Civil Society and Land Use Policy in Uganda: The Mabira Forest Case

Patrick Hönig


Over the past few years, the Ugandan government has repeatedly initiated proceedings to clear one-fourth of the Mabira natural forest reserve in central Uganda and give the land to a sugar company controlled by a transnational business conglomerate. Each time the government took steps to execute the Mabira project, civil society groups organised large-scale protests that pressurised the government into shelving its plans. The Save Mabira Forest campaign has been widely cited as an example of how sustained protests by civil society groups serve as a corrective of democratic deficits in decision-making processes pertaining to the commons and as a deterrent to profit-driven business schemes hatched in collusion with carefree or corrupt bureaucrats and politicians. However, an in-depth analysis of the campaign suggests that ecological and social justice concerns are mixed up with identity politics and exclusionist agendas. Examining the complex web of interactions between state, big business and civil society in Uganda, this paper sheds light on the multi-layered and often ambiguous role played by non-governmental organisations in post-conflict societies of sub-Saharan Africa.

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