In a new series of blog posts, the Raoul Wallenberg Institute will be presenting its staff members and the research that is currently being conducted at the institute.
For a period of about twenty years, Uganda witnessed its most prolonged armed conflict between the Lord Resistance Army and the national security forces – the Uganda People’s Defence Force (UPDF). The internal armed conflict brought violence to people and to their natural environment, and all kinds of human rights violations. The drivers that explains the current degradation of the natural environment in Northern Uganda can be found during this period: an emerging trade of valuable tree species, and small-scale charcoal production and tree cutting for household consumption. In the aftermath of war, Dr. Maria Andrea Nardi, Affiliated Researcher at the Raoul Wallenberg Institute, is conducting research on peacebuilding and environmental protection. Andrea, as she prefers to be called, holds a degree in Geography from the University of Buenos Aires and a PhD in Social and Economic Geography from Lund University. She joined the Raoul Wallenberg Institute in February 2019.
Even though the armed conflict is over, peacetime unfortunately is not completely free of violence. Nowadays, violence against people continues in an indirect way: against their natural environment. It might not be exactly the same actors perpetuating it, but there is no doubt that the role of the Ugandan security forces is still relevant. In October 2020, Andrea published a blogpost at the Lund University blog The Nature of Peace where she reports that environmental concerns in Northern Uganda are rising in the local agenda for peace.
New Conflicts and Environmental Deterioration During Peacetime
From 2007, once the violence against civilians deescalated and people started leaving the camps, Northern Uganda became the scene of the expansion of charcoal production and high-value timber extraction for distant markets such as those in Kampala, Kenya or China. New conflicts emerged during the post-conflict between local leaders, communities, clans, ethnic groups and families due to contested land ownership, district borders, soil degradation, land use change, over exploitation or access to local forests, among other issues related to the natural environment.
In this context, the arrival of investments for oil exploration and exploitation, and agribusiness –such as sugar cane or cattle ranching– has exacerbated conflicts between those supporting one or another livelihood and/or land use. Wildlife conservation in natural parks and reserves has also brought conflicts between local dwellers and authorities, who quickly realised the need to address these conflicts and hence passed, in 2016, a bill to control charcoal trade and the movement of timber from one place to another. This ordinance seeks to regulate the transportation of timber making it illegal to move it around without the corresponding documents from the authorities.
Human Rights and The Environment: Building Sustainable Peace
In her research Andrea tries to look beyond the question of access to land or land tenure, but instead aims to have a more holistic perspective. The Constitution of Uganda in article 39 provides that every citizen has the right to a clean and healthy environment; and since 2019, the Ugandans have a national law to protect the natural environment and regulate how it should be used: The National Environment Act. So the ‘problem’ in this context is not the lack of environmental or human rights recognition or legislative frameworks, but the way these are implemented (or silenced). ‘Human right interventions’ need to go hand in hand with environmental protection and ecological restoration. Having access or tenure of a piece of land is not enough. It should not be polluted or depleted of its natural resources, land and nature should be in such a condition that they can support a healthy life and the reproduction of local cultures. Nature is important not only from a socio-economic point of view, but also from a cultural perspective, Andrea asserts.
“The natural environment cannot be left aside in planning, designing, implementing, monitoring, or evaluating human rights strategies. Such strategies should work towards political empowerment, sustainable development, and peace for all, and particularly for those more in need.”
The role of journalists and civil society in denouncing environmental injustices and/or human rights violations are central in promoting a real implementation, monitoring and evaluation of the existing international and national laws and policies. The question remains then for the different authorities in Uganda and for Ugandan peoples to collectively discuss and decide how they wish the Northern region to be integrated to the rest of the country and the global economy, how to promote alternative sources of energy, and how to restore degraded natural environments, while promoting, protecting and fulfilling human rights for all.
Working as a Researcher During the Covid-19 Pandemic
The ongoing Covid-19 pandemic has a big impact on the type of research that Andrea can conduct. The field study that was supposed to take place in Uganda earlier this year was cancelled, and it is unclear when it will be again possible to travel. With current technologies, it is of course possible to conduct some interviews online or on the phone. However, there are many downsides to this, first and foremost it is much harder to establish an equal and trusting relationships with research participants. Nonetheless, Andrea continues to work on this topic at the nexus between peacebuilding and environmental protection, together with other members of the interdisciplinary research group The Nature of Peace, who have been granted funds by the Swedish Research Council for Environment, Agricultural Sciences and Spatial Planning (FORMAS) for a three years project. Additionally, she is hoping to start up new research focused on the Covid-19 socio-environmental recovery from in urban settings of the Global South.