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Evicted Buvuma Residents Struggling for New Living

John Akongere, one of the affected people, says they are struggling to recover their land. He explains that in 2014, the army burnt their houses on grounds that they were housing rebels. He says that it was until a year later that NFA confirmed that it had evicted them from the contested land.
Jane Abalyogera whose husband was forced to abandon the family with some of the children who have started developing swollen stormach and faces due coldness.

Audio 7

More than 1000 people evicted from Buvuma Forest reserve land in Buvuma island district are struggling to make a new living. 

The affected people were flushed from six villages by the National Forestry Authority-NFA and Uganda People’s Defense Forces in 2014 for alleged encroachment on forest reserve land.   

The affected people were residents of Kitiko, Nandala, Mpolwe, Bukiyindi and Nsese at Bugaya Main Island. They claim that NFA burnt their houses into ashes, tortured them leaving some of them with permanent injures while many others were imprisoned.   

The evictees say they tried to reclaim the land in 2018 after establishing from the lands ministry that the contested land belongs to them, but UPDF pitched camp on the land to block them from accessing it. 

Some of the residents have never settled while others stay in churches in the nearby villages. Our reporter visited Kasansa village and found five distressed mothers abandoned by their husbands living with over 20 children a temporary structure built using poles and dry banana leaves.   

On the right side are two other cabins shared by different families. The families resorted to the temporary shelter after being chased by the army from the church where they had sought refuge. They were reportedly asked to relocate to distant places from the contested land.

Most of the children look malnourished with swollen stomach and faces. Jane Abalyogera, one of the residents, says they lack clothes and bed sheets to cover their bodies while sleeping. She doesn’t blame her husband for running away from the family, saying he narrowly survived death with serious injuries inflicted on him by soldiers deployed to evict them. 

//Cue in: “Okujja okwiririla batandika…

Cue out: …abandi ku bitanda”//

Monica Namabiro, a mother of four, says they lack food to eat despite leaving plenty of crops in their gardens.  She says the army ordered them not to harvest any crops, saying whoever is caught picking food from the garden is arrested and charged with trespass.

//Cue in: “Tweyideyira nze nayida…

Cue out: …ayidde atuyambe”//       

Another group of residents have settled in a camp comprising of mud and wattle huts about 1 kilometer away from Kasansa village. Martin Bwiire, a father of nine is among the seven injured people in this camp. He complains of chest and other body pain resulting from beatings.

He currently uses a stick to walk because his right ankle joint was broken. 

//Cue in: “Tulinga abatali bannauganda… 

Cue out: …muno mwonna”//

60-year-old Saidah Naweesa can no longer walk because her right leg was broken. Her husband, Bernard Mugoya sustained a broken back bone. The coupled is being taken care of their son who chose to abandon work upon realizing what had happened to his parents. 

//Cue in: “Nga ndi mutuuze…

Cue out: …kati ndi awo”//

John Akongere, one of the affected people, says they are struggling to recover their land. He explains that in 2014, the army burnt their houses on grounds that they were housing rebels. 

He says that it was until a year later that NFA confirmed that it had evicted them from the contested land.

//Cue in: “The situation started…

Cue out: …torturing people”// 

Residents constituted a committee led by Alfonse Wandera, the custodian of the Catholic Church land in Buvuma District to investigate the matter. According to Wandera, the contested land belongs to the Catholic Church. 

He says they have written a number of letters to NFA requesting them to prove its claim on the land in vain. Wandera says petitioned State House, which tasked the Lands Ministry to establish the rightful owner of the land using the two maps presented by the complainants and NFA. 

The complainant presented a map drawn in 1936 indicating that the contested area was crown land. NFA presented a different map indicating it was a forest reserve. 

"The purpose of this communiqué is to request your good office to certify a copy of this said map provided by the petitioner…” A letter dated January 31, 2019, signed by Flora Kiconco, the presidential private secretary on land matters indicates in parts. 

In response, Joseph Kibande the commissioner of Land Registration at Mukono Zonal Office confirmed that land measuring to 47.6508 hectares belongs to the Mission of St Joseph Society of Mill Hill and was registered on December 30, 1936, under instrument number 36103. It is under the custodianship of Lugazi Diocese.   

After failing to resolve the matter between NFA, UPDF and the affected residents, the RDC wrote on behalf of the principal private secretary to the President to the Executive Director, NFA and the Chief of Defense forces on March 15th, 2019 asking them to intervene in the matter citing the outcomes from the land search. Wandera says nothing is yielding because soldiers continue chasing them for the land.

//cue in: “Ettaka lino…

Cue out: …Kugwa ne munyanja”// 

Our reporter visited the contested land and found cattle grazing on some crops. UPDF soldiers operate from a four bedroom house from where they monitor the land. Andrew Malindi, the Mpolwe LC II chairperson wonders when NFA and the army started grazing animal, saying he suspects there is someone behind the move to take their land at no cost.

//Cue in: “Balina e kintu… 

 

Cue out: …najja ku ground”//   

Brig Gen Richard Karemire, the UPDF spokesperson dismissed claims that soldiers occupy the disputed land. 

He however, said some soldiers are attached to NFA.  “NFA has soldiers attached to it as part of the law enforcement so whoever claims torture or any related complaint should approach us,” he said.

Although Buvuma Resident District Commissioner-RDC, Agnes Nabirye, says they are dialoguing with NFA. Benjamin Kamukama, the NFA Lake Shore Manager, says they have established facts indicating that the contested land belongs to the Authority.

“We already opened up our boundaries and what is left is ensuring re-afforestation. They had actually accepted to vacate the place but with the increasing pressure on land following the Vegetable Oil Development Project-VODP acquisition of private land, many residents returned to encroach on NFA land, some others did so after selling to VODP, eat the entire money and found themselves with nowhere to live.” Kamukama notes.