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Mabira Forest is Safe For Now! Government Drops Plans

Uganda’s finance minister, Ezra Suruma, announced yesterday at a dinner meeting in Guyana, that the Ugandan government has dropped plans to give away part of the Mabira forest. While I was studying Luganda and development studies in Uganda last semester, the government announced in April that it would be giving away 7,000 acres for free to the Mehta Group’s Sugar Corporation of Uganda Limited. The owners of the Mehta Group were of Indian ancestry, igniting decades of tragic racial tension between South Asian Ugandans and Black Ugandans of diverse ethnic groups. Most Ugandans and South Asians work and live together peacefully, but Uganda’s colonial and postcolonial histories have damaged race relations in the country. Protests over the Mabira Forest giveaway turned hideously racial, tainting this important ecological and indigenous struggle with anti-Asian racism. One Indian man was stoned to death during the protest, five Black Ugandans died, and Simon Kaggwa, a Ugandan journalist, barely survived after being run over by a car during his ‘riot beat. Indians fled into Kenya, and Museveni attempted to reassure the Indian government that South Asians are welcomed and embraced in Uganda, with anti-Asian racism being the exception rather than the norm.

Mabira forest is about seventy square acres, located near Jinja and Kampala in the Mukono District. It was established as the Mabira Forest Reserves in 1932, when Uganda was part of the British Protectorate (who was being protected during the colonial regime always makes me want to type ‘Protectorate’).

Since April, the decision over whether Mabira Forest would be opened up to transnational corporations has been under review by the Ugandan parliament. Originally, Museveni had been determined to go through the plan, but the horrible protests, as well as the Seoul plantations which were set fire to, hit international news and stirred controversy over whether Uganda was ‘ready’ for CHOGM, or the Commonwealth meetings.

I am relieved to hear the forest will be protected, and I can only pray that racial and ethnic reconciliation in Uganda will take place, not just between Black and South Asian Ugandans, but in Acholiland as well. Mira Nair, wife of famous Ugandan scholar Mahmood Mamdani and film director of movies such as “Monsoon Wedding” and “Mississippi Masala,” has been doing amazing work in bringing together East African and South Asian filmmakers to cover stories that nobody else is covering. Check out the link to learn more about the Maisha Film Lab, whose advisory committee includes Spike Lee.

I was never able to visit Uganda’s beautiful ancient rainforest, but it is a crucial home for 199 butterfly species, 300 bird species, 312 species of trees, and rare, vanishing primates. Since the 1970s, 50% of Uganda’s forests have been wiped out by deforestation.

I am mourning those who were lost in the protest, relieved that journalist Kaggwa was able to recover, and cautiously ecstatic that for now, Uganda’s precious forest is safe from the Mehta group.

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