Environment Activist Turns Diplomat

Published on 9th October 2007

Samson Nyine Bitahwa with his wife

His two decades of community service in environment protection, promotion of alternative healing systems, earth brick technology and all round intermediate technology have finally paid dividends. The Government of Uganda has appointed Mr. Samson Nyine Bitahwa widely known for his massive tree planting campaigns and traditional healing systems, the new high commissioner to his country in Berlin, Germany.

Bitahwa attained his university education in Yugoslavia and former West Germany. He is able to compare capitalist and socialist economies in theory and practice, founded and steered a non governmental organization (NGO) Rukararwe Partnerhsip Workshop for Rural Development (RPWRD) in western Uganda for 21 years during which a number of tangible and indelible achievements have been achieved .

Through intensive campaign and advocacy, he motivated grassroot communities to develop themselves by harnessing available raw materials and technical know-how, rather than looking for solutions, such as foreign aid, elsewhere. He also promoted Primary Health Care initiatives by encouraging African Traditional Healing systems which were outlawed during the last century of colonial rule. His massive tree planting campaign was double-edged in both reforestation and growing of specific herbal trees.

Bitahwa also demonstrated practically that, as a country which depends on Agriculture, people needed to put special emphasis on afforestation and regeneration of degraded lands. Twenty two acres of formerly degraded lands have been practically made fertile through afforestation within the last 20 years.

Bitahwa holds that poverty can be eradicated if communities concentrated on self-help projects which can enable them to borrow, save and invest. The heifer project in western Uganda villages such as Karaaro, Kijumo, Nyamitooma, Nyabubaare, Kabwohe and Kakanju have enabled over 700 grass root families to "step out of poverty" by selling milk, meat, obtaining manure for their land and establishing a common loan mechanism .

His NGO - RPWRD has over the years developed a superior technology in building houses. Well researched earth is mixed with some sand and cement and compressed with a locally assembled stabilizing machine. Stabilized bricks are allowed to dry in the sun and the longer they are exposed to air, the harder they become. Within seven days, they are ready fir use as building materials.

Houses built with this technology are normally 30% cheaper than those built by fired bricks. Each house built, saves up to 35 mature trees and reduces atmospheric pollution caused by brick burning. Grassroot communities can obtain affordable housing and "step out" of poor living conditions, disease and backwardness. The building Industry has absorbed the young work force which had difficulties in obtaining jobs.

It is well known in development that communities can be motivated by outside influences. Motivated by an old adage that A child who does not move thinks the mother cooks best, Bitahwa believes communities should learn from each other’s success stories

Unfortunately Uganda is one of the 15 countries on the continent which are land locked, a factor that has contributed to Africa’s underdevelopment. Bitahwa has been able to link Ugandans with communities in Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda, DR Congo, United Kingdom, Germany, Sweden and France. Over 500 ordinary youth, women, farmers, pastors and school children have been linked to communities abroad. The various villages in Bushenyi district have in turn hosted 1203 visitors during the last 20 years. Such links enable learning from each other and exposure to positive development systems.

It is hoped that Mr. Bitahwa, with his rich experience of politics and socio-economic exposure, will not just be another ceremony attending representative of Uganda, but a more productive linkage between the two countries and regions for the betterment of Ugandans.

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