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Rage as EPPU Slashes Rice Fields in Otuke :: Uganda Radionetwork
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Rage as EPPU Slashes Rice Fields in Otuke

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Early this year, President, Yoweri Kaguta Museveni ordered all wetland encroachers across the country to vacate with immediate effect. The president said that the people who were forced into wetlands by the colonial government will be compensated whereas those who willfully settled in and conducted illegal activities would be kicked out without compensation.
Youths cutting down bananas in Otuke

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There is rage across Lango sub-region a week after the Environmental Protection Police Unit (EPPU) slashed down rice in Wetlands in Otuke District. The operations conducted in the areas of Orum sub-county and Otuke Town council throughout last week come to the limelight on Friday when a video of people slashing down rice and banana plantations from the wetland in the presence of police went viral on social media. 

The officers had 6 lawn mowers working alongside about 20 youths with hand hoes. URN later learned that the operation was being executed on orders from the Ministry of Water and Environment with support from the EPPU, which was established to fight against environmental crime.

Early this year, President, Yoweri Kaguta Museveni ordered all wetland encroachers across the country to vacate with immediate effect. The president said that the people who were forced into wetlands by the colonial government will be compensated whereas those who willfully settled in and conducted illegal activities would be kicked out without compensation.

Lenga Jino, a resident of Orum sub-county whose banana plantation was slashed down argues that he had planted rice in the low land, 100 meters away from the wetland. He wants National Environment Management Authority-NEMA to demarcate the wetland before enforcing the law.

“The Ministry of the environment is complaining that people encroached on the wetland but the truth is where they slashed the rice from is not a wetland but rather low land. So there must be an intervention where these people go together with the locals to demarcate the wetland so that we (locals) can plant crops freely because if you go 100meters away from the wetland and still your crops are slashed down there is bad intention somewhere," he said.

Nacuru Okem, a resident of Orum argued that the presidential directive is being implemented selectively. “The presidential directive you people are talking about does not affect Chinese investors, who have reclaimed the entire Lwerra Swamp along Masaka- Mbarara road. Lango is just being stupid to think that this operation is for their good," Okema argued.

Similarly, Hope Abeja, a resident of Otuke Town council wondered why the operation is being implemented now when people are dying of hunger. “Sincerely must they slash the rice especially now when people are dying of hunger. Why should they wait until when it is about to be harvested? When you go to Bugiri, Budaka, Butaleja, and Palisa districts there is rice growing in every wetland so why is the said law being implemented in only the Lango sub-region?” she queried.

Francis Abola, the Otuke District LC V Chairperson, says that although he found the officers conducting their operation, his attempts to stop them were futile because they had many lawn mowers.  He explained that even when he went with the officers to the field on Tuesday, he was still resisting the destruction of the rice fields but locals ran away as soon as they saw guns leaving him to struggle alone.. 

Luo byte:

//Cue in: “Ica adong gin…

Cue out: ... mano obedo wetland.”//

Translation; “When they started working, locals called me because I was in Lira but I could not come back immediately so they finished their assignment for the day but I returned on Monday night so that I could meet them on Tuesday morning because they were destroying crops in Otuke without my knowledge. The people did not even write to inform me nor did they report to my office when they got to the district and more importantly, even when the locals had already grown rice in the wetland, the law says they should have left the locals to harvest their crops and stop them from cultivating in the next season.”Jillian Akullo, the Otuke Resident District Commissioner (RDC) has denied having okayed the operation as alleged on social media and some local radio stations. The RDC said that she was on her way to Kampala when the operation was being conducted and she only heard about it from the GISO. 

Luo byte:

//Cue in: “Poto no jo olwero…

Cue out: ... is my message.”//

David Kennedy Odongo, the Alebtong district LC V Chairperson wondered why EPPU is implementing the Environmental protection laws in some areas whereas others are being encroached on. 

“The laws should not be applied selectively because one wonders why they start the operation on a villager in Ogor yet in Lira City people have encroached on the wetlands even in Kampala people are encroaching on the wetland? If we are implementing the law let us not do it selectively. The law must be applied across the board," he said.

He advised the team to stop in the two sub-counties in Otuke and not dare cross to another district before advising the locals to avoid encroaching on the wetlands. 

“These people who went to Otuke should not dare go to any other district to commit the same atrocity because when you do a good but in a bad way, the bad will outweigh the good. So it is unfortunate and we are condemning because the act is not constitutional and therefore they need to follow the law and coordinate with the local leadership and act within the framework of the law," he said.

The National Environment Act 1995 is a framework law on the environment, which provides for sustainable management of the environment and established the principal government agency mandated to manage the environment, NEMA. However, NEMA has distanced itself from the Operation in Otuke saying they have not carried out such activity in Otuke although there is a nationwide operation to evict wetland encroachers and restore wetlands.

 

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