Studies of improving well-being in urban and rural areas have underscored the importance of ethics, morality and spirituality. Some commentators have observed that sustainable moral rules which are nearly universal as rules of the game date from hunter-gatherers experience. These rules have been undermined by demands of modernity including the profit motive. The destruction of ecosystems has raised the moral issue and how we can reclaim those moral rules for the benefit of present and future generations.
Deforestation has been used as an example of the need to return to moral rules. When we cut a tree, the wood is used for many purposes including charcoal, housing construction etc. But the price we get from cutting down the tree is small compared to the value of the tree in respect of the environment. In the name of becoming rich we are felling large swathes of trees, leaving the ground bare and subject to soil erosion by rain water and wind. “We know that once nature shows its skeleton, the earth is gone, and it will take centuries to renew the forest…
“In this way we are without morals. We are destroying our environment out of present [greed]. If we have a conscience, if we are aware of what is going on, if we care for those who come after us, we will organize an all-out-effort, a mobilization of joblessness and infrastructure, and do whatever is necessary to vanquish the desert, to suppress the desert, and to replant the desert” (World Bank. Rural Well-Being 1997).
Let us use the case of environmental degradation to demonstrate how Uganda can easily be rehabilitated. The serious environmental deterioration we are experiencing that has resulted in frequent floods (including in urban areas) and droughts dates back to the 1970s when the Amin administration ignored sustainable resource use moral rules and ethics and ordered that every piece of land should be farmed to increase agricultural production and stem the anger that was building up against the dictator’s regime. Wetlands were drained for exotic cattle ranches as in Kabale, woodlands cleared for traditional cattle ranches as in Nyabushozi and trees felled on steep slopes and mountain tops. These developments adversely changed hydrological and thermal conditions that had kept the climate moderate and rainfall regular in amount, timing and duration. Following de-vegetation, local climates have become warmer and longer, rainfall has become irregular in timing, duration and amount. The hydrological and thermal changes have resulted in frequent droughts and floods. Soil erosion has become extensive as rain water and strong winds wash away top soil. The result has been poor soils, reduced growing seasons (say from two to close to one) and low agricultural productivity and reduced total production (in the absence of fertilizer use and irrigation technology) that are translating into food shortages made far worse by NRM’S food export policy to earn foreign currency for the needs of few rich families.
NRM government that condemned environmental degradation before it captured power has continued to do the same notwithstanding creation of laws and institution to protect the environment. The demand for exports of agricultural produce exceeded the ethical requirements for environmental protection. Reforestation has been more in rhetoric than in action and the environment continues to drift towards desert conditions.
The demand for foreign currency has also exceeded the moral value of sustainable fish harvesting. As a result Uganda water bodies have been seriously overexploited. The fisheries will regenerate only by a genuine return to moral rules of sustainable development of fishery resources. This can easily be done by a government more concerned about ethical values than profit maximization.
Thus, non-observance of moral rules have resulted in floods especially in Kampala city because the drive for maximizing profits has led to construction in rain water drainage system that had been protected and allowed water to flow freely before NRM came to power. The solution will be a return to moral rules demanding that structures obstructing flow of water are demolished or innovative ways are found to redirect rainwater otherwise Kampala will continue to flood and Ugandans to drown.
The moral desire to give every Uganda child an opportunity to learn, to eat, to sleep and to dress well should redirect resources from purchasing instruments of oppression and wasted through corruption to these social sectors that would help Uganda get out of the current failed status category under military dictatorship.