Ms. Ruth Namuddu, one of the victims of NEMA’s recent eviction of people from Lubigi wetland, was left in a tent even though she had clearance from Nansana Town Council

KAMPALA – Recall last week, I authored a commentary State failure is at the doorstep of environmental degradation in Uganda – Part 1” in which among others, I expressed concern over the brutal eviction of wetland ‘encroachers’ by the State-run National Environment Management Authority (NEMA) and the rising number of taekwondo-style kicking street thugs and urchins. In this second part, let me start by explaining why I write encroachers in quote and unquote. I personally don’t regard the people labeled as encroachers because they don’t go in there with preconceived intention to destroy or degrade the fragile ecosystem.

It is the negative neo-colonial mindsets of underlooking the ordinary landless and underprivileged Ugandans, dismissing them under the obnoxious notion that ‘ignorance is no defence’ This was a colonial oppressive statement that literally arrested, prosecuted and declared Ugandans or Africans guilty of “crimes they committed” without knowing it. If ignorance is widely prevalent among our communities about bazungu (strange/alien/foreign) things like speaking Luzungu/English, counting, reading, operating some machines, dressing income alien clothes or shoes.

Our people didn’t (were ignorant) and many today do not know (are ignorant) how to put on or how to use these many foreign things. For instance, if many of us elitist Ugandans took a typewriter, fork(s), table-knives, piano, guitar, trumpet, or a phone and any other ‘common’ instrument to the village or within Kampala, its suburbs or any town in Uganda and asked people there to operate any of those instruments I’ve listed here (above), very many will not know how to operate them. They’ll be ignorant. But nobody will charge for being unable. However, one thing the bazungu imposed here and it got deeply ingrained in our brains, is about being ignorant of the law as unacceptable or blasphemous. Why that nonsense? Does it mean being ignorant of all other useful or not useful things, is okay except, the law??

Thousands of people were ruhlessly evicted without compensation from their homes by NEMA

So it is under that umbrella of terror and suppression – a carry over from colonialists–that Ugandans who have been found in what is protected by the bazungu-instigated/bazungu-styled law!

Many will tell you that “We didn’t know this is a wetland” or we didn’t see NEMA’s boundaries. If they’re there, we didn’t know or see where they pass” What’s NEMA, police or the court’s response to such an innocent plea: ” Ignorance of the law is no defence!” Period!

It sends terror chills down the spines of the ordinary. Many of them ‘unschooled!’ But those who regard themselves as the best-schooled of society ( ‘ _the learned friends_ ‘) are the worst or are the best at propagating the goddamn “terrorist”/colonialist stance! Why not condemn ignorance of everything ‘useful’ to be of no defence? But they singled out the law, is the best tool to use to whip those stubborn Africans into line.

They resisted learning the white man’s ways and to force them to adopt them, they introduced that dictum. But is it according to any law?

Is “Ignorance-of-the-law-is-no-defence” dictum enshrined in any law book therefore, if broken it is enforceable? I’m just asking ‘out of ignorance’ of the law!

Against this, it is my strong and considered view that if our leaders are indeed Pan-Africanists, anti-colonialists and anti-neocolonists, such terrorist dictums shouldn’t exist in the land (Uganda) where they reign!

To the extent of our revolutionary Govt just looking on as the NEMAs of this world ruthlessly evict largely peasant-raised landless Ugandans! The Government should rethink how to handle all lands regarded as wetlands found in urban areas. Starting with Kampala. If we use the case of the Netherlands (Holland)–the world’s 17th most-wealthy nation–it was built on a ‘wetland’ land or on land reclaimed from the sea!

And they’ve built channels that carry away water to the sea and dykes that keep sea water at bay! Uganda needs to adopt ways/new mechanisms of managing wetlands as well-built landforms not as purely vegetated areas, growing with papyrus and lillies (typical wetlands), that are infested with frogs, mosquitoes, toads, snakes, etc. But well-planned and strongly built-up water channels/urban rivers/streams, planted with trees (lined) and grass plus flowers! They should also be paved/stone-pitched at the bottom and on the sides. Paved walkways should be built there too. Uganda should have her near-urban areas wetlands, tamed into clean water channels, like the River Thames or Nairobi River–both of which flow through the cities of London and Nairobi–in the United Kingdom (UK) and Kenya respectively.

Foot bridges can be constructed at different stages of these channels with guard-rails that enabIe people (pedestrians) walk there safely plus city workers clean (drench) them regularly.

Security lights and CCTV cameras be installed along the water channels. Boats of various sizes can be introduced and their traffic controlled. If one of Buganda’s ancient Kabakas, Basamula Ekere Mwanga, built a dug-out lake in Nabunya, Lubaga Division 5 kilometres from the Kampala city centre in 1880 (during the early 19th Century), why can’t we Ugandans of the 21st Century, do something different, bigger and better?

We should adopt a futuristic/realistic approach to managing urban wetlands than the more harmful-to-health approach of working to maintain snail, frog and mosquito-infested wetlands. Evictions should be less brutal, less crude/less-archaic and non-anarchist.

Man-built urban stream/river channels, should be planned and designed in such a way that it takes into account the climate change phenomenon of huge volumes of unpredictable rain waters whenever it falls and the unprecedentedly persistent droughts–deepening the channels would serve both cases.

The best engineers should be contracted and deployed to ensure most importantly, that the structural designs of what is introduced, can stand up to the pressures of climate change’s heavy rains, flooding and longer dry periods. There’s also motor-garage, industrial, domestic and hospitality wastes/effluent/pollution plus waste from markets, shops and pedestrians: all these should be factored in the management plans.

Regarding the street kick urchins, these are a product of what we’ve all done and not done over the past many decades!

Those that were small street kids yesterday are now the men ruthlessly assaulting and robbing people in broadday light. These ones–if you asked any Kampalan–they’ll tell you the police knows them just too well. Then before they graduate into hardened or hardcore armed underground orbm overt thugs, the Govt should ensure that the police does not only round them up for imprisoning only to be released by the courts/prisons service because no one has sued and presented incriminating evidence against them!

What’s only available are CCTV cameras footage which doesn’t open up cases against those they document or catch/record in criminal actions activities on the streets. So the police should be enabled to also employ these criminals in the production of police needs/utilities (making uniforms, shoes, belts, bags, rain/non-rain jackets, gumboots, night-coats, tents, shoe-polish, furniture, maintenance of police vehicles etc). The police has been involved in rounding up those street thugs and urchins for time-immemorial, and yet crime is instead spiraling annually, according to Police’s own Annual Crime Reports. Therefore, non-traditional out-of-the-box innovative/creative measures need to be adopted to handle these growing criminal activities.

The negligence I talked about include building streets and leaving pavers strewn all over the place–providing these criminals free ‘ammunition’. It’s a newer weapon provided freely by KCCA and the companies it contracts to build roads and drainage channels, at the end of each day’s work, builders abandon pavers by the roadsides all over the city. What level of utter negligence!!?? These are expensive materials purchased by tax-payers’ money and must be well-kept for the next day’s work. But my research around Kampala, shows heaps of bricks, rocks, boulders and pavers are all over the place! Unprecedented negligence this is!

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