Ten days ago I took a trip to Kalangala, one of the Ssese islands on Lake Victoria. The last time I had visited the beautiful island was four years ago. The island is three hours ferry ride from Entebbe. On board we had three vehicles from the ministry of tourism and I was curious what function was going take place just a few days before our 50-year independence anniversary.

We later found out that the next day the minister of tourism was launching a ‘tourism master plan for Ssese Islands’, which am told, do not receive that many tourists these days. More than the logistical issues like access to these islands, what left me speechless was the destruction of the rain forests in Kalangala Island.

As you approach the islands you cannot miss the bare hills that were once covered with green dense forests.

Screen shot from BIDCO Uganda Ltd.

The destruction of these forests and biodiversity has been fully backed by government as top regime officials make money off Palm Oil production.

In April this year, Friends of the Earth International released a report which revealed the gross environmental degradation and human rights violations that are the result of land grabbing occurring on this island.

As controversial as the project is, it has been backed by our government as well as IFAD and the World Bank.

Friends of the Earth International’s report showcases the stories and perspectives of those affected by land grabbing in Kalangala.  According to many, BIDCO purposefully deceived landowners into unknowingly selling their properties for extremely small amounts of money, as aided by corrupt government officials.

All these violations have gone on without much noise from other Ugandans outside the island. As we watched the sunset over bare hills, I wondered where are the Ugandans that fiercely protested the giveaway of Mabira to another corporation for sugarcane plantation.

It was ironical that the tourism ministry hopes for a tourist filled island in future from a degraded place. Of what use is a ‘master plan’ to Ugandans being violated in order for the few regime people working with foreign companies to pocket billions in total disregard of the future.

If this government is to promote tourism in Ssese Islands it must start by stopping the degradation it is currently guiding. Replacing a natural forest with palm trees is utter recklessness.

And how can we fight for Mabira and leave people of Kalangala to be robbed of their land and heritage by foreign corporation aided by our government? Is our concern for environment selective or it is just hypocrisy? Conservation of the land cannot be left only to those affected.

It is not rare to find educated Ugandans littering the streets with water bottles and other trash, which will find a way to drainage systems in the city. And when it rains apart from the occasional flooding that makes it impossible to drive, it is largely urban poor people that suffer most.  A rich person supported supported by orders from above, builds in a wetland and see no wrong.

I recently visited the Entebbe Botanical gardens and I was shocked to find heaps of plastic bags and bottles piled in what is left of the forest there. Parts of the gardens that were once protected are no more.

The Entebbe Botanical Gardens, which were established in 1898, have largely survived the ‘Uganda bug’ of wanting to put a structure in every green space in a city.

From Botanical Gardens Entebbe

I read somewhere that the gardens have a collection of about 309 species of which 199 are indigenous to Uganda, 122 with known medicinal value. It is also estimated that the gardens attract more than 30,000 visitors per years  Many of them , just like I, come to relax in this mostly quiet gardens.

But what I saw one could bet that unless something is done we will not have the tranquility these gardens once offered. Already managers have permitted a structure -a bar- that like many of them in the country plays music at its highest.

Soon Botanical gardens will be like any other Ugandan beach by Lake victoria.  As a country that just celebrated 50 years of independence, we ought to preserve our heritage better!

Read more from NAPE on Land Grabbing and Palm Oil projects in Uganda