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Rural Electrification: Agago Residents Protest Cutting of Shea Trees

Agnes Matura Mabel, the Environment Officer CYLEX Engineering Ltd, says they have encountered resistance in the execution of the project from a section of residents led by cultural leaders in Parabongo, Lapono, Paimol and Wol Sub Counties.

Audio 4

Residents of Agago district are up in arms against CYLEX Engineering Ltd that was contracted to extend powers to remote areas under the Free Electricity Connection Policy (ECP) for allegedly destroying the endangered Shea nut tree species.      

Agnes Matura Mabel, the Environment Officer CYLEX Engineering Ltd, says they have encountered resistance in the execution of the project from a section of residents led by cultural leaders in Parabongo, Lapono, Paimol and Wol Sub Counties.       

She claims that irate residents prevented the company from cutting any shear nut tree in the project area and demanded that the contractor provides one goat for each Shea tree to be cut down as a condition for cleansing the area against any shortcomings.       

Matura says residents allege that cutting Shea nut trees without performing traditional rituals would render men in the area impotent besides and cause drought in the area. She says the conditions imposed by the residents are costly for the contractor and untenable based on the immeasurable number of trees to be cut down to implement the project.

According to Matura, despite receiving approval and clearance from the National Environmental Authority (NEMA) to go ahead with the project in line with the Environmental Impact Assessment report, their worker has been affected by the local authorities and traditional leaders.          

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Matura however notes that this isn’t the first area where cultural norms and practices have paralyzed their work. She cites areas in Karamoja and Lango where they were equally forced to perform some traditional rituals before proceeding with work.    

Morris Ocanna, the Wol Sub County LC V councilor, says Lapono, Parabongo, Paimol and Wol sub counties have an enormous Shea nut tree cover. Ocanna says the contractor should heed to the terms presented by the cultural leaders to perform the traditional rituals since the belief is not superstitious, saying it is intended to protect the project, its employees and the residents against any harm.

Rwot Latong Miya, the chief of Wol Chiefdom asserts that the demand isn’t superstitious, saying the rituals have to be performed to avoid epidemics like drought, diseases, pests, floods, drought and other disasters among other calamities.

Morris Ocanna, the Wol Sub County LC V councilor, says there an ongoing engagement between the contractor, local authority and the traditional leaders of Ocibo chiefdom, Guda chiefdom, Palakum, Pakumu Lakidi Lapono and Omiya Pahua to reach consensus on the matter.      

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Alex Oyet, the Coordinator for East Acholi sub region under Acholi Cultural Institution says government and development partners have on numerous occasions failed to observe customary rules and practices of a particular community that in the long run affects the projects.       

According to Oyet, residents are not opposed to development but they feel development shouldn’t supersede the social and cultural rights, which they are conserving and protecting.     

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Oyet says such traditional practices are geared towards protecting the rich Acholi culture and guarding against the wanton destruction of some of the indigenous endangered tree species that are respected in the Acholi culture.  The Shea nut tree is cherished by the people of the Acholi land due to a variety of benefits that range from being a source of food and income besides other cultural and medicinal benefits. 

It’s also regarded important as a source of nutrition since its fruit are eaten as a source of food while the kernels of the seed are roasted, pounded or ground and heated to extract Shea butter oil, which isn’t only delicious when eaten but is used for producing skin care and cosmetic products. 

Oyet says people are being sensitized about the value of protecting Shea nut trees from indiscriminate destruction because the tree is slow maturing and if well tendered may mature and produce its first fruits within 12 and 15 years.