The six years of a controversial land transaction between Bunyoro Kitara Kingdom and Hoima Sugar Limited have left 78-year-old Edward Kacunkuri in incessant fear for losing a home and livelihood.
“I have recently heard that the land leased to the investor stretches up to Lake Albert. I do not know when and how he acquired it without our knowledge. I don’t know where I will go if the boundary is opened in favour of the neighbour I have never interacted with”, says Mr Kacunkuri.
Mr Kacunkuri a resident of Rwembaaho is neighbouring Bugoma forest parts of Nyairongo and is concerned about his changing life heading to frustration not only due possible eviction but also the growing threat of vermin incursion to his home and gardens, charcoal burners and loggers alongside sugarcane growers.
“I hear they are planning to reopen the boundary but I don’t know what they will find because I can hear power saws and sight smoke from burning charcoal. Wild animals are threatening our goats and chicken because the forest is being cut”, adds Kacunkuri.
Mr Kacunkuri urges the government to expedite boundary opening and protect the rights of the poor who have on many occasions been suppressed.
“I can see nature disappearing at a very high speed and I do not know who will stop it,” he expresses concern.
Mr Kacunkuri lives near the area facing serious deforestation being perpetrated by Bunyoro Kitara Kingdom through its contractors and tenants.
Ms Kellen Sanyu, a resident of the same area wonders how they will access firewood for cooking as she can see the forest being depleted.
“We would collect firewood in 200 -300 metres but now you have to move a mile and more since developments have reached near here” she says.
Adrin Nahwera, a teenager living in Kabeegaramire has told Kazi-njema News that they nowadays fear collecting firewood due to chimpanzees and the presence of strangers from Busoga and other parts of the country employed as charcoal burners and lumberjacks.
“I wish I had an opportunity to meet the president, I would tell him to chase away all those people degrading Bugoma forest” says the young girl.
Mr Jackson Tumusiime who is also a forest neighbour questions the secret behind failure to open the boundary that would solve the longstanding dispute.
Locals have accused their leaders of failure to defend them and take seriously their issues including purported defilement resulting from the growing number of strangers who finally live in communities after work in the forest.
Mr Desire Nkurunziza, the Nyairongo village chairman, confirms that threats of evicting residents of Rwembaaho and Kabeegaramire villages among others are real and can only be quelled by reopening the boundary truthfully.
The Kikuube district woman Member of Parliamen, Florence Natumanya, confirms receipt of a petition from the local communities that contained numerous claims including sexual harassment, defilement, rape, threatening violence and theft attributed to the presence of the strangers working on the disputed Bugoma forest land.
She pledged to investigate the allegations and get back to the community though until now she has given no feedback, according to the community members.
Both Bunyoro Kitara Kingdom- the landlord and Hoima Sugar Limited denied involvement in any form of illegalities.
Mr Vincent Alpha Opio, the Kikuube district vice chairman, also acknowledges receiving complaints similar to those received by Ms Natumanya and responded by engaging security which brought some sanity.
On boundary opening, Mr Opio says the community and stakeholders’ sensitisation has started which gives a ray of hope that the exercise would start soon.
Mr Denis Obbo, the spokesperson for the Ministry of Lands Housing and Urban Development, last week told Kazi-njema News that the actual boundary opening could start in the next few weeks.
Ms Jennifer Baintwamasa, a Programme Officer at Navigators of Development Association (NAVODA) calls for actual involvement of all stakeholders if the results of the boundary opening exercise are to be acceptable to all.
Aside from the near time effects of threatening livelihoods and escalating human-wild life conflict, Bugoma forest conflict in which serious degradation is going on under cover stands as a major potential escalator of climate change in the region.
Environment experts are warning that in case Uganda starts producing oil without deliberate action to conserve the natural forests like Bugoma, huge amounts of fume emitted by the oil industry will not spare the livelihoods and health of all living organisms in the environment since the would be sequencers will have been depleted.