What Uganda Can Learn From Buliisa

Published on 4th April 2014

Hitherto scarcely known Buliisa district, is nowadays a household name. The discovery of oil resources and pre-oil exploitation activities have put this district in spotlight. For starters, the beauty of Buliisa district is amazing; Buliisa is a massive indelible force of nature. To say the least, it has the whole lot depending on which side of context you emerge from.

Buliisa is a postcard. From the rift valley gorges and escarpment to the even grazing land, Budongo forest, the Murchison Falls National Park and the Lake Albert; you are presented with a curvature of picturesque beauty and a resource studded sachet that civilized, uncivilized and Byzantine empires would fight for control. Buliisa enjoins rivers and lakes with a host of fish and other aquatic species, forests, wildlife colonies, vast expanses of savannah and minerals such as sand, oil and gas. To cut the story short, the fights or skirmishes witnessed over the last couple years of discovering the Buliisa treasure are a common story in resource rich places on this earth. What we have witnessed in Buliisa is wet politics. But there is always’ something to do about it and Buliisa is showing us the way. 

The leaders and indigenous citizens of Buliisa are up from ostensible slumber. They have put up a credible environmental ordinance which is possibly the only, if not the most elaborate in the history of local governments in Uganda. The district environment Ordinance is a subsidiary legislation deriving powers from the Local Government Act, section 39. This ordinance conforms to the existing constitutional and legislative framework and general principles of law applicable to Uganda and its utility is the deepening of the legislative machinery to lower local settings to enable legislation to better capture local and peculiar environmental issues in a specific district or lower local government setting/context. We all hope that this ordinance will work and will be supported by all stakeholders. We also hope that it will not join the long catalogue of other important environmental laws and policies that have gathered dust in district and national book /files stores.  But will Buliisa keep the promise? They will need support from all of us.  

What then will this ordinance mitigate? What will it mean for Buliisa? Buliisa administration will use organically generated ordinance to ensure that land degradation stops by curbing overgrazing and maintaining cattle that conform to the holding capacity of the district. Forestry resources will be protected through outlawing of charcoal burning and unregulated extraction of forest products. Threat to wildlife will be arrested by containing rampant poaching of hippos and Kobs in Bugungu. Buliisa leadership projects that oil exploration and exploitation will potentially cause pollution of water bodies and the atmosphere and could further diminish fish resources in the Lake Albert. The prospect of oil spills and other related disasters demand contingent plans to address attendant environmental reversals through impact assessment and mitigation measures.

The ordinance will also mitigate apparent destruction of catchments and riverine forests, unregulated sinking of bores holes and discharge of untreated effluent and molasses into water bodies and non-observance of lakes and river buffer zones. In Buliisa, the fish resources are on a steady decline, precipitated by population explosion, increasing numbers of unregulated fishing villages, illegal activities such as use of illegal nets and fishing methods, fishing in breeding grounds and over dependence on fishing as an occupation. Yet administrative and management structures (BMU) at most landing sites are either non-existent or inadequate. There nascent rapid sprouting of urban centers in the district without well planned drainage systems, no toilets, and careless disposal of Kaveera in towns, gardens, farms will if not checked befall a catastrophe on the district.

I have argued before, that such environmental initiative should involve farmers at all stages. This is because; farmers interact on a daily basis with the environment. This therefore means that farmers can be the best protectors and custodians of environment if they are sensitized and given capacity to sustainably utilize environmental resources. If farmers are relegated to the periphery, they can be unfortunately the worst culprits of environmental destruction. I believe Buliisa is setting a timely example that other local governments in Uganda should benchmark. Let’s keep our ears on to the ground while auditing the strides of this luminary district.

By Morrison Rwakakamba

The author [email protected]   is Chief Executive Officer, Agency for Transformation.

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