My friend Frank Muramuzi, Uganda’s leading environmentalist, was apparently arrested today for his role in a demonstration against the government’s plan to convert part of a “protected” hardwood forest into a sugar-cane plantation. Uganda’s president, Yoweri Museveni, has long practiced a variant of state-capitalism whereby he personally gives large parcels of land to favored foreign investors and home-grown cronies.
The protest over Mabira Forest is therefore not new in principle but reflects growing discontent with Museveni’s leadership. Muramuzi is a soft-spoken, cerebral man who heads an environmental group in Kampala, NAPE and is among the leaders of a coalition to halt the forest giveaway.
Thursday’s protest in Kampala, Uganda’s capital, appeared peacefully until, according to Muramuzi, government forces attacked the protesters. The subsequent violence left at least three people dead. An embarassed Ugandan government, already highly sensitive to public protests, is now scurrying to put a responsible face on the situation — by blaming the protesters.