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“A forest is going to be sacrificed on the altar of sweetness”
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“A forest is going to be sacrificed on the altar of sweetness”

Rocketing demand for sugar cane is causing ructions in Uganda, where President Museveni is having to resort to drastic action to ensure his citizens have access to the home-grown commodity. Commonwealth Correspondent Steven Nsubuga, 27, reports.

An environmental crisis is looming in Uganda after the country’s president Mr Yoweri Museveni insisted he would not be deterred in his wish to give 7,297 hectares of its biggest forest to a private sugar manufacturing company for the purpose of growing sugar canes.

Perhaps a prologue is required to give you, dear reader, a better grasp of the facts at hand.

Global inflation has not left Uganda unaffected. Commodity prices are up, especially food costs. One standout item which has caused a countrywide uproar is the increase in the price of sugar, by close to 100%.

It is not just inflation to blame. There are three sugar companies in Uganda and two of them are closed for routine annual maintenance. The other was recently involved in a dispute with its workers which led some of them to torch large swathes of its sugar cane plantations, thereby affecting production.

With supply being affected and the demand for it (domestic and foreign) being inelastic, the situation is a dire one. Matters were helped by some unscrupulous dealers who hoarded the sweet stuff.

To understand why sugar is such a big deal in Uganda, one has to have witnessed the situation in Uganda in the late 1980s, where basic commodities like salt and sugar were being rationed. When the current president shot his way into power in 1986, he made many promises, which he has mostly fulfilled, and in subsequent electoral campaigns he never hesitated to remind especially older voters of how much progress the country made under his leadership.

“You used to line up to buy sugar,” he would remind them, and they in turn would turn to us, their children, and attest to the veracity of his remarks. Now here we are, in the twenty-first century, and in the twenty-fifth year of Mr Museveni’s reign and we seem to have retrogressed.

A trip to any of even the upscale supermarkets to buy sugar will leave you in shock as the attendants dutifully tell you that you are not allowed to buy more than two kilos.

In response, the president has decided to grant an earlier request by the private sugar company to use a part of Mabira forest for use in growing more sugar canes. The last time this was attempted back in 2007, riots broke out resulting in the loss of innocent lives.

Mabira forest among other things serves as a water catchment area between the river Nile (Africa’s longest river) and Lake Victoria (East Africa’s biggest lake). It does not take an environmentalist to figure out the importance of this forest.

A recent visit led by a government minister to identify a degraded area of the forest had a humorous ending, as after a couple of hours the search was called off, having failed to find said degraded area. And the minister? Well, she had long given up and taken refuge in the comfort of a nearby hotel for some refreshments. She still insists that she had seen the degraded area earlier.

The president then made the biggest statement yet in the saga. He said he was ready to go to war over the matter of sugar. He said he had talked to the head of the sugar company who told him he did not care what Ugandans thought about the matter, he would gladly take the forest if the president granted it to him.

So at the moment it would seem that the lush forest is going to be sacrificed on the altar of manufactured sweetness. Who needs a forest when you can have sugar? That seems to be the current stance of the nation’s leader. Heaven help us! For God and my country.

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About me:

Steven Nsubuga from Uganda.

“I am a 27-year-old software developer from Uganda. When I am not writing code, I am either reading my bible or playing Scrabble, football or badminton (I am a classic single-tasker, so I only one activity at a time).

“Sometimes you may also find me pondering who was the greater detective – Hercule Poirot or Sherlock Holmes.”

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Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the Commonwealth Youth Programme. Articles are published in a spirit of dialogue, respect and understanding. If you disagree, why not submit a response?

To learn more about becoming a Commonwealth Correspondent please visit: http://www.yourcommonwealth.org/submit-articles/commonwealthcorrespondents/

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