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Ugandan Activists Denounce Land Giveaway, MP's Arrest

Members of Uganda’s opposition and civil society have condemned the arrest of two members of parliament by the police, who charged the MP’s with terrorism and other offenses. The police have accused Beatrice Atim and Hussein Kyanjo of orchestrating the violence that marred what was originally meant to be a peaceful protest against the government’s planned giveaway of the Mabira rainforest to a private company to grow sugarcane.

From the capital, Kampala, Imam Kasozi, a member of Uganda’s civil society, tells the Voice of America that Ugandans are against President Museveni’s plan to turn over the rainforest.

“There was a demonstration against the giving away of Mabira forest to a sugarcane farmer. In the process, one person of Indian origin was killed by the protesters. Then, the security guards shot them down. The demonstration was organized by environmentalists who were protesting against this because Mabira is a natural rainforest and it was the government, particularly President Museveni himself that wants to give it away. Ugandans are saying no we cannot accept this,” he said.

Kasozi said that the government has charged those perceived as leaders of the demonstration for resisting the transfer of the rain forest.

“What happened is that the government conferred charges on some people. Some people were arrested, including two members of parliament, and the chairman of the professional environmental association. That is the cause of the problem,” Kasozi noted.

He said the civil society is not going to give up its crusade against the planned forest giveaway.

“The civil society is very vigilant and very aggressive and are insisting that we must not give away this Mabira forest. The churches have spoken the cultural leaders have spoken. Some have even offered their land, that they (government) must use their land, rather than cutting away this natural rainforest,” he pointed out.

Kasozi said the civil society is thinking about taking the matter to the courts to seek legal redress over the government’s plan to give away the forest.

“The civil society is pushing on and also seeking legal proceedings against the government. And the government seems to be also backing down because, for example, the cabinet paper that they were supposed to present has a bit shifted on some grounds. And we are insisting that as civil society, we must not give up and give away what we have in view of what is happening globally, particularly due to global warming,” he said.

Kasozi explains the significance the forest plays in the life of Ugandans.

“The problem is that the electricity here is a problem and this forest is the catchment’s area for water and to the River Nile and Lake Victoria, where we get much of our water that we use for hydroelectric power. So we cannot just be onlookers, we must make the government responsible and must respond to the calls of the people,” he said.

Kasozi said the civil society intends keeping pressure on the government for the government to rescind its giveaway plan.

“As long as we keep firm and we take a proper stand, we don’t become violent, we become just aggressive and demand for our rights, I’m very certain that we are going to have some results,” he said.