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WILLIAM LUBUULWA: How Uganda can become Africa’s Environmentally-Friendly Giant

William Lubuulwa is the Senior Information, Education and Communications Officer, NEMA

William Lubuulwa is the Senior Information, Education and Communications Officer, NEMA

KAMPALA — About 35 years ago, Uganda very rarely made international headlines except in reference to poverty, brutality and war. Today, although deprivation and brutality still reign, the country is slowly earning more world media space, splashing hope and detailing beautiful stories from all walks of life.

For instance, Peruth Chemutai became Uganda’s first female Olympic gold medalist in the Tokyo 2020, following a number of men that had already done the country proud. The other day, Uganda accepted to host hundreds of Afghan refugees despite its long distance from the warring country. This, also, is a good thing.

Ugandans are good people, and are doing great! According to the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM), Uganda is one of the world’s most entrepreneurial countries in the world. GEM says 28% of adults in the country own or co-own a new business. And I pray that the country’s post-Covid-19 future, wins another commendation: Africa’s ‘Eco-friendliest Country’.

Covering 180 countries, the 2018 Environmental Performance Index which assesses countries on policy goals towards environmental pressures, placed Uganda at number 145 – not very bad! But the National Environment Management Authority (NEMA) needs to work more to deliver the country to a double-digit position – and this will be realized given the revitalized energies NEMA has put in place in recent times.

To perform better, the country should work on cutting carbon emissions, especially from machinery, expand greening in the cities and towns, and create more balanced ecosystems. One can only expect that Uganda hopes to build her economy from the unending road upgrading and rehabilitation projects now going on in the country.

The country’s environmentalists, many still in their active years, hope this eco-focused resourcefulness will set Uganda on a path to growth and environmental-friendliness. But others on the ground, such as taxi or tour operators, envisage a broader route to sustainability that focuses on civic growth.

What big names think

During the State of the Nation Address in September 2018, President Yoweri Museveni, said: “As I have been telling you repeatedly, many of our people do not only know how to take care of the environment, this good gift from God, but also do not know how to take care of themselves and their families.” And in October 2020, Kampala Lord Mayor Erias Lukwago criticized ministers Betty Among and Benny Namugwanya on campaign posters in the city, saying Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA) had no legal instrument to block pinning up of posters. Kampala, is Uganda’s capital where extreme poverty and unemployment exist besides large malls and middle-class environs.

The bickering aside, KCCA solid waste management system (SWM) should be helped to remain running. Authorities should rethink the entire chain from disposal to treatment. For example, hazardous wastes should be handled better and recycling, especially of plastics, should be encouraged to happen at a more serious level. It is good that the other day NEMA and other stakeholders joined hands to launch the National E-waste Management Centre in Kampala, a facility that is hoped to manage all e-waste in the country.

Cutting emissions

As part of government’s plan to turn Uganda into an eco-country, it should aim at cutting carbon emissions by a ‘good’ percentage in a decade or so. Pedestrian life and cycling should be popularized as is the case with non-motorised transport (NMT) along Namirembe Road in Kampala.

While it is true that better infrastructure adds to the beauty of cities and makes them more attractive to international tourists, the locals think sustainability efforts must prioritize non-foreign travelers. For instance, players in the travel industry say their worries for sustainability extend beyond NMT lanes and public space greening. Creating a sustainable eco-friendly country doesn’t have to keep Ugandans dependent on international guests.

Efforts needed

Uganda needs to put in place more innovative SWM systems that can treat solid waste. We can, probably start seeing programmes such as electricity generation from waste, and waste transformation into fertilizer, fuel and ornamental artifacts.

But Kampala and all the other cities or towns should charge all residents, including the poor, for garbage collection. Such a step would appear ‘brutal’ but it can yield eco-friendly results for a robust and sustainable SWM system. Although garbage collection is generally a public service, it does not hurt for one to pay for their litter. Tax revenues alone may not be enough to cover collection expenses, and I doubt it is sustainable. Charging the urban poor for trash collection, though slippery, is normal and, yes, necessary.

Local governments can also work with businesspeople to sponsor efforts by providing street cleaners with boots, gloves or headgears as it was done with Covid-19 fundraising. We can also invigorate programmes such as ‘Keep Kampala Clean’ and involve schoolchildren and other people in community cleanups.

Of course political interference can come into play to fight such programmes. City, town and lower level servants need to know that they are not politicians and should learn to object to such interference.

We should also remember that uncollected trash blocks drainage, causes serious flooding, and spreads disease. Rotting garbage also feeds rodents and attracts vulture birds that add to visual discomfort. Burning rubbish by individual households, too, just contributes to bad air quality in our places.

Way to go

Ugandans need to forge partnerships with community-based organizations (CBOs) to offer alternatives for the unemployed youth not to get involved with wrongdoers. We need to keep these CBOs buoyant even in the presence of all sorts of crises.

Tree planting and urban farming are very good examples of how Uganda can be kept ecologically sound. The CBOs can play an important role in solid waste management in our areas.

As politicians direct the green infrastructure we need, it is initiatives like these that will really define the future of sustainable development. The first step is to know that all of us are responsible for sustainably developing our nation.

William Lubuulwa is the Senior Information, Education and Communications Officer, NEMA

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