CSOs reject World Bank loan over Bugoma forest destruction

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Bugoma forest campaigners at a press conference. From left: Joshua Mutale, Dickens Kamugisha, Benon Tusingwire and Tony Opunji.

Save Bugoma Campaigners Association are working to petition the World Bank so that it can ignore the loan request by the government of Uganda it claims will be used to plant trees in the Albertine regional environmental landscape.

While addressing a press conference at Hoima Kolping Hotel in Hoima city yesterday (Friday) afternoon, Mr Joshua Mutale, the Programmes Officer for the Water and Environment Media Network (WEMNET) said the campaigners shall not just watch the cabinet approval proposal of a $78m (close to UGX 300b) loan request to the World Bank to succeed when Bugoma forest is continuing to be degraded.

Cabinet approved the loan on February 1, 2021.

Mr Mutale challenges that it is illogical to borrow such a huge amount of money to plant trees yet the natural Bugoma Central Forest Reserve is being replaced with sugarcane as the same cabinet watches.

According to him, the campaigners are moving to formally petition the World Bank over that loan because all efforts made by the National Forestry Authority (NFA) and many other concerned organisations to reverse Bugoma forest destruction since 2016 are getting frustrated day in day out.

Audio: Mutale on Bugoma forest (English)

Environmentalists have been calling for vigorous efforts to plant trees in the Albertine region to have a sure way of mitigating greenhouse effects resulting from the oil and gas industry when the expected oil production starts.

Currently, the NFA says a total of 452 hectares of forest cover on the contested land have been cleared for sugarcane plantation as of January 29, 2021.

As of November last year, the Authority reported only 20 hectares that had been degraded demanding Hoima Sugar Limited to be stopped from further forest clearing until the NFA land boundary was opened.

The investor and Bunyoro Kitara Kingdom that leased the land insisted the land being developed was never part of the central forest reserve.

The boundary opening exercise that started in November last year was unceremoniously called off for fear that it was carrying a lot of political implications, according to local leaders in Kikuube district.

European Union (EU) Ambassador to Uganda, Attilio Pacifici, during a visit to Bugoma forest last year.

As they and NFA were puzzled about the unprecedented withdrawal of surveyors, the Spokesperson for the Ministry of Lands and Urban Development Mr Denis Obo said the exercise was going on and had nothing to do with politics.

But now, as the government plans to officially resume the exercise this month, the Chairperson for the Save Bugoma Forest Campaigners Association Mr Dickens Kamugisha demands that Mr Wilson Ogalu, the Commissioner for Surveys and Mapping in the Ministry of Lands, Housing and Urban Development, should neither lead nor appear on the survey team to avoid conflict of interest since he is the very person who testified in court in favour of Bugoma forest giveaway.

According to Mr Kamugisha, who is also the Executive Director for the Africa Institute for Energy Governance (AFIEGO), to have a credible boundary reopening, members of  the legal profession, Civil Society Organisations, independent surveyors and religious leaders must be represent in the field.

This, to him, will help the survey results to be safe from being challenged in courts of law.

Audio: Kamugisha on Bugoma forest (English)

Meanwhile, Mr Benon Tusingwire, the Executive Director for Navigators of Development Association (Navoda), wants the forest boundary to be urgently opened with optimism that all plans made earlier can be reversed.

He warns that further delays to open the boundary leads conservationists in a losing battle basing on the NFA reports of the ongoing clearing of the forest under the guardianship of the military.

Audio: Tusingwire on Bugoma forest (English)

Mr Tony Opunji, a member of Save Bugoma Campaigners Association expresses worry that the tourism sector is at the verge of collapse due to destruction of cross boundary ecosystems.

Audio: Opunji on Bugoma forest (English)

While in Bunyoro for his presidential campaign mid-December last year, President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni Tibuhaburwa assured Banyoro that the government was determined to save Bugoma forest.

On November 2, last year, a high profile delegation of European Union (EU) Ambassadors visited Bugoma forest and pledged to support all efforts to save it because they had seen the threats against it rapidly growing.

The NFA, the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) and the Ministry of Water and Environment’s stand was to see the forest protected as State Minister Beatrice Anywar was quoted saying she could do all it takes to save Bugoma.

Aerial view of Bugoma forest.

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