Ugandan Public Prosecutor withdraws indictment against protesters
In April 2007, a number of environmentalists organized a demonstration in the Ugandan capital of Kampala. They were protesting against the Ugandan government's plans to grant a permit to the Sugar Corporation of Uganda Limited (SCOUL), a sugar manufacturer, for the felling and exploitation of large parts of the ancient Mabira forest. The peaceful protest was forcefully put to an end by the Ugandan military and police, and protesters were charged. However, international media uproar forced the Ugandan government to withdraw the charges against the protesters and to nullify the logging concession.
The Mabira forest borders Lake Victoria and covers an area of approximately 300 square kilometres. It offers protection to many endangered animal- and plant species. The forest is not only a place where the indigenous population find their food and medicines, but is also a major source of eco-tourism based income for them.
Frank Muramuzi of NAPE, a Ugandan environmental agency, was one of the organisers of the demonstration. He argues that the cultivation of sugar is not of interest to the Ugandan population, because it is used for the production of biofuels. The fuel is mainly sold to Western countries without the Ugandan population seeing any share of the profits. Moreover, sugar cultivation creates infertile soil. Therefore, once the plantations are exhausted there will be nothing left but barren, unproductive land.
The fact that the demonstration drew international attention didn't stop the Ugandan government from filing a lawsuit against the protesters for conspiracy and disturbance of the peace. Thus began a period of four years in which the accused had a prison sentence hanging over them. The Ugandan Public Prosecutor's Office's decision not only ended this uncertainty, but also proved that protest could actually deliver results in a country like Uganda, which is ruled by a one party system.
Frank Muramuzi concludes: "The Mabira case clearly illustrates that when people fight together for a good cause, even guns cannot stop them. For us, the time has come to fight for our environment and to defend our rights." Both ENDS has been working with NAPE since its founding and will continue to support the organization, where possible.