“People’s values” responsible for environmental degradation in Rwanda

Environmental degradation has proved to be persistent in Rwanda, despite the government’s strict policy measures to curb it.

Environmental degradation has proved to be persistent in Rwanda, despite the government’s strict policy measures to curb it.

According to a recent Country Forest Mapping report, of July 17, in Huye district, in the southern Province of Rwanda, Gishwati and Mukura natural forest reserves are worst hit by deforestation.

Deforestation in Rwanda should be a practise of the past, given that there is a ban on cutting trees; instead environmental friendly ‘dry building blocks’ are being promoted. 

Nevertheless, as the report above attests, people are determined to go under cover and destroy the forests for different egoistic reasons.

But, why do people continue to destroy the environment despite various campaigns and laws prohibiting such irresponsible acts?

Given that the basis of our livelihoods depends on the preservation of our environment. The answer to the above question cannot be easily done away with, but the existing people’s attitudes towards the environment will explain it.

We have people who view the environment as a thing meant to serve them and if it does not, then, it is useless. That a forest as Gishwati is useless, if it cannot provide people with trees for firewood, building, is what most of those who destroy the environment think of.

They thus would rather put their immediate use for their own ends, no matter the future consequences. Such people have the dangerous environmental values commonly known as anthropocentric.

According to an environmental specialist, Mathew Humphrey, “The anthropocentric belief is that human beings are the sole bearers of intrinsic value or possess greater intrinsic value than non-human nature. It is therefore acceptable to employ the resources of the natural world for only human ends”.

Most Rwandans and particularly those who are involved in destroying the environment lean towards such environmental values. People of such values are so myopic and do not care about the life of the future posterior.

Whatever the government says, falls on a deaf ear. The Minister responsible for environmental affairs, Stanislas Kamanzi, calls for environment officials in Rwanda to speed up programs for planting trees to meet the 30 percent increase in forest resources targeted in the country’s Vision 2020; though there cannot be any success if people’s attitudes do not change. 

I would therefore, like to suggest some logics to guide people who are not environmental friendly. Suppose our grand-grand fathers never cared at all, when they exploited the environment, where would we be now? All of us would be non-existent today!

Most of the time, environment is depleted by people who claim to be involved in developmental activities. Yet, they fail to understand that any claim for development after destroying the environment, is not valid. Any development activity must go hand in hand with environmental care.

In other words, there can never be sustainable development when there is no sustainable environmental protection. What do we have to change in the current trend of environmental degradation?

Let us borrow the idea of a famous philosopher Immanuel Kant, regarding our duties to animals and plants, “As far as animals and plants are concerned, we have no direct duties. Animals are not self-conscious and exist merely as a means to an end. That end is man. On the other hand, there is an eco-centric approach, which reflects thinking from the view of an eco-system, according to which nature does have an intrinsic value.”

Kant gives two values including one I mentioned earlier, but what we need to embrace is the one he gives last-eco-centric approach.

Professor Rusen Keles, an environmentalist, in the same line adds that, “Eco-centric ethics is certainly a holistic rather than an individualistic ethics and, as such, it serves as a better reminder of our responsibilities to the natural world and to animals. It seeks to avoid the moral hierarchy implicit in traditional theories. It suggests considering non-living and non-human natural objects and ecological systems. The preservation of biological values and biodiversity is the main goal of this approach”.

Though the option is ‘relatively’ good, it is not easy to change people’s values. Values are what people cherish and that is why it is extremely difficult to change them. It is thus a change that cannot come over night; it is a long process that calls not only for informal sensitization, but also full swing sustainable environmental education.

Sustainable education develops skills, knowledge and values that promote behaviour in support of a sustainable environment. It is not confined to formal schooling. It also occurs in a wide range of non-formal education settings at work and at home.

Environmental education will help our people to answer questions such as; do humans have any ethical obligations with respect to the natural world? Does the Earth exist for the benefit of humanity?

We need to get better strategies to check environmental degradation in addition to what we already have. The strategy that will equip our people with sound environmental ethics, concerned with the issue of responsible personal conduct with respect to natural landscapes, resources, species, and non-human organisms.

Contact: mugitoni@yahoo.com

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