UGANDA: WORLD SCHOLARS RETHINK INTERSECTION BETWEEN SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT AND ENVIRONMENTAL JUSTICE

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Dr. Adam Branch of the University of Cambridge, giving an opening remarks in Gulu.

“Thank you for allowing all of us who do not live in Northern Uganda to do research here. We know that Northern Uganda is a place that has seen decades of externally-driven research and intervention, which have often been irrelevant to the needs of the community, even extractive and exploitative. We hope that conferences like this can contribute towards making international and national research more accountable”

GULU-UGANDA: Gulu City in northern Ugandahosted an International Conference between April 11-12, 2019, which brought together at least 42 world scholars and researchers to rethink about the intersection between sustainable development and environmental justice.

Because of the over two decades of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) rebellion in Northern Uganda, which devastated the region between 1996-2006, this is a place that has seen decades of externally-driven research where world scholars would come to do research and for Masters and PhD students write their thesis.

One such scholar is Dr. Adam Branch, the Director of the Centre of African Studies at the University of Cambridge. He has been such a frequent researcher that is also beginning to learn the local dialect.

“Thank you for allowing all of us who do not live in Northern Uganda to do research here. We know that Northern Uganda is a place that has seen decades of externally-driven research and intervention, which have often been irrelevant to the needs of the community, even extractive and exploitative. We hope that conferences like this can contribute towards making international and national research more accountable”, remarks Dr. Branch.

He made this remarks on Thursday, April 11, 2019, while delivering the ‘opening remarks’ at Bomah Hotel in Gulu during a two-day international conference held under the theme: ‘Rethinking Sustainable Development From Northern Uganda’ to seek out answers to our most pressing questions.

He observed that it must be impossible to imagine what this region was like just over ten years ago. The entire rural population of a million people was living in internally displaced camps into which they had been forced by the government, at a massive human cost. Today, much of that is in the past-new roads and farms; people in their homesteads; and an end to fighting.

“But, if we dig deeper, perhaps there is more continuity between the present and the time of the war than some would like to admit. The camps are gone- but what about new forms of displacement, whether through land grabbing, age and gender conflict, climate change? War is not only an assault on human beings and on society- but assault on landscape, which is also a battlefield, leaving deep scars on the environment”, he observed.

He said they did a research between 2017 and 2018 to find out the extent of environmental violence of peace and they came out with finding that the community in Acholi sub-region was gravely concerned over their environment and over their future.

“We heard fears over massive deforestation from industrial-scale charcoal production, which is devastating the landscape, disrupting rain patterns, stripping away community resources, and doing incalculable damage to the social fabric. Also devastating has been the extraction of ancient trees- Afzelia Africana (beyo), mvule, mahogany, shea nut- with great cultural, spiritual and economic value”, adding: “Environmental violence stretched beyond the trees to the land itself-fears that the expansion of plantation agriculture is spreading poisonous pesticides and other chemicals”

He says the expansion of roads in the region has created a large demand for rocks and gravel, leading to pollution and destructive quarrying operations; and farming in wetlands is disturbing water sources and water tablets.

There are also pressure on land from land-grabbing for industrial agriculture, ranches, game reserves, or mining; and pressures from regional and global climate change.

“There are fears that in five or ten years from now, Acholi will be a desert, that children will have no land and will go hungry; the traditional ways of life are over. These are the same concerns heard during the war, during the time of the camps”.

He says the objective of the conference held last year were two: ‘to make clear that environmental problems are political problems’ and to show ‘that solving environmental violence requires environmental justice’.

“Few people care whether indicted LRA commander, Dominic Ongwen, receives a five-year or a fifteen-year sentence, but everyone cares about whether they can live and prosper in this landscape scared by past and present violence”. 

He says those who truly seek environmental justice are sometimes accused of being “against development”; as if there is some great, unstoppable force called development, some claim that everyone must get on board or be left behind in the past.

“Critics of environmental justice argue that it is antagonistic to development, that the two cannot co-exist and that it is either development of environmental justice. This is what we need to rethink. We need to rethink what development means from northern Uganda”

He observed that globally, we are in a moment in which the very idea of development is being challenged by the planet itself: “climate change, mass extinctions of animals, the exhaustion of our natural resources, rising sea levels and super storms

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