Elephants cross the road in Uganda

Credit: © Kiwi Explorer. Elephants cross the road in Uganda

DECEMBER 2010.  Over the last 10 to 15 years, the government of Uganda has, on multiple occasions, sought to convert land in protected areas, primarily wildlife sanctuaries and forest reserves, into land for private investment, drawing criticism and protests from local NGOs and advocates.   Despite the protests, this trend continues to some extent due to land scarcity and growing business needs. 

In Uganda, some protected lands are not managed as strict nature preserves; their management is based on sustainable use of natural resources.  As such, local populations with the appropriate permits are able to use reserve-based resources to support their livelihoods.  When protected land is degazetted (thus losing its protected status) and leased to private investors, the proprietary interest of the local people is extinguished.

Although some attempts to degazette and lease out protected lands have failed, many have succeeded, causing local populations to lose access to critical natural resources.  
Many Ugandan advocates argue that under Section 45 of the Land Act land use changes in protected areas are only allowable if the new use is consistent with the objectives of the protected area, an interpretation that appears to be supported by the Attorney General.  Civil society organizations have sought to halt land use changes on protected land through the courts, with mixed results. 

A notable example is a case involving Kakira Sugar Works: in 2003, after abandoning efforts to degazette the Butamira Forest Reserve, the government revoked or bought out the tree-planting permits issued to local communities and issued the company a 49-year permit to grow sugarcane. 

The permit was then challenged in the High Court by a national NGO, ACODE (Advocates Coalition for Development and Environment).  While the court agreed that the government had breached the doctrine of trust and failed to meet its duties, including conducting an Environmental Impact Assessment, it did not order the government to revoke the permit.   Local advocates continue to press the government to stop pursuing land in protected areas for investment purposes.



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