Ugandan NGO Responds to Mallaby

Terri Hathaway
Wednesday, November 24, 2004

An Interview with NAPE by Terri Hathaway, International Rivers


In several recent publications, including his recently published book The World’s Banker and an article in Foreign Policy entitled "NGOs: Fighting Poverty, Hurting the Poor," author Sebastian Mallaby identified the Ugandan NGO, National Association of Professional Environmentalists (NAPE), as an example of NGOs that do more harm than good for development. NAPE was instrumental in halting the proposed Bujagali Dam, a project found to be an economically poor deal for the government, as well as having social and environmental costs.

Mallaby visited NAPE in 2003, and spoke with Frank Muramuzi, Executive Director of NAPE. Muramuzi has since read Mallaby’s article published in Foreign Policy, which includes a depiction of this visit to Uganda, a picture that Muramuzi says is a far cry from reality. NAPE says that Mallaby misrepresented himself as having a connection with International Rivers, and never identified himself as a journalist.

Mallaby also implies that NAPE had no right to oppose the Bujagali project because of its small size. He writes, "Uganda’s National Association of Professional Environmentalists had all of 25 members–not exactly a broad platform from which to oppose electricity for millions." Muramuzi notes that NAPE is not a Western–style membership organization often characterized by large, middle class memberships; it is a professional association whose members are environmental professionals who must apply and be approved for membership.

In Uganda, Mallaby visited a community slated for resettlement. In Foreign Policy, he wrote: "For the next three hours, we interviewed villager after villager and found the same story: The ‘dam people’ had come and promised generous financial terms, and the villagers were happy to accept them and relocate."

He goes on, "The only people who objected to the dam were those living just outside its perimeter. They were angry because the project would not affect them, meaning no generous payout."

Communities that are promised extensive development benefits from large projects like the proposed Bujagali Dam often favor the project until the benefits never materialize. NAPE has been working with the communities that have already been resettled. Three years after being moved, community members have lost their initial excitement about this development opportunity. They have been in a three–year waiting game with the government, who has all but forgotten about them. They have been resettled on land with virtually none of the Guilty as the Getaway Driver? Thailand and the Xayaburi Dam –– land titles, a school and health clinic, electricity, eco–sanitary toilets, or a road to market – having been fulfilled.

On October 22, 2004, I interviewed Frank Muramuzi about Sebastian Mallaby’s visit. Below are his comments on a variety of issues raised by Mallaby.

Sebastian Mallaby phoned and told us that he was sent by Lori Pottinger of International Rivers to get our view on Bujagali. He wanted to know how many we are, what are our issues, who funds us, and our links to the government. And I told him all of that. We believed he was representing International Rivers. He didn’t give us his business card or contact information. We even handed him our guest book for distinguished visitors to sign, and he did not sign it. Then we learned that he misrepresented what I had told him. Here in Uganda, we work with many other NGOs, but later, I found that in his publication, he said we are just a handful of self–seeking environmentalists. I don’t agree with that.

On Credibility

Even though the World Bank often says it gives public participation to civil society, most NGOs and individuals in Uganda stay away. But NAPE has been a continuous participant in the public dialogue. Now we sit at the table with the World Bank and government ministers. We are making them credible because now they listen to the public. The World Bank never before listened to us, but now they are calling for a reassessment of social, ecological, cultural and spiritual issues in Bujagali. They are now saying exactly what we’ve been saying, that a reassessment is necessary. [The official EIA for the proposed Bujagali Dam was completed by Acres International, a company recently debarred by the World Bank for corruption in another African infrastructure project. According to the Ugandan newspaper, New Vision, the World Bank is now calling for a new environmental and social impact assessment for the proposed Bujagali Dam.]

[Mallaby says] that our concerns are not genuine, that they don’t have any roots here in Uganda. To me, that is wrong, even government ministers have accepted our concerns. The government and the World Bank know we are credible. Now who is Mallaby to say that we are not credible? How many days did he spend here in Uganda to establish this –– two, three days? International Rivers has visited us many times and knows our work. You have been here now for a week. You saw how we attracted many stakeholders and how government was involved in our meeting, and the issues they were raising. [I was in Uganda for a conference to launch a World Commission on Dams process in Uganda. The conference, attended by over 75 Ugandans, was hosted by NAPE and included participants from government, parliament, World Bank, IUCN, and resettled communities, as well as media.] And the government involvement was at the ministerial level. If we were not credible, then those ministers you saw would not have come to our meeting. These meetings are important for Uganda; what comes out is the possibility of consensus.

Government already seeks information from NAPE on technical issues about dams; we give it and they take it. [In fact, the government has recently requested consultation work from the Indian NGO, Prayas, which was contracted by International Rivers and NAPE in 2002 to conduct an independent cost–benefit analysis of the Bujagali Dam – an assessement that revealed the project’s excessive costs.]

Many NGOs see NAPE as a leader. Others have heard what we are saying and our voices have merged together in order to make our message in the water and energy sectors strong. We are a member of ECOVIC, which is a regional environmental organization with over 100 organizations working on Lake Victoria resources, that includes Tanzania, Kenya and Uganda, and we are the chair of the Uganda chapter. We are a member of the Uganda NGO Forum with over 700 members. NAPE also chairs the committee on Integrated Fresh Water and Ugandan Energy for Sustainable Development, which includes over 100 organizations. We are on the Council of the Nile Basin Discourse [an organization for civil society parallel to the Nile Basin Initiative, an inter–governmental group]. I am the Vice Chair of the Ugandan discourse on the Nile. We sit alongside the Minister of Energy as the only two Ugandan entities on the Dams and Development Project [under UNEP]. [He shows me the plaque he was awarded in 2003 by the Uganda National NGO Forum for dedicated service as a member of the Code and Conduct Committee.]

Mallaby implies that international organizations are giving us a lot of money to sabotage government projects, but that is not true. We get money from other places, where people, government and other NGOs also get money. International Rivers doesn’t give NAPE money; International Rivers has linked us to the outside with organizations that can help support us. International Rivers didn’t seek NAPE out. NAPE sought International Rivers out. Not for money, but for networking of information. When we were forming NAPE, we didn’t contact these international NGOs, we only sought out government guidance. In fact, at [the recent WCD] meeting, the Honorable Baguma Isoke, Minister of Public Lands, publicly announced that it was he who referred NAPE to be registered as an NGO eight years ago. Many NGOs are propped up by outside groups, but not NAPE.

If Mallaby was credible, he would have sent us a copy of his publication. We are asking [formally via this document] that he send us a copy of his book as soon as possible so that we may review it.

On Smallness

NAPE now has over 50 members. This is a lot in Uganda. Many organizations have five, ten, twenty members. To become a member, you must attend a NAPE training, believe in the mission and constitution of NAPE, and have training in environmental issues or certain other professions. Then, members pay a fee. Members benefit from trainings and access to NAPE’s resource library and are also part of the policy making body of NAPE.

The way NGOs work is not just to expand membership, but to work to voice as effectively as possible what is at stake, mainly for the voiceless. We have been able to raise critical issues of the water and energy sectors, not only in Uganda but in the whole world. No matter how small, as long as a group of human beings comes together, they should speak out on what is right and what is wrong.

A Call to Mallaby

NAPE doesn’t oppose hydropower and large dams, but we work for better development in the energy sector, an evaluation of technologies, and the pursuit of the best options. We want all forms of energy to be given a chance and the public to be given the opportunity to participate. Energy development should be for the people’s development, not for money–making as it seems to be at the moment. What we really need is honesty in development.

We have been misrepresented as saboteurs of development, and our hospitality was abused. Mallaby’s behavior was deceptive. The contributions we are making are important. Otherwise, the dam would have been built long ago. If we listen to Mallaby, people will think nothing is possible under the sun. But anything is possible under the sun.

NAPE says they are now very cautious about being misquoted. They humorously warn that now when a stranger comes, they will require a letter of introduction.

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