Uganda Wildlife Authority has just appointed a new executive director. Sam Mwandha replaces Dr Andrew Sseguya, whose contract the UWA board of directors declined to renew automatically.
National Forestry Authority is also in the process of selecting a new executive director to replace Michael Mugisa, whose second and final term at the helm of NFA has just ended.
Together, these two agencies control a considerable chunk of Uganda’s total land mass and are the most important public conservation bodies. Therefore, a change of guard there should be of significant public interest.
The statistics are frightening. According to the State of Uganda’s Forestry report released in 2016, forest cover shrunk at the average rate of 120,000 hectares every year from 1990 to 2015. The report further indicates that forest cover has declined from 24% in 1990 to 9% in 2015.
Meanwhile, only 7,000 hectares have been planted annually over the last 15 years. As for wildlife conservation, large-scale poaching and encroachment on protected areas continues, putting some wildlife species in danger of extinction.
Even before the discussion turns to tourism and its associated benefits or climate change, just imagine ‘Gifted by nature’ Uganda without its historical forests, wetlands and iconic wildlife species!
Since last year’s devastating prolonged dry spell, President Museveni has made it a point to preach about forest and wetland conservation, and even restoration.
If the president is really serious, he can start by empowering NFA, UWA, National Environment Management Authority (Nema) and Uganda Land Commission to fully discharge their mandates.
Critical as they might be, some of these institutions appear to be overwhelmed by the job at hand. They have been rendered ineffective by political interference, inadequate funding, uncoordinated government policies and corruption, among others.
While new leadership is welcome in the case of NFA and UWA, old problems remain unless these leaders and their organisations are empowered to perform their mandate.
It has been reported that the ongoing judicial land probe is proposing two agencies to replace Uganda Land Commission and the conservation bodies. If that is what it will take to prevent a catastrophe, let it be.