Julius Ssenyonjo & Sam Mucunguzi
Wetlands and Forests are important resources for regulating climatic conditions, erosion prevention, moderation of extreme flows, sediment traps, soil formation, and maintenance of water tables in surrounding lands, and acting as centers of biodiversity and wildlife habitat. They are also sources of wood, timber and other construction materials, food, medicines, water supply, fisheries, dry-season grazing for livestock, nutrient and toxin retention, tourism, recreational and spiritual functions, and promote aesthetic beauty of the area among other known functions.
Surprisingly, these resources (wetland and forests) are on the decline in many parts of Uganda. Data shows that the national area of wetlands declined by 30% between 1994 and 2008. And although between 2008 and 2014, there was an increase in area under wetlands, this was only a meager 0.03% increase from 26,307km2 in 2008 to 26,315 km2 in 2014. In the same way, it is reported that from 1990 to around 2010, Uganda’s forest cover reduced by approximately 1.3 million hectares. This represents an average annual deforestation rate of 1.8%, which implies that in less than 20 years, Uganda lost about 25% of its forest cover. These trends are worrying and are increasingly being attributed to weak enforcement of existing laws, impunity among certain classes of the general public making enforcement difficult, poor coordination amongst key government institutions, corruption, political interference and influence peddling,. If not well managed, construction of EACOP pipeline through Lwengo, Sembabule, Kyotera and Rakai is likely to worsen the situation. Addressing these challenges requires the concerted effort of all key stakeholders including central government, local governments, CSOs and CBOs, cultural and religious leaders, media fraternity, local communities, and the judiciary among others.
- legislative framework governing wetlands and forest protection
The protection and management of forest and wetland resources in Uganda is guided by a number of legislative frameworks key among which include; the Constitution of 1995 (As Amended) which provides under article 237(2) (b) that “The Government or a Local government shall hold in trust for the people and protect wetlands, forests and other natural resources for the common good of the citizens of Uganda”.
Additional legislation enacted to operationalize this constitutional provision include; the National Environment Act of 1995; Wetlands Policy (Uganda made history as the second country worldwide, after Canada, to pass a wetlands policy); Land Act 1997; Local Government Act 1997; The Forest and Tree Planting Act 2003; The Wildlife Act, 2000; The National Environment (Access to Genetic Resources and Benefit Sharing) Regulations, 2005; National Environment Impact Assessment Regulations 1998: The Wetlands, River-Bank and Lake-shore Regulations 2000 among others all aimed at protection and wise-use of wetlands, forests, land, Water and other related natural resources in Uganda. Despite these legislative frameworks, forests and wetlands have continued to diminish in different areas of the country which calls for re-examination of the roles of different players in the protection and management of these resources.
- The Role of Local Government Leaders, Technocrats and other actors
In Uganda, environmental and natural resource management is decentralized and has been the responsibility of local districts since 1996. The local government technocrats and leaders considered in this info-sheet include Local Environment Committees (LECs), Chief Administrative Officers (CAOs), RDCs, district environment officers, natural resource officers, forest officers, community development officers, and elected local leaders at all levels including councilors and MPs. The laws governing forest, wetlands, and environmental protection accord these leaders and technocrats the following roles;
Set long-range development goals for the district and ensure the integration of environmental action plans and concerns into the planning process at the district and local levels.
- Act as a forum for community members to discuss and recommend environmental policies and by-laws.
- Collect and disseminate data on wetlands, forests and other natural resources.
- Coordinate activities of local environmental committees.
- Mobilize the public to initiate and participate in forest, wetland and other natural resource management activities.
- Ensure that the local people, NGOs, the private sector, CBOs, etc., participate in environmental planning and the implementation of environmental programs.
- Develop district environmental action plans that incorporate sub-county (LC3) environmental action plans.
- Prepare a district state of the environment report once every 2 years.
- Advising the Authority (NEMA), after the prior approval of the District Council, to declare an area a “Protected Wetland or Forest Reserve” in accordance with National Laws and Regulations governing wetlands and forest resources;
- Authorizing research activities in a protected wetlands and forest reserves located within their geographical areas of control;
- Ensuring that environmental and social impact assessment is carried out on a project that involves the use of forests or a wetland or an area within ten metros of the edge of a wetland;
- Declaring that a wetland or forest be closed from some or all activities for purposes of regeneration.
- Local Leaders
Monitor and supervise the technocrats and other duty bearers to ensure that they execute their mandates effectively in the management and protection of forest and wetland resources;
- Lobby and allocate sufficient financial, human and other resources to the forestry and wetland sectors;
- Initiate and push for the enactment of relevant community bye-laws and ordinances to promote the protection of wetlands and forests at community and district levels within their geographical areas of control;
- Invest in understanding wetlands, forest, and other natural resources governance issues in their local constituencies and raise them in the district and local council meetings for appropriate action.
- Consult their constituents during policy formulation and enactment of national laws, community bi-laws and district ordinances concerning wetland, forest and other natural resources protection;
- Hold the technocrats and other duty bearers accountable in case of delivery failures and governance issues. District and local councils have the power to summon the technocrats and other duty bearers to account;
- Civil Society and Community Based Organizations
Build and strengthen the capacity of the local people to understand issues of forest and wetland protection and empower them to hold the duty bearers accountable;
- Conduct research on local and national wetland and forest protection issues and suggest options of how to promote the protection and wise-use of these resources;
- Simplify and translate local and national wetlands and forest laws and procedures in local languages;
- Lobby and advocate for policy reviews and good governance of forests and wetlands at both local and national levels;
- Facilitate dialogue and provide platforms where the community members, local leaders (including political, cultural and religious leaders), CSOs, CBOs, technocrats in local forestry and wetland services and media among other stakeholders including marginalized groups meet to share and discuss information about governance of their local resources and agree on practical reforms to improve the management of forests and wetlands;
- Monitor technocrats’ level of implementation of the wetland and forestry strategies at community, district, and national levels;
- The Role of Community members
Mobilize their communities against wetland reclamation and bad forestry governance practices. This can be through writing petitions to relevant authorities;
- Report forest and wetland crimes and illegalities happening in your communities to relevant authorities and facilitate the investigations of such vices;
- Lobby political and other influential leaders from their areas (e.g., councilors, Members of Parliament, Ministers etc) to increase resource allocation to the wetland and forestry sectors and enact appropriate laws and policies to address the wetland and forestry challenges in Uganda;
- To vote out political leaders involved in and benefiting from wetland degradation and bad forest governance practices.
- Local Media
- Establish programs and talk-shows dedicated towards educating and raising awareness about wetland and good forestry governance;
- Investigate and expose illegalities and other malpractices in the wetlands and forestry sub-sectors e.g., influence peddling, encroachment on wetlands and forest reserves (expose encroachers); and licenses and permits issued in contravention of the laws and procedures governing wetlands and forest governance;
- Provide media space where members of the local communities and other actors can speak or write about different wetland and forest governance issues affecting them.
- Inform local communities about planned and ongoing decision-making processes regarding wetlands and forests e.g., applications for licenses and permits, environmental impact assessments, proposed degazettement of forests and wetlands, planned mega projects likely to affect wetland and forest resources and their potential impacts on environment and peoples’ livelihoods;
Protection of Forests and Wetlands is a responsibility of all concerned stakeholders and actors. It requires the concerted effort of every citizen and development partners. There are already national laws and policies guiding the protection and wise-use of these resources in Uganda. However, there are still a number of challenges notable among which include the Tensions between administrative staff and politicians, especially, at the local government level,; thus, improved and enhanced protection of these resources lies in appreciating and upholding the role each actor plays at community, sub-national, and national levels.
Citizens Concern Africa is a Non-Government Organization registered in Uganda with the aim of enabling citizens to exercise their constitutional right of holding government accountable on the social and environmental welfare of all citizens. The organization is kin on addressing environmental, social, and climate change issues in Uganda through research, advocacy, and information dissemination.
Citizens Concern Africa (CICOA)
P.O. Box 22764
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Mobile No: +256 782562098/705712245
 Republic of Uganda, 2016: Uganda Wetlands Atlas. Ministry of Water and Environment (MWE), Kampala
 The Republic of Uganda, 2013: The National Forest Plan 2012-2021/2022. Ministry of Water and Environment (MWE), Kampala
 Republic of Uganda, 2016: Uganda Wetlands Atlas. Ministry of Water and Environment (MWE), Kampala
 Naluwairo R., 2015: The role of local leaders and actors in promoting good forest governance in Uganda. ACODE info-sheet No.34, 2015
 Peter O., and Bas V.V., 2010: Environmental Systems and Local Actors: Decentralizing Environmental Policy in Uganda. Accessed on 18th March, 2019 from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2819457
 Nominated technocratic and administrative personnel such as RDCs, CAOs, and the District Environment Officers generally base their decisions on national laws and guidelines as well as on professional information, whereas local politicians (notably the District Chairpersons) are elected officials and have legitimate claims to represent their constituencies. Unsurprisingly, elected local leaders are reluctant to enforce environmental laws, especially, where such laws are expected to be inconveniencing to their voters; to do so is to risk not being re-elected. In other cases, however, local councilors may receive support from their electorate to make decisions that are beneficial to the environment and protection of forests and wetlands.