Uganda’s Polythene “KAVERA” DEBACLE

We’ve grown as Ugandans so accustomed to the sight and stench of rubbish all over our streets that it has almost become the new normal.  Should it rain, the stench from the greyed decay, flying latrines and blocked drainages is horrific. The mere sight of it is a reminder that hell or the vision of it just might be real.

Rubbish pit filled with “kaveras”


 Many a time the standard of waste management is lamentable. With degradable waste mixed with the non-degradable one, the damage caused to the environment is immeasurable. About 39,600tonns of plastic, polythene in particular, is accumulated in the ground annually, turning the Ugandan soil into a haven of poison. These polythene, locally known as “kaveras” in Uganda are everywhere being blown around by the wind, washed into drains and water courses and eventually ground into the earth. Today, a lot of Uganda’s land, especially the town one, is laced with kaveras.

Fortunately for Uganda, its government is aware of the current state of affairs and has over time taken steps to mitigate the situation.


In 2007, the government passed a kavera ban for the first time and it was to take effect on 1st July of that year in anticipation of CHOGM. This ban must have fallen on deaf ears as it never witnessed even one day of implementation.


In 2009, Syda Bbumba, the then finance minister, announced another ban on polythene bags of gauge 30 microns and below. This time the implementation of the ban was not possible because there was no law to govern it and so policy makers had to get back on the drawing board.



Prior to the 2007 and 2009 ban, Green Watch, a Non-Governmental Environmental advocacy group, filed a case in the High Court of Uganda (Misc. cause No.005 of 2011) in 2002, seeking a declaration, on the danger of kaveras to the environment, its manufacture being a violation of citizens right to a clean and healthy environment and that the same should be banned. Presided over by Justice Eldad Mwangusya, 10years later, the court ordered those involved in the enactment of a law to do so with urgency. Court also made a declaration that the manufacture, distribution, use, sale, sell disposal of plastic bags, plastic containers, plastic food wrappers and all other forms of plastic violates the rights to citizens of Uganda to a clean and healthy environment.”

Eventually, a law was enacted and this year, the ban was reinstated with the implementation date set for 15th April, 2015. The National Environmental Management Authority (NEMA) was given sole mandate to handle the ban.


However the ban caused such an immense uproar among the manufacturers, the government was intimidated into postponing the ban altogether barely before it was in existence even three months.

When NEMA tried to implement the ban, the Government came out to defend its people thus frustrating NEMA’s efforts to execute its mandate. The Prime Minister Dr. Ruhakana Rugunda issued a statement postponing the ban and instituting negotiations between Uganda Manufacturers Association (UMA) and Kampala Capital City Traders Association (KACITA) after their officials sought the his intervention.
NEMA however stubbornly went ahead to execute its mandate, banned the use, sell, manufacture and importation of the said Kaveras.  The Traders who are the main culprits in this operation claimed that NEMA is being unrealistic when it operates against the minister’s directive to lift the ban. NEMA’s Executive Director, Tom Okurut, however noted that the majority of Ugandans had started complying with the recommendation as passed by parliament.



The turnout of events ultimately seems political because; when the ban was first passed in 2009, the then Minister of Trade and Industry, Maj. Gen. Kahinda Otafiire, backed manufacturers, saying he will ensure that the ban on kavera is not implemented. He said it is the users of polythene bags that are a problem and not the product as it has been portrayed. And indeed, the kavera ban hit a dead end.


The passing of this year’s ban has equally been mired by contention after contention.  For instance in two very confusing statements, Jim K Muhwezi, the Minister of Information and National Guidance said,

“…Cabinet, therefore, directed the Minister of water and Environment to instruct NEMA to continue implementation of the ban of plastic bags of 30 microns and below until cabinet provides guidance on how to handle other types of plastic materials,”


In the second press statement he said,

“The Cabinet has also, among others, instructed all existing plastic manufacturers to establish plastic collection centers across the country and to intensify the sensitization of the general public on plastic waste management, instructed all plastic manufacturing industries to code their plastic products for traceability of plastic waste generated by each industry and noted the need to strengthen Uganda.”



The above contradictions coupled with the Premier’s statement are very confusing and NEMA is caught in between. One thing for sure is that the business community will continue to reap its profits from this confusion after all they seem to be the biggest influence on government’s indecisiveness.

This might have gone well for the business man but the ardent environmentalist is gripped with concern and disdain over the matter. The National Association of Professional Environmentalists (NAPE) is concerned that Government has continued to interfere with the legitimate functions of NEMA and against the wish of the majority Ugandans to ban the Kavera. The business community has continued to produce Kaveras and influence Government to lift the ban without providing appropriate remedial solutions to the negative impacts associated with the Kavera.
Government has also continuously neglected advice from civil society on possible alternatives to the Kavera.


NAPE recommended that;

  • Government should uphold the Ban on Kavera without heeding to the intimidation by the business community.
  • Interference with the technical work and mandate of NEMA should cease.
  • The business community should work towards putting in place industries or businesses that are environmentally friendly.
  • The public should desist from buying and using of the Kaveras.
  • Revenue Authority and Uganda National Bureau of Standards should stop the smuggling in of plastics into the country.
  • If NEMA cannot be left to execute its mandate, then it should be disbanded.


NAPE’s Executive Director also noted that if these recommendations are not heeded to, more environmental degradation will continue unabated and that NAPE will have no other option but to mobilize and join hands with the rest of the Ugandans to resist this shameful and inconsiderate act by government and the business community.

Despite all the dishevel, NEMA has followed through with the notice it issued publicly that said,


“With effect from 15th April 2015, the ban on the use of Buveera (Polythene bags) which had been imposed in the 2009/10 National Budget would be implemented.”


Consequently, NEMA has raided major supermarkets and shops and contrary to the minister’s statement, many seem to have embraced the original position to ban the polythene bag. NEMA has even rolled out the campaign to other districts in the country like Hoima and Masindi and commended Nyamasoga Oli Waste Management, treatment and disposal plant, a first of its kind, constructed by Enviroserv Uganda Limited.


Although the government or the traders may argue that Top of Formthe implementation of the ban has prompted some polythene bag manufacturers to lay off several workers and close shop, I believe that desperate times call for desperate measures and this situation will propel such people to think outside the box to create healthy products.

Besides with all that time availed to manufacturers, it is not fair that other Ugandans go through a treacherous ordeal because a particular sect of people must benefit. Our neighbors Rwanda, Kenya and Tanzania have already introduced and are successfully implementing the legislation. It is time that Uganda manned up for the benefit of its people, environment and its own progress.

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