Mabira forest is back to the headlines. President Museveni has ressurrected the plan he had in 2006 to give part of the forest to Mr Mahendra. N. Mehta, the sugar baron based in Lugazi.
When the plan first became public, it elicited furious response from the public. The riots that followed, claimed some lives including that of an Indian.
The matter then went silent. Why is it back?
President Museveni is in panic. Sure? Yes. Why?
Anyone who has cared to study President Museveni, will agree that he is an illustrious coward who works hard to conceal his fears.
His behaviour is more or less like Chinua Achebe's character called Okonkwo in Things Fall Apart.
Okonkwo was born to a lazy and poor father named Unoka. His father's failures inspired Okonkwo to try things his own way and be different. And indeed, at a young age, Okonkwo made some achievements and positioned himself in society. He made some wealth. He was a good and courageous wrestler. To demonstrate his courage, he even went against the advice of his community and killed a young boy [Ikemefuna] who had grown up calling him father.
Mr Okonkwo understood the folly of killing Ikemefuna but deep in him, he did not want to be seen as a coward.
But beneath Okonkwo's courage, was a hidden sense of fear---the fear of failure. At the end of course, Okonkwo ended up like his father--, poor, dead and buried under embarrassing circumstances.
That is more like Museveni in this Mabira issue. Mr Museveni has elevated himself as the only man with a vision in the country.
His interest is to industrialise the country not because he cares about the welfare of ordinary people, but because he wants his name in Uganda's history as a man who performed wonders.
He has preached properity for all in vain. The guy has tried since 1986 but poverty and hopelessness still define the country under his rule. When preaching prosperity, Museveni has been watching those close to him loot without shame. In this Mabira saga, reports suggest that actually while Mehta wants to expand cane growing, Gen. Salim Saleh, the younger brother of Museveni is eying the timber. Salim Saleh ahs apparently "won" a tender to supply electricity polls to electricity distribution company under the rural electrification program. As of now, Saleh is busy cutting forests in West Nile for timber. These guys smell money and can do anything to get it.
And for Museveni, he has also made a personal fortune since he became President--owns a ranch in Kisozi, a palatial home in Rwakitura. Rumours abound that he has interests in several hotels around and abroad. His family members are stinking rich without clear jobs unless children of Presidents are paid salary for being children.
With enormous wealth at their disposal and age not favouring him anymore, Mr Museveni is in a personal crisis on what will befall his empire if many Ugandans continued to live in abject poverty forced on them by the corrupt few.
For this reason, he is trying to see wealth is spread hence his pet subject of industrialisation.
To industrialise, Museveni has been forced to dance to the tune of anyone who masqauarades as an investor.
This has most times attracted to him conmen. And when some seemingly serious investors like Mehta give a proposal however stupid it can be, Museveni is usually the first to buy into it.
These investors have over time learnt the trick. They extend some financial help to Museveni's re-election efforts and in return seek favours. In fact, in this particular case, talk is that Mehta needs his pound of the flesh. He scratched Museveni's back during 2006 campaigns and he nows wants his turn.
But the force in Museveni's tone is mainly dictated by the fear deep in him.
Its not that he is unaware of the value of mabira forest. Museveni sees a much bigger problem to his ego and family wealth--the problem of poverty to many Ugandans yet a few are priviledged. To him, it could translate into real anger by Ugandans against him. Moreover, many Ugandan educated class are increasingly getting tired of walking the streets looking for nonexistent jobs.
This army of jobless graduates are a threat to his plans to enjoy what he has amassed. It is now clear that people are in dire need; no functioning transport system, dilapidated hospitals, demeaned education etc yet in all these, a few people get unexplainable wealth overnight.
But in trying to wriggle out of the dilemma, Museveni instead unveils new trouble unto himself as is the case with Mabira.
In fact, those close to him say the man is increasingly becoming miscoordinated. One day he will say Uganda will industrialise when the country gets enough energy supply. To get enough energy supply requires more dams on River Nile which gets its water from Lake Victoria which also benefits from Mabira forest.
By cutting Mabira, Museveni is saying sugarcane is now more important than hydro electricity which the same sugar factory will need. He doesnt believe it but he is in a fix. Because he is in a fix and his ego is super inflated, Museveni reacts with an aura of a man unwilling to admit failure. He now sees anyone with an alternative view as a traitor however good the idea is.
The solution is to either let him cut the whole forest and accelerate his departure from power or those whom he listens to should pamper his ego and tell him he is still a demi-god even if Mabira forest remains intact. Otherwise, Museveni is a leader who has run out of options but is trying to maintain relevance by provoking his opponents to complain then he finds reason to crush them with military might.
It could also be important to point out to Mehta that if he cares about the future of their business, they should listen to the majority voice or they are forced to replant the forest when Museveni leaves power. Because of Museveni's domineering style, some investors have been duped into behaving like Uganda will end with Museveni. Someone needs to tell them that different governments run business differently, therefore; only businesses which stay away from political controversy, last longer than the regimes.
Otherwise the Mabira saga is a case of Museveni being trapped by his own sins and looking for a way out but unwilling to listen to the counsel of others. There can only be one sure end--failure. And when a coward fails, he drags many more along.