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The Scourge of Plastic

The plastic nightmare is real. I’d say “Plastic is coming!” but the reality is plastic is already here. Plastic is fast consuming Uganda with its indecomposable poisonous matter. Uganda is awash with plastic garbage from the tiny villages to the city centres, as our ineffective and corrupt leadership cuddles up in bed with cutthroat “investors”, putting the irresponsible pursuit of profit above the entire environment of Uganda. Our leadership and “investors” have suppressed the legislation that set out to ban plastic bags. Sadly, the remote pristine conservation areas in Uganda have not been spared. Over the past 5 years, the population of Uganda has surged to reach an estimated 42.8million according to the World Bank. In line with this trend, the population around the conservation areas has also more than doubled. In addition to the high birth rate, the increase in the number of people migrating to Uganda from the Congo has exacerbated the problem. Our brothers and sister from the Congo can easily move to Uganda where we welcome them with open arms. Our Congolese brethren are drawn to Uganda by the peaceful virgin wilderness areas around the park which can easily be converted for agricultural use. This has further accelerated the problem. This coupled with the lack of strict laws and weak enforcement has led to gross abuse of plastic especially single use plastic. And again, the Murchison Falls conservation area and its neighbouring communities have not been spared.

The roads to Murchison Falls are littered with the plastic bottles and bags. As one drives from the remote conservation areas back into the urban areas, it gets much worse as the highway from Masindi all the way to Kampala is littered with plastic bottles. Most of this is thrown out intentionally by travellers in buses and other vehicles as they make their way to Kampala or up country on the Gulu highway. Most Ugandans have disowned the ancient Bunyoro Kitara and Buganda traditions of keeping yards clean and living in near perfect harmony with nature. Ugandans have instead opted to fully adopt modern western capitalistic consumption habits with little regard to the detrimental effects on environment and personal health. As fate would have it, Ugandans have more easily adopted the western vices of the west and not the sustainable practices. In Murchison Falls the situation is getting worse with the presence of the Chinese contractors whose workers litter with reckless abandon. The Chinese company CCCC has not cared to educate its employees about working in a national park and the duty to keep national parks free of waste especially plastic waste. Our experience with the Chinese contractors over the past few months has worsened our fears about Chinese companies who unlike western companies do not adhere to international environmental standards and are not listed on a public stock exchange so their actions cannot be punished by stock market agents.

Any safari enthusiast will tell you there is no sight more disturbing than the sight of a plastic bag or bottle standing out ghastly in a field of pristine savannah grasslands, or in the undergrowth of a lush green tropical forest. The sight of plastic destroys the seductive appeal of the remoteness of wilderness areas. This lives one feeling enclosed as the plastic scourge

We also believe in small efforts therefore we started by eliminating all single use plastic on our safaris. Our staff have each committed reducing their usage of charcoal. Charcoal is the one source of energy responsible for over 70% of trees felled in Uganda because unlike firewood which can be picked from fallen tree branches, the production of charcoal entails felling entire trees. We have also discussed excessive consumption habits and the need to check our consumption. We live in a world where Hollywood and western media still encourages excess consumption. The irony is it is shallow and bereft of meaning.

But above all, the government can do something. Smoking cigarettes in Uganda is frowned upon because the government had a successful anti- smoking campaign of 1990s that made society shun smoking. I am certain the government can do likewise with plastic. A consistent campaign targeted at all Ugandans urban and local dwellers can have meaningful impact. Rwanda is not too far way. In addition, as Ugandan citizens we should hold our politicians accountable for the failure of the Kaveera ban/legislation that was meant to stop the use of plastic bags in Uganda. We should ask these pertinent questions and get to the bottom of why the law was suppressed and who is responsibe for the continued poisoning of Uganda’s lands through buveera/plasctic bags. The Kaveera/plastic bag ban should be high on the agenda for the 2021 elections. Who is choking Uganda with Buveera? .