Freshwater Action Network
– grassroots influencing on water and sanitation

The politics of water in Uganda: today and tomorrow

In Uganda, where government has wholeheartedly embraced globalization as the way forward for development, water utilities are completely privatized. Unfortunately this has worsened corruption, degradation of ecosystems, excessive and careless consumption and wastage of water, contamination and salination of water bearings, aquifers and dams.

A catastrophe is unfolding. Available clean drinking water is deteriorating in quantity and quality and becoming more costly for the average Ugandan who gets it from the Water and Sewerage Corporation (WSC). Most factories near Lake Victoria continue to dump their chemical wastes into the lake. Industrial agricultural activities on the islands of the lake, such as Kalangala, are polluting the water further with industrial fertilizers and pesticides, as well as silt. Yet water, constituting 70% of the human body and required in every sphere of human activity, is indeed life.

Microorganisms that survive in dirty water, and are responsible for dirty-water based diseases, such as tuberculosis, cholera, typhoid fever, dysentery, diarrhea, anthrax and food poisoning, are thriving more profoundly than ever before. Meanwhile our health facilities and services are in shambles.  Climate change, land grabbing and extreme and rising poverty are compounding the poor water security situation in the country.  Increasingly the right to life, safety, food, health and education of Ugandans is being violated.

The choice of government of overburdening the Nile with often non-performing dams and giving forests away to agribusiness firms -local and foreign -to establish sterile monocultures of grass (sugar cane, palm oil ‘trees’ and rice), or plantations of Pine and Eucalyptus, is complicating the already complex hydrological cycle of the country, threatening the survival and sustainability of Lake Victoria, the small rivers that empty water into it, the River Nile and hydropower production.

Hydrological variability and extremes are the main challenge of maintaining water security in Uganda or elsewhere in the world. This will require significant adaptation, particularly in our country, which lacks the infrastructure and institutions to store, manage, distribute and deliver water resources to the people effectively and on a sustainable basis.

Currently agro-ecological farming systems are collapsing. There is increased inflow, into Kampala and other urban areas, of people, mostly young, from the socio-ecologically collapsing villages. They hope to make ends meet there. This is expected. A combination of factors, including land grabbing, construction of large dams, establishment of large monocultures, water and food scarcity, deforestation, establishment of numerous, nonviable, resource-consuming, conservation-poor districts,  expanding industrial and municipal demand, pro-big business politics, among others, are interacting to make it easy for these phenomena to occur.

What is happening to our water demands that we rethink our relationship with it. We have to take a bold political step to disentangle ourselves from the corrupting, suffocating, impoverishing geopolitics, which views nature exclusively as strategic resources for nothing but exploitation, mostly by the big countries.

We must enter a new era of biosphere (sphere of life) politics called biopolitics, which views the environment as the irreducible context that sustains all of life and sets the conditions and limits for all other human thought and activity. 

In the biospheric era, the exploitation of nature gives way to a sense of reverence for the natural world and a sustainable relationship with the environment. In terms of water security biopolitics is about the location (supply) of water, the ownership of (control over) water and about access (rights) to water and the implications of these relationships with water on life as a whole.  Elsewhere I have called it hydropolitics in connection with Bujagali dam.

Our local, indigenous and traditional communities must own and enjoy access rights to water. Unfortunately government has put a price on water and by so doing has, de facto, put a monetary value on life, thereby making our people vulnerable to geopolitics of water.

If we are to make a transition from geopolitics of water to biopolitics of water in Uganda we need to create a cadre of environmental leaders that will guide us away from environmental ignorance, bankruptcy, corruption and terrorism by making policies and legislating and building institutions to entrench biopolitics for survival.

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