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Key findings
  • Almost six in 10 Ugandans (58%) say pollution is a “somewhat serious” or “very serious” problem in their community.
  • Citizens cite deforestation (48%), trash and plastic disposal (22%), pollution of water sources (11%), and human waste management (10%) as the most important environmental issues in their community.
  • More than eight in 10 respondents (83%) say plastic bags are a major source of pollution in Uganda.
  • f environmental-protection policies threaten jobs and incomes, two-thirds (67%) of Ugandans would still want the government to prioritise the environment rather than jobs.
  • Almost six in 10 Ugandans (57%) say the primary responsibility for reducing pollution and keeping communities clean rests with local citizens. Far fewer would assign that responsibility to the national (23%) or local (13%) government.

As Uganda gears up to start oil production in 2025, controversy over the proposed East Africa Crude Oil Pipeline (EACOP) has pitted economic development against environmental protection and human rights.

A recent European Parliament resolution seeks to delay the 1,443-kilometer pipeline, which is supposed to transport crude oil from western Uganda to the Tanzanian coast. The non-binding resolution cites risks to both countries’ protected natural reserves, water sources, and wetlands and notes that use of the oil will result in up to 34 million tons of carbon emissions annually (European Parliament, 2022; Independent, 2022). Bobi Wine, leader of Uganda’s largest opposition party, has joined other critics in voicing concerns about environmental impacts as well as the rights of affected landowners, a lack of transparency and accountability, and poor management of the oil project (Okiror, 2021; Wandera, 2022).

In contrast, President Yoweri Museveni, the deputy speaker of Parliament, and other government officials have loudly condemned the resolution and accused the European Union of seeking to undermine Uganda’s sovereignty, racism, and economic sabotage (Organization for World Peace, 2022).

The pipeline is the latest chapter in a long-running debate about environmental concerns in Uganda. Evidence shows that the country’s forests, swamps, and water bodies face serious threats from pollution, rapid human encroachment, and overexploitation. For example, the country’s forest cover declined from 24% of Uganda’s total land area in 1990 to 9% in 2015, a loss of about 3 million hectares, while wetland cover decreased from 15.5% in 1994 to 8.9% in 2020 (Ministry of Water and Environment, 2016, 2020).

Despite laws and agencies to protect the environment and natural resources, violations are rampant, and major violators are often either protected or left untouched. Museveni’s directives to evict people encroaching on wetlands have hardly made a dent (Etukuri, 2022; Draku, 2022; Muhindo, 2022).

Can the damage be undone, or at least limited?

This dispatch reports on special survey modules included in the Afrobarometer Round 9 questionnaire to explore Ugandans’ experiences and perceptions of pollution, environmental governance, and natural resource extraction.

A majority of Ugandans say pollution is a serious problem in their community. They rate deforestation as the most important environmental issue, followed by trash disposal, and describe plastic bags as a major source of pollution.

Most citizens want more government action to limit pollution and protect the environment, even at the cost of jobs and incomes.

And when it comes to natural resource extraction, a majority of Ugandans say that its costs outweigh its benefits, and that tighter regulation of the industry is needed to protect the environment.

Makanga Ronald Kakumba

Makanga Ronald Kakumba is a research associate for Hatchile Consult Ltd., Afrobarometer’s national partner in Uganda.