By Gerald Bareebe
Posted Friday, August 19 2011 at 00:00
President Museveni is not ready to listen to appeals for him to drop his single-minded determination to give 7,100 hectares of Mabira Central Forest Reserve to the Mehta Group to grow sugarcane.
On Tuesday, the President was in belligerent mood when he hosted Kampala City Traders Association leaders along with the Kwagalana Group of wealthy city businessmen when they had called on him at State House in a bid to secure a halt in the project.
“Tell anybody out there that I am ready for war on sugar,” the President reportedly said. “Let us fight this war once and for all. I am not ready to listen to anybody who is saying that I save Mabira.”
Mr Museveni told his guests he is going ahead with the Mehta project despite loud protests of conservationists, environmentalists and the general population who are outraged there will be grave and irreversible repercussions for the eco-system, climate and water catchment area. Presidential Press secretary Tamale Mirundi confirmed that the President remains unmoved.
“Normally when people meet the President they tend to distort information but I am happy that KACITA has not,” Mr Murundi said yesterday. “The President’s position on Mabira has not changed. He made his position clear that part of forest should be given away. If it had changed, you would have received a statement from State House stating so.”
One source said the businessmen demanded to know why Mehta was hell-bent on the forest even after the same wish resulted in the deadly 2007 Mabira riots. But the President reportedly said Mehta does not mind what follows.
KACITA spokesman Issa Ssekito said when he asked whether Mehta is still interested in Mabira land even at the expense of the populace, “(Museveni) said that when he visited Mehta, Mehta told him that he does not mind what Ugandans think. The President told us that he (Mehta) is ready to take the land if government gives it to him.”
Mr Ssekito said the President gave two conditions which he insisted must be fulfilled to save Mabira.
The President asked Kwagalana to provide a surefire plan for an alternative source of sugar production and scientific proof that Uganda’s environment would be endangered if the forest was cut down. His guests proposed that Mehta be advised look for land elsewhere to no avail.
“Why do you force an investor to go somewhere he does not want?” the President retorted. “You can also go and invest there. I am not going to import sugar anymore. We shall do this and we are ready for this war.”
Businessman Godfrey Kirumira suggested a compromise in which they asked the President to shelve his decision on Mabira while the businessmen agree on how to invest in another sugar factory to save the forest.
Mr Kirumira, who is also the current chairperson of Kwagalana Group, broke the tension with a passionate appeal to the President to reduce his anti-Mabira rhetoric, warning that the public was becoming irritated and could resort to protests like the 2007 riots in which three people were killed.