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American interest in Uganda’s GMO law

Jude Aleu, a crop scientist based at the National Agricultural Crop Research Resources Institute, Namulonge cuts a GM cassava tuber to show how it is disease-free

How U.S. funding for science set up a clash between parliament and Museveni

Kampala, Uganda | RONALD MUSOKE AND ISAAC KHISA | When President Yoweri Museveni rejected the Genetic Engineering Regulatory Bill 2018, for the second consecutive time, his action left the Ugandan public polarized between local and international interests of science, business, and politics.

The Ugandan parliament passed the Bill in November last year but Museveni says he has remained guarded because, for him, genetic engineering touches on national security and sovereignty of Uganda.

The President spelled out what he did not like and what he wanted to see in the law in a letter dated July 22 and addressed to Speaker of Parliament, Rebecca Kadaga.

About a month after the President stated his opposition to the bill, the U.S. Ambassador to Uganda, Deborah Malac, said publicly that she is disappointed that President Yoweri has refused to sign the genetic engineering regulatory law.

Malac was on Sept.10 launching a report detailing America’s development programmes in Uganda over the last one year, including aid to genetic engineering research by Ugandan scientists.

She says the biotechnology debate in the country is shrouded in “misinformation and confusion.”

“We hope that there will be a discussion of the sound science behind the technology and not allow it to be a conversation that is full of emotion and misinformation,”Malac said.

She said the genetic engineering law is not about whether or not certain varieties of crops might be imported into Uganda but about making positive use of research that is ongoing in Uganda by Ugandan scientists in the agricultural sector.

“A lot of research done by very smart Ugandan scientists is ongoing and has been ongoing for many years supported by the American government,” she said, “Unfortunately the results of this research cannot get out of the laboratories into the hands of Ugandan farmers who can make use of this research and improve the lives and livelihoods of their communities.”

It remains unclear how Parliament intends to proceed following President Museveni’s rejection of the Bill. However, Kadaga has said Parliament may evoke Article 91 (6) (b) of the Constitution.

Article 91 (6) (b) provides that where (the President) refuses to assent to a Bill which has been reconsidered and passed under paragraph (a) or clause (4) of this Article, the Speaker shall, upon the refusal, if the Bill was so passed with the support of at least two-thirds of all MPs, cause a copy of the Bill to be laid before Parliament, and the Bill shall become law without the assent of the President.

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