Yesterday as I drove to Jinja to see the source of the Nile, as it flows out of Lake Victoria, I heard an amazing story which has reentered the Ugandan news recently. On the 100 Km between Kampala and Jinja there are acres of land that has been devoted to tea plantations and sugar cane. As we emerged from a large forest to view the first of many acres of sugar cane, Godfrey (my guide) told me that several years ago the sugar companies tried to buy more forest from the Government of Uganda citing the need for more sugar. As the governement moved to sell the forest, the people revolted. They reminded the government, and the company, that the farmers had stopped selling the sugar canes to the company because the company refused to pay them an adequate price. After 3 days of protests the government stopped the sale and the company now presumably gives a better price. Unfortunately the protests resulted in the death of 3 Indians (since the company is owned by Indians the people killed were targeted for their shared nationality with the company owners). Some of the protestors responsible for the deaths are being tried this month. Though perhaps they are also being tried for their opposition to the government.
This story and meeting some members from A Rocha, a Christian international conservation organization, has reminded me of the need for westerners to remember that we are not the only ones that care about the environment or fair wages. Often we think that “developing” nations don’t care about the environment, or can’t because of development needs. This can’t be further from the truth. People understand that when trees are cut the rains will stop. They understand that creating a easy and cheap sand filter, will not only save them nearly 15 days a year of time not spent boiling water, nearly 70,000 Ugandan shillings per year (about $30 USD) in money spent to buy charcoal to boil the water, and dozens of trees used to make the charcoal. They want clean air and clean water and don’t want to be taken advantage of by the companies meant to “develop” the economy.
I must add that I saw the nonworking “new” solar street lights. They have become a very real example of fly in -fly out development that doesn’t leave the local population the resources to maintain the new technology. The Ugandan’s I met love to point out this project as an example of failed development.
I’m sure I will learn more about this as I head out to Bwindi tomorrow. I will travel to Queen Elizabeth Park, a popular safari park and Ishasha. On route I will cross the equator and see more tea plantations, pineapple, and guava plantations.