Residents Protest Take Over of "Punishment Island"

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Patrick Tumwijukye, the Chairperson Uganda Community Tourism Association, accuses Muhereza for hiding behind his tribe to grab the island for his vested interests.
Some of the demonstrators destroying a dock at Punishment Island

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Residents neighboring Lake Bunyonyi have destroyed the structure erected by a state house official, Mathias Muhereza on “Punishment Island” alias Akampene. The historical island, which borders Bufundi Sub County in Rubanda district and Rubaya Sub County in Kabale district, used to be a dumping site for young girls who got pregnant outside wedlock.

The girls would either starve to death or drown while trying to swim to the mainland. The lucky ones would be saved by impoverished men who couldn't afford the price of a bride and didn't care about stigma. However, the communities stopped confining the girls on the island in the 1940s due to the influence of Christian missionaries. 

The island had until now remained a tourist site for both locals and international visitors. However, on January 16, 2018, Mathias Muhereza, a State House official and former Rubanda West county parliamentary candidate took over the Island forcefully.  

Muhereza and his workers cleared part of the island and erected a wooden dock under the tight protection of the Police Presidential Guards-PPG. They also erected a wooden foundation to erect a shelter for a bar. However, on Monday residents staged a demonstration against Muhereze for destroying the historical island yet it is one of the vital tourist attractions in the country.

They led a procession from Harutinda landing site armed with placards denouncing Muhereza, sticks, machetes, hammers, bows and arrows among other weapons. They sailed to the disputed island and destroyed the wooden structures erected by Muhereza and his people. They also planted natural trees as a way of restoring the island.

Drake Diaz Owoyesigire, a resident and a tour guide on Lake Buyonyi, says that they can't allow Muhereza to take over the Island, saying it is a source of survival for the community.

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Tyson Ndamwesiga, another tour guide and grandson to Mauda Kyitaragabirwe who survived death on the island, says he gets concerned whenever her grandmother narrates her story when she was dumped on the island because of premarital pregnancy he feels concerned.

Ndamwesiga says that once Muhereza takes over Punishment Island and constructs a bar; his grandmother's story will no longer be credible.

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Patrick Tumwijukye, the Chairperson Uganda Community Tourism Association, accuses Muhereza for hiding behind his clan to grab the island for his vested interests.

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Benson Katsigazi Kitrabire, the Kabale District Environment Officer backs the demonstration, saying says what Muhereza did is uncalled for. Kitabire says the district is in the process of turning “Punishment Island” into a national heritage site so that it is recognized by United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization-UNESCO.

He also accuses Muhereza of taking over the island without authorisation from the district planner and environment office.

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Muhereza could not be reached for a comment as all his mobile phones were switched off.  He told URN in an earlier interview that nobody will stop him from erecting structures on the island, claiming it belongs to Bakongwe Clan, where he belongs. 

He said those complaining are from Basigyi clan and nonresidents.

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