Most Kenyans and Tanzanians have not yet heard about a company called Scoul. When they eventually do, they will wear a scowl on their faces. For the Sugar Corporation Of Uganda Lugazi/Ltd is determined to cut down a third of the tropical rainforest on the northern shore of Lake Victoria, reportedly to plant sugarcane.
The Ugandans who are fighting to save Mabira forest have so far kept their campaign local. As a result, Kenyans and Tanzanians as co-owners of Lake Victoria have been left out of the efforts to safeguard their lake, which directly supports the livelihoods of 30 million East Africans.
The governments of Kenya and Tanzania owe it to their citizens to file an injunction against the cutting down of Mabira until Scoul presents incontrovertible scientific evidence that Lake Victoria will not be affected.
It could even help to involve the international community in the campaign to save Mabira because matters of environmental protection should not remain local. The current Ugandan government has set a precedent by taking its domestic political problem of Joseph Kony's Lord's Resistance Army to the International Criminal Court. The threat to a major regional environmental resource by a sugar company should be reported to the relevant international bodies as well.
However, the involvement of Kenya and Tanzania cannot be treated as involvement of outsiders, because they are direct stakeholders in the wellbeing of the climate and water resources around Lake Victoria.
That is why the East African Community is the one spearheading and implementing the multimillion-dollar project to restore the health of Lake Victoria.
Logically, the task could not be left to individual governments. Nor can the saving of Mabira forest from the threat of being cut down be left to the citizens of a single East African state.
The grabbing process
For the information of Kenyan and Tanzanian stakeholders who may have missed the saga, it started in or before 2007 when Scoul unveiled plans to acquire 7,100 hectares of the lush Mabira forest that lies half an hour's drive east of Kampala city to plant sugar cane.
In 2007, thousands of people marched in Kampala's streets to protest the move and three people died in the process. The Uganda government thereafter appeared to shelve its plans to give away the gazetted forest reserve.
Then, earlier this month, amid rising sugar prices, the government suddenly renewed its bid to give Scoul the forest. Many Ugandans suspect the sugar scarcities have been orchestrated, and that in any case there would be enough sugar produced for Uganda were it not for the lucrative South Sudan market that the manufacturers are eyeing.