Coming to work every morning I drive down the Lugogo bypass. On my right is the leafy suburb of Kololo and on my left is the denuded hillside of Naguru.
The bypass serves as a literal class demarcation between the poverty of Naguru on the one side and ostentatious opulence of Kololo on the other.
It never ceases to amaze me how forested the neighbourhoods of Nakasero and Kololo are. Looking at Kololo from the top of Kiira road or Nakasero from Kololo Upper Terrace one can barely make out the houses.
The same of course can not be said for Naguru.
The reason should be obvious. The rich of Kololo like to look at and enjoy their trees as a source of shade while the lesser fortunate in Naguru cut down their trees to use as fuel or to squash one more shack on the freed land.
The national statistics make for dire reading. Between 1971 and 1987 more than 50% of Uganda’s forest cover was destroyed, over the next 20 years 26% of the remaining forest cover has gone the same way. It is estimated that at current levels we will have no forest within 50 years.
One does not need to be a rocket scientist to work out how a badly degraded environment will further perpetuate poverty and increase social and political instability.
The more affluent members of society do not use firewood to cook because, they no longer have time to go looking for firewood, it is cumbersome to handle and the soot blackens walls and saucepans. So for the urban middle and upper classes firewood is just too much trouble and hard to fit into their regimented lives.
Their improved incomes allow them to use gas and electricity for their energy and lighting needs.
Given a choice the rural and urban poor would not use firewood.
So the trick is to change rural economies so that general income levels there are enough to cause a shift in behaviour.
A cursory examination of the Kololo-Nakero economy seen against the Naguru-rural economy could give some useful pointers that could lead to change.
First of all the Kololo-Naguru set are more productive, judged by income per hour of work. This is because they are better educated therefore they qualify for better jobs and
own successful businesses or/and are politically connected.
The rural or Naguru man on the other hand has a lower education standard and cannot qualify for the thousand-dollar job and if he is in business he finds himself trapped in petty trade by the restrictions of his low education and lack of connections.
The Naguru-rural masses urgently need education. They now have free education, but the education they are being exposed too is archaic and impractical. Designed to produce clerks and paper pushers, out of step with a new and faster world which requires computer savvy, multi lingual and easily trainable types.
And then in complete contrast the Kololo-Nakasero lot are also the least productive. In a survey of children per family on the Kololo-Nakasero hills one will be hard pressed to find families with more than four children. First of all fewer children are a function of a more sophisticated lifestyle, not only are these families better consumers of contraceptive methods, their days are also filled with so much activity that sex has been relegated away from the must-do-everyday list of priorities.
Their lesser cousins however have little else to do than sex when the sun goes down at the end of the day.
Kids are a blessing from God but they also put huge demands on family resources both in terms of finance and time, resources that would have been deployed in building the family asset base or business.
Education more than anything else is the great social leveler. And this education should extend to adult education in entrepreneurship and agriculture.
Government has the biggest stake in a more educated and richer population – richer populations tend to shirk government services, reducing the strain on them, but a richer population is more sustainable one because its effect on the environment can be better regulated.
Published June 2009, New Vision