The European Union (EU) diplomats in Uganda have boldly displayed the stand in solidarity with the Save Bugoma Campaigners in the best interest of environmental conservation.
The diplomats say this is in fulfillment of their international obligation to promote environmental conservation along with its health, social and development benefits.
This was clarified by the EU Ambassador to Uganda, H.E Attilio Pacifici, during a press conference held at Bugoma Jungle Lodge overlooking Bugoma central forest reserve in Kyamujogo Village, Kabwoya Sub-county in Kikuube District yesterday.
It was after a hybrid meeting between representatives from the civil society organisaitons, and key government entities in conservation and a delegation of eight ambassadors from difference EU member states including Germany, Austria, Italy, France, Belgium, Sweden, Denmark and the EU.
H.E. Atillio clarified that he could not in any way see logic in replacing a natural tropical forest like Bugoma with pine trees, eucalyptus trees or sugarcane plantations.
H.E. Attilio was, however, anguished by Hoima Sugar Limited for boycotting their meeting during the diplomats’ historical visit to Bugoma forest that has been ridden with conflicts over its sale since 2016.
Hoima Sugar Limited is an investor behind the plan of replacing a 22-square-mile forested land with sugarcane plantation.
The sugar company has been accused of having a bad footprint of ignoring key stakeholders while implementing its projects, the claims it says are blackmail.
Hoima Sugar Limited said they were too occupied to attend the meeting.
The diplomats were on their cross country acquaintance trip with the contested conservation areas to assess the situation and see how best they could intervene to rescue nature at risk.
They were for the first time, too, to visit Murchison Falls in Murchison Falls National Game Park where the government wants to establish a hydro power dam and finally Zoka forest in Adjumani district that is at risk of depletion.
The diplomats described the construction of a power project at Murchison Falls as a “crazy” move bound to permanently degrade the purpose of the falls and related features.
However, the ambassador commended the National Forestry Authority (NFA), the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA), representatives of the civil society organisaitons and the State Minister for Water and Environment Ms Beatrice Anywar, for cooperating with them during this visit triggered by a global concern of environmental conservation.
He commended the media for working hard to amplify voices of different parties in relation to conservation amid the challenges they face.
State Minister for Water and Environment Ms Beatrice Anywar, said the government is committed to defusing the growing tension over Bugoma forest giveaway and that the President had already directed the national forces deployed in the forest to be withdrawn and all activities stopped until the forest reserve boundaries are clarified.
Mr Dickens Kamugisha, the Chairperson for the Save Bugoma Campaigners said that the scaring exposure of the Bugoma forest to destruction is a responsibility of widespread corruption reflected through issuance of regular land tiles that has resulted into implementation of projects without consulting stakeholders.
Mr Tom Obong Okello, the Executive Director for the National Forestry Authority (NFA) revealed that they had evidence that illegal tree felling was continuing on the disputed parts of Nyairongo.
He expressed concern that the forest could go as they struggle in court if no urgent action is taken by all concerned stakeholders to halt illegalities in Bugoma central forest reserve.
He stressed that the value of Bugoma, the second largest forest reserve in the country cannot be compared with any kind of plantations available so far.
Mr Bashir Twesigye, the Executive Director for the Civic Response on Environment and Development (CRED) said that their investigations had linked Hoima Sugar Limited with Kinyara Sugar Works Limited in Masindi in which the government has shares.
According to him, it could be the reason why the judiciary is slow to act when the national forces are fast at safeguarding the investor’s progress.
In an exclusive phone interview with Kazi-njema News,Mr Rajasekaran Ramadoss, the Agriculture Manager at Hoima Sugar Limited dismissed the EU delegation claims that they boycotted the meeting at Jungle Lodge saying that they were never invited.
He says the letter from the EU only requested for a factory visit which would not be possible due to the ongoing expansion and maintenance works there.
“We got a communication from the Hon. Ambassadors just one day before their planned visit. Due to the ongoing expansion and maintenance work, we were not able to accommodate them. There is a big construction activity going on amidst the huge machineries. We were not able to arrange for a factory visit within this short notice. We would be glad to welcome them when the factory is running after maintenance”, said Mr Rajasekaran.
EU diplomats who visited Bugoma forest
The eight diplomats who visited Bugoma included H.E Attilio Pacifici (EU), H.E Jules-Armand Aniambossou (France), Veestraeten Rudi (Belgium) and H.E Mathias Schauer (Germany).
Others were H.E Massimiliano Mazzanti (Italy), Per Lindgarde (Sweden), H.E Nicolaj Hejberg Petersen (Denmark) and H.E Dr Roswitha Kremser (Austria).