The journey to and circumstances in Bugoma forest were heart wrenching on a cloudy Thursday afternoon, October 22, 2020, writes Gad Asaba, about his experience in the woods.
The mission was to cover a news story about Bugoma forest which has taken a centre stage in the environment world as the number of conservationists agitating against its destruction in favour of sugarcane growing continues swelling.
Eager to file a story to the newsroom for the day’s publication, little did I know that the angle would take a twist since an ordeal awaited ahead.
The four of us from different media houses were guided by two local political leaders, Mr Charles Twongirwe, the Rwembaaho Village Chairman and Mr Desire Nkurunziza, the chairperson for the neighbouring Nyairongo village in Kabwoya sub-county, Kikuube district to the bush clearing site; part of Bugoma forest, when we were intercepted by soldiers threatening to shoot us.
The dawn that broke well, turned the escapade into a gloomy tribulation when I and Mr Twongirwe, were arrested by the military for nearly seven hours in the forest as the rest of our colleagues fled prompting the soldiers to shoot into the air saying they detest journalists accusing them of misleading society.
I took cover to avoid being shot but did not advance or roll to get off from place. It was for that reason that the security officers came and arrested me from there.
We were in the vicinity after reports emerged that more than 300 men with tree cutting tools including power saws, axes and machetes were cutting down trees for timber and charcoal burning in Bugoma natural forest that had been conserved for decades.
That meant duty called that we covered that environmental story so it saw light of day in the different media houses we represented.
A sigh of relief gleamed inside me on the arrival of the Resident District Commissioner (RDC), Mr Richard Tabaro before I felt pins and needles all over my body when he said the only licence for me to walk scot free was if timber was found in the forest.
My heart was in my mouth when the soldiers denied that there was timber logging taking place in the forest.
However, the RDC insisted that we continued to the site where piles of timber were found and charcoal burning taking place.
The activities raised Mr Tabaro’s eye brows prompting him to order for our release at dusk as the next course of action awaited.
Ultimately, we were out of danger prompting me to pen down a word of experience for the sake of the green environment.
Mr Charles Twongirwe, the Rwembaaho village chairman said he wondered how strangers entered the area; a scenario that caused fright among the residents that may be something foul was cooking up.
The chairman told Kazi-njema News that he arguably insisted to know from the security officers who had held them why unknown people had invaded his area of jurisdiction yet they were as mandated obliged to report to the village office if they were legally and peacefully in the area.
“I said I cannot run away from my village. I stood firm and looked at what they wanted to do. They did not beat us but I had a very strong argument with them on why they had invaded the forest without knowledge of the local leaders. They are actually a threat to security. All villagers were asking me about the strange men in the village,” he firmly said.
Asked about the presence of the military in the forest, Mr Tabaro said they were deployed to provide security to the contractor by reinforcing the police that is still thin on ground in Kikuube district,
The RDC added that on seeing the army men, some journalists took to their heels creating suspicion among security agents on ground that the media executives were encroachers on the forest.
However, following the incident, Mr Tabaro said timber cutting had been halted until a resurvey of the land is done since there broke out a controversy about the boundaries of the piece of land where the activities were underway.