga, is intricately interrelated, interdependent and interconnected and that the three tend to seek and nurture positive synergy where this status quo is respected.

They argued that the struggle for environmental justice must seek to retain the unity between these aspects (environment, culture and spirituality) of nature. Focusing on the Basoga, they suggested that (i) future development in the Nile Basin must respect the environmental, cultural and spiritual endowment of the indigenous group, without which it is impossible to speak of true development; and (ii) To the Basoga this is environmental justice or sustainable development indeed.

They add, “Culture makes environment and environment makes culture. Therefore, a reciprocal relationship exists between the two. This means that struggles for environmental justice must incorporate both the cultural and spiritual dimension if they are to be successful. It also means that the broad field of environment and development is empty without due consideration of the cultural and spiritual dimensions.

Culture may be said to be the whole complex of distinctive spiritual, material, ethical, moral, intellectual, psychological and emotional features that characterise a society or a social group. It includes not only arts and letters but also modes of life, value systems, traditions and beliefs (Mexico Conference on Cultural Policies, 1982).

This is the holistic view of culture. Unfortunately, the development choices and commitment to building the money economy and drawing everyone into it threatens cultural survival in Uganda, because culture is regarded as primitive and an impediment to development. Already numerous sacred places of cultural vale have been destroyed and erased from the biocultural landscapes of Uganda in pursuit of grandiose projects, ostensibly to fight poverty.

Tinkansimire Theres (2014), in his article “Stewardship and Environmental Conservation: Preserving God’s Creation” published in the International Journal of Development Research, cites Oweyegha-Afunaduula (2005:3) asserting that if we want to sustain our environment, we must find means of passing on to the future generation the resources and knowledge we have today so as to help them in turn to develop themselves.

Unfortunately, a small group of people, with exacerbated greed and selfishness, is consuming everything at the expense of future generations. This way it is not only abusing their survival and environmental justice but current and future environmental integrity and security of Uganda.

No security is meaningful without environmental security. Therefore, Uganda needs to invest heavily in environmental security and integrity to have meaningful security well in the future. Military security is momentary and may last as long as the one who builds it. Beyond him is chaos.

In his article cited above, Tinkansimire Theres (2014) defines the environment as humans and their relationships with the living and non-living things in the world, thus casting environment as an ethnocentric manner. Such definition justifies human excesses on the environment.

Tinkasimire Theres goes on to write that “The Bible tells us that God created all things in the universe and that all was very good. He entrusted the world to humans whom he gave the gift of intellect to know good and evil.

Human beings have used their gift of innovation that is in science and technology; to move from being hunters and gatherers to becoming agriculturists and industrialists. They have managed to make their lives better. But in their development, they have lacked proper planning for all creatures – both living and non-living”

In other words, whereas God tasked us to be stewards of the environment for the benefit of all beings God created, we have instead become irresponsible and arrogant, eliminating other beings and other human beings as well, or creating conditions that do not serve to perpetuate survival of all.

Way back in 2005 I wrote that the socio-cultural dimension of the environment involves with spiritualities of the local people, their attitudes, names, medicines, social life styles; and that besides these, there is the ecospirituality and spiritual ecology, which are often ignored in Uganda’s development. Ultimately, environmental justice of the people and all other beings that interact with humans, is eroded.

If, therefore, we want sustainable development to manifest itself in Uganda, them we should pursue economic growth and economic development as equally essential processes in human survival in the modern times, and they must be in beneficial balance.

However, I would prefer emphasis to be put on economic development because economic growth deceptively depicts that the poor are developing, yet its popular statistic, which measures progress in it – Gross Domestic Product (GDP) – refers more to progress among the rich in terms of movement of goods and services. Economic Development is more meaningful if it is inclusive of the poor. That is why in the past I advocated the “inclusion principle” and for the use of the Inclusive Development Index (IDI) instead of GDP.

Meanwhile, the protection and conservation of environmental quality must proceed on together, each reinforcing the other. If not, then we are wasting money and pouring it down the drain. if we continue to emphasize economic growth whose pursuit is responsible for so much environmental destruction and erosion of environmental justice in Uganda, then we are preparing Uganda as a hotspot of violence.

This is what emerges when the ecological-biological foundations of survival collapse. With this environmental integrity and environmental security collapse too, accompanied by erosion of environmental integrity, environmental democracy and environmental justice. This is happening daily in Uganda.

Way back in the 1990s, as a university, I taught sustainable development as maintaining the delicate balance between the human need to improve life styles and the feeling of well-being on the one hand, and preserving the natural resources and ecosystems on which we and future generations depend”.

Today in Uganda it is hard to submit that sustainable development is taking place. For many lifestyles and feeling of well-being have plummeted. Only a few can say they are enjoying better lifestyles and feel well-being. The majority cannot get quality health care and now depend on our diminishing nature to satisfy their health needs.

On the other hand, as government pursues economic growth and the money economy, natural resources and ecosystems on which we and future generations depend for survival are being destroyed. Ecological integrity and environmental integrity are being eroded. In the process the environmental security and environmental justice of people, communities and other beings are being mercilessly eroded. The future environmental survival of humans and other being is in jeopardy.

So, does environmental justice matter anymore in Uganda? What is your view after reading this article?

Foe God and My Country.

The Writer is a Ugandan Scientist And Environmentalist

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