Banyoro rise against kingdom over Bugoma Forest

Driving in the middle of the forest at risk of degradation - Bugoma

Bunyoro Kitara Kingdom subjects want the institution’s Prime Minister and the Omukama’s Principal Private Secretary (PPS), Mr Andrew Byakutaaga and Mr Richard Kitehimbwa respectively, to resign over their alleged role in the sale of the forested piece of land believed to be part of Bugoma Central Forest Reserve in favour of expanding a sugarcane plantation.

Ms Jennifer Baitwamasa of Navigators of Development Association (NAVODA) says the chief of business should also make an accountability to the Banyoro for the Shs3.9b received in exchange for the forested land located in Kyangwali Sub-county in the newly created Kikuube District.

According to her, the value of the forest to the local people and the entire country in relation to weather balance and livelihood is incomparable to sugarcane plantations.

Audio: Baitwamasa on Bugoma forest (English)

Earlier, Mr Byakutaaga had told Kazi-njema News that he regretted inheriting a controversial transaction made in 2016 under the premiership of Mr Norman Lukumu, whose exit was also controversial.

According to him, reversing the deal could have adverse financial implications on the cultural institution.

Mr Moses Semahunge, the Vice Chairperson for Bunyoro Kitara Kingdom Parliament (Orukurato’s) Natural Resources Committee and representative for Nalweyo sub-county in Kakumiro district argues that the giveaway of Bugoma forest was an individual decision that could only be justified by the Orukurato’s resolution.

However, Mr Semahunge who is also the Manager of Bulindi Chimpanzee Community and Conservation Project, is surprised that he never saw it.

Audio: Semahunge on Bugoma forest (English)

Ms Sandra Atusinguza, the Field Officer for African Institute for Energy Governance (AFIEGO), says the change in the land use was uncalled for since the host communities do not see tangible benefits of a sugar factory outweighing conservation.

Audio: Atusinguza on Bugoma forest (English)

Mr Dickens Amanya, the Coordinator for Bunyoro Albertine Petroleum Network on Environmental Conservation (BAPENECO), argues that the degradation of forests so far done in Bunyoro and Uganda in general is enough to call for a radical stand against further destruction to prevent the horrendous impacts of climate change.

He adds that given the inescapable negative impacts of the oil industry to the environment, it is now than later that action is taken in favour of the remaining natural vegetation cover.

In a telephone interview with Kazi-njema News, Mr Misaki Karubanga, a resident of Kisaru-Kyabayanja village in Kimbugu parish, Kabwoya sub-county in Kikuube district adjacent to Bugoma forest, said he is afraid of desertification if the forest is degraded.

Audio: Karubanga on Bugoma forest (Runyoro/Rutooro)

Last month, Hoima police arrested two journalists: Mr Venex Watebawa and Mr Joshua Mutale subscribing to Water and Environment Media Network (WEMNET), on suspicion that they were plotting to hold an illegal assembly in connection with Bugoma forest giveaway protests.

The duo continues responding to their police bond that was extended from October 2 to November 10, 2020.

The 22-square-mile piece of land is being contested between Bunyoro Kitara Kingdom that leased it to Hoima Sugar Limited and the National Forestry Authority (NFA) that claims that the multi billion shilling-transaction involved the national forestry reserve land gazetted by the Act of Parliament.

In the ensuing battle, the High Court and Court of Appeal have ruled in favour of the kingdom. Now, environmentalists are waiting for a verdict from the Constitutional Court in relation to land ownership.

However, anger is building up among environmental activists and some subjects of Bunyoro kingdom following reports of the ongoing land clearing on the nine-square-mile piece of land for which the National Environment Management Authority (NEMA) approved for the investor to develop.

This is part of the disputed land that conservationists say is already being cleared with bulldozers felling trees under the guardianship of the military.

However, authorities in Kikuube district dismiss this as a false and baseless allegation.

Kazi-njema News investigators have established that kingdom officials are splitting further over the deal.

Some original natives neighbouring the forest say whether the disputed land belongs to the NFA or not, the natural vegetation should be left intact for now.

However, it should be noted that sugarcane growing is not surely of no benefit to the communities as sometimes presented.

Some community members testify to have benefited a lot from Hoima Sugar Limited as out growers though they concede not to be much aware of its consequences to the environment especially if the crop replaces a natural forest reserve.

Mr Jimmy Karuhanga, the Kaigo Village Chairman, testifies to have seen some people sleep under iron sheet roofs for their first time after harvesting and selling sugarcane.

The debate over the hard to calculate value of forestry resources and the easily quantifiable economic benefits of sugarcane growing is getting hotter as many stakeholders join starting from the forest neighbours where the rubber touches tarmac to multinational environmental advocates and those of economic development on the other side.

This story has been published with support from Global Greengrant Fund (GGF)

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