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Kikuube Leaders Halt Bugoma Forest Boundary Reopening

Vincent Alpha Opio, the Kikuube LC 5 Vice Chairperson told Uganda Radio Network in an interview that they halted the exercise due to the failure by the NFA and ministry of lands to engage local leaders, area residents, and a private surveyor on behalf of the local community during the demarcation exercise.
Bugoma Forest Reserve. Photo by Emmanuel Okello.

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Kikuube district authorities have halted the ongoing Bugoma forest boundary reopening exercise. In November last year, the government through the Ministry of Housing, Lands, and Urban Development embarked on the long-awaited reopening of the Bugoma forest reserve boundary.

Covering 410 square kilometers of a protected area and a stretch of forest measuring 40 kilometers, Bugoma is a tropical forest that was gazetted 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.  The boundary reopening would help address issues that have pit residents against NFA for decades. It would also protect Bugoma Forest from illegal loggers and encroachers neighboring the land in Kikuube District. 

However, a few weeks after the start of the boundary reopening exercise, Kikuube district officials have halted it over what they termed as irregularities.  According to the leaders, there were a number of irregularities during the boundary reopening exercises by the surveyors from the Ministry of lands hence forcing them to halt the exercise until further notice. 

Vincent Alpha Opio, the Kikuube LC 5 Vice Chairperson told Uganda Radio Network in an interview that they halted the exercise due to the failure by the NFA and ministry of lands to engage local leaders, area residents, and a private surveyor on behalf of the local community during the demarcation exercise.  

He says officials from the Ministry of Lands who were carrying out the demarcation exercise never wanted the community to hire a private surveyor on their behalf to work hand in hand with them. Francis Kazini, the Buhaguzi main Member of parliament, says that NFA and lands ministry officials utilized the irregularities in the exercise to open the boundaries at the expense of the local community since they were not represented, adding that the forest boundary can’t be opened when the community is not represented.  

Kazini says the whole exercise needs to be revised because any project without the approval of the local community can not be successful. He explains that NFA promised to carry out the exercise together with the local leaders and the community but ignored them when they kicked off the exercise.  

Desire Nkurunziza, the Chairperson LC1 Nyairongo village is a neighbor to the forest reserve. He has welcomed the decision to halt the boundary reopening exercise since area residents have been left out of the exercise.

//cue in”mazima ebya rugireho…  

Cue out:…planninga era bateke.”//  

Hassan Mugenyi, another resident explains that several hectares of land belonging to residents settling in 13 villages neighboring the forest reserve have been annexed to the forest without their consent. He is happy that the entire process has been halted to ensure that the mistakes are corrected.

//cue in”okweitomboita kwa abantu…  

Cue out:…mulimo ogwo nigukorwa.”//. 

Fax Asizua, the assistant commissioner mapping from the Lands Ministry who led the team of surveyors undertaking the boundary reopening exercise, says that they are in discussions with the district leadership to ensure that the mistakes are corrected. He however does not mention when they intend to embark on the boundary reopening exercise. 

Bugoma central forest reserve has been in the news since 2016 when the Bunyoro Kitara Kingdom leased 22square miles to Hoima sugar limited. The sugar factory leased close to 22 square miles of the contested Bugoma Central Forest reserve land from the Bunyoro Kitara Kingdom for sugarcane growing for 99 years.  

However, the National Environment Management Authority -NEMA found 13 of the 22 square miles, unfit for a sugar plantation and recommended their preservation since it’s a wetland and forest reserve. As a result, the Authority allowed Hoima Sugar factory to cultivate sugarcane on the remaining 9.24 square miles covering the grassland, establish an urban center on 1.26 square miles, an eco-tourism center on 1.97 square miles, and restore 3.13 square miles of the forest reserve.

They also recommended the preservation of another 0.156 hectares for the cultural site and 6.17 square miles as a natural forest.  However, several conservationists have opposed the move, saying the giveaway is not only a threat to the ecosystem and endangered species but it is likely to hurt tourism activities, which are a source of revenue for the local communities and the country.  

Bunyoro Kitara has since explained that the land that was leased to Hoima Sugar is not part of Bugoma forest but the Kingdom’s Ancestral land that is adjacent to the forest reserve.      

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