02.16.camino.verdeThe trees of Acholiland

A quick glance at Northern Uganda and you might think that it’s another Serengeti. It is a home to rolling savannah, to vast horizons seen blurred through the dust-heavy air. Sunrises and sunsets are red giants rippling mirage-like, and indeed in the region’s protected areas and natural parks the iconic big game of sub-Saharan Africa does roam.

But the image is a recent and artificial one. Yes, giraffes and elephants wander these plains. But until very recently savannah was just one ecotype in a varied mosaic landscape whose microclimatic idiosyncrasies bore out many full-fleshed experiments in forest. Trees were not the exception but the norm. Only in the past 50 years has forest cover been lost to an extent that allows for the Serengeti analogy to seem plausible.

A product of the chaos of armed conflict and the tumultuous collision of capitalism and corruption, Northern Uganda’s deforestation history has been stunningly rapid and continues today. On any given week, dozens, even hundreds of trucks speed down the recently improved Gulu-Kampala highway, the North’s central artery, filled to overflowing with sacks and sacks of pyrolized trees’ bodies— in other words, charcoal.