For the first time, Mr Daniel Muhairwe Mpamizo, the Member of Parliament for Buhaguzi County in Kikuube District has publicly spoken out his honest opinion in relation to the controversial giveaway of Bugoma central forest reserve in favour of sugarcane planting.
Mr Muhairwe says the lack of clarity as clearing of the forest starts raises numerous questions about land transactions relating to Bugoma, one of the largest and strategically located central forest reserves in Uganda.
“To my understanding of environment, this natural forest is not supposed to be replaced with sugarcane plantation. We are going to have the oil industries in place that emit carbons and the hope to contain it has only been in the natural forests”, argues Mr Muhairwe.
The legislator made the remarks while addressing residents of Rwembaaho, Kabeegaramire and Nyairongo villages in Kabwoya sub-county who invited him to respond to their fear for land security amid the arrest of local leaders and a journalist on the disputed parts of Bugoma central forest reserve.
At the meeting held on Sunday evening, October 25, this year, at the home of the Rwembaaho village chairperson Mr Charles Twongirwe, Mr Muhairwe urged the communities to stand out boldly and question strange persons who come to their village such that they can pull the attention of leaders on conservation and community land security.
“Some land grabbers masquerade as state agents to intimidate residents and consequently evict them illegally”, Mr Muhairwe tipped the residents.
The legislator also questioned the certificate issued y the National Environmental Management Authority (NEMA) for the 9.24 square miles suspecting that it could be a method of gaining access to the forest since the clarity of the boundaries has been hidden from the community.
There, he was responding to a community-raised concern about allegations that the land title on which the forest is now being cleared encompasses their villages making them candidates of eviction at any time.
Mr Muhairwe continued to argue that the same land had been contested between the National Forestry Authority (NFA) and the war veterans under their umbrella (Tulipona Veterans Association) in 2012 but the latter were overpowered on grounds that it was a central forest reserve.
“How then did that land change from being a forest reserve to kingdom land and shortly later leased to sugarcane investors of Hoima Sugar Limited?”, asked Mr Muhairwe.
Before they were silenced by the NFA, the war veterans had cleared about 5,000 hectares of Bugoma central forest reserve that was later replanted in 2013, according to NFA.
Mr Muhairwe was flanked by Mr Vincent Alpha Opio, the Kikuube district councilor for Kabwoya sub-county who revealed that all councillors at the district had picked interest in the issue following the threat it has caused to land security including the central forest reserve itself.
The Kabwoys Sub-county LC 3 Chairperson, Mr Steven Buryahika also expressed fear that some government officials could have taken advantage of kingdom land to take over the forest reserve land in favour of sugarcane growing.
He wondered how the boundary with the neighbouring villages could be unknown until now when the forest is already being cleared.
Mr Rashid Mwomeezi, a community member remains worried about climate change when the forest they were stopped from encroaching on for decades is degraded in favour of sugarcane planting.
“The RDC said the government has nothing to do with that land being cleared for now since it is between Bunyoro Kitara Kingdom and Hoima Sugar Limited. How could they agree when the land neighbours are completely ignorant of the proceedings?” he questioned.
He accused leaders of silence as locals continue living in fear of the land battle in their neighbourhood.
Mr Wilson Twikiriize of Rwembaaho village said: “Let us keep the forest because an Indian does not know anything about the forest. Where will our animals go? Let the kingdom give them any other piece of land which is not forested”, he said.
Ms Jacqueline Kyalisiima, a resident of the same village called upon leaders to rise up to defend the forest saying it is their source of firewood and herbs which they have started missing with the military deployment that is intolerant to them.