Bunyoro Kingdom Premier Under Pressure to Resign Over Bugoma Forest Giveaway

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The National Environment Management Authority -NEMA found 13 square miles, out of the 22 square miles, were unfit for sugar plantation; They were in a wetland and forest reserve, which should be conserved.
Part of Bugoma Forest Reserve

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Civil Society organizations-CSOs are demanding for the resignation of Andrew Byakutaga, the Bunyoro Kitara Kingdom Prime Minister and the entire Kingdom over the giveaway of Bugoma Central Forest Reserve in Kikuube District to Hoima Sugar Limited.

The CSOs say the Prime Minister and the Kingdom Cabinet must be held accountable for the destruction of Bugoma Central Forest Reserve after endorsing a Memorandum of Understanding and a lease agreement to facilitate sugarcane growing in part of the forest reserve. 

The Bunyoro Kingdom leased close to 22 square miles of Bugoma Forest Land to Hoima Sugar to grow sugarcane for 99 years. However, the National Environment Management Authority -NEMA found 13 square miles, out of the 22 square miles, were unfit for sugar plantation; They were in a wetland and forest reserve, which should be conserved.

As a result, Hoima sugar was allowed to cultivate sugarcane on 9.24 square miles, covering an area that was entirely grassland, establish an urban centre on 1.26 square miles, an eco-tourism centre on 1.97 square miles and restore 3.13 square miles of the forest reserve. Another 0.156 hectares will be preserved for the cultural site and 6.17 square miles conserved as a natural forest.

But several conservationists have indicated that the giveaway is not only a threat to the ecosystem and endangered species but that it is likely to hurt tourism activities which are a source of revenue for communities and the country. Covering 410 square kilometres of a protected area, and a stretch of forest measuring 40 kilometres, Bugoma is a tropical forest in Kikuube district, gazzeted in 1932.

It is endowed with 24 species of mammals, 465 species of trees, 359 species of birds, 289 species of butterflies and 130 species of moths. The mammals include monkeys, chimpanzees, buffaloes, Uganda Kobs and at times elephants. The forest reserve is a migratory route for wild animals and a catchment for rivers that drain into Lake Albert, where oil has been discovered.

Sandra Atusinguza, from Africa Institute for Energy Governance-AFIEGO says the Prime minister and the entire cabinet must apologize to the Kingdom subjects and Ugandans for the mess they caused in the destruction of Bugoma forest reserve.

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Dickens Amanya, the Coordinator of Bunyoro Albertine Petroleum Network on Environmental Conservation says the Prime minister must account for the money they received from the giveaway of Bugoma Forest indicating how it is going to be used, failure of which, he should relinquish the seat. The Kingdom received 3 billion Shillings for the lease.

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Jenepher Baitwamasa, from Navigators of Development, says it is regrettable that people holding public offices in the Kingdom are contributing to the destruction of the environmental wondering why they should continue holding such public offices.

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Moses Ssemahunge, the Vice-Chairperson of the Natural Resources Committee of The Bunyoro Kitara Kingdom says that the Kingdom Parliament has not seen a single motion authorizing the giveaway of Bugoma Central Forest Reserve and wondered how the Kingdom embarked on the process without their consent.

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But Andrew Byakutaga, the Kingdom Prime Minister told Uganda Radio Network in an interview that the Memorandum of Understanding between the Bunyoro Kitara Kingdom and Hoima Sugar Limited was finalised in 2016, long before he took over the affairs of the Kingdom. He says that when he assumed office in January 2018, the Bugoma forest reserve land title had already been transferred in the names of Hoima Sugar Limited.

Norman Lukumu, the Former Prime Minister admits signing the MOU with Hoima Sugar Limited giving away part of the Bunyoro Kitara Kingdom Ancestral land adjacent to Bugoma Forest Reserve but not giving away Bugoma Forest for sugarcane growing.

According to Lukumu, Bunyoro Kitara Kingdom has over 56 square miles of land that is adjacent to Bugoma Forest Reserve and of the 56 Square miles they leased out 21 square miles to Hoima Sugar Limited for sugarcane growing but not Bugoma Forest Reserve.

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On April 25, 2019, High Court Judge Wilson Wilson Musalu Musene dismissed a case in which NFA had sued Omukama of Bunyoro Kitara, Hoima Sugar Limited and Uganda Land Commission over the same land. In his judgement, The judge indicated that Bunyoro Kingdom acquired freehold interest and legally leased land to Hoima Sugar Limited. NFA subsequently appealed the High Court ruling but lost the case in another judgement by Justice Fredrick Egonda-Ntende on December 3, 2019.