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Bunyoro Kitara prince petitions lands minister to halt Bugoma forest boundary reopening

Bugoma forest

Kikuube, Uganda | THE INDEPENDENT | The Chief Prince of Bunyoro Kitara Kingdom, Fred Mugenyi Rucunya has petitioned the Minister of Lands, Housing, and Urban Development to halt the ongoing boundary reopening of Bugoma central forest reserve.

Last week, the ministry, National Forestry Authority-NFA, and Bunyoro Kitara Kingdom embarked on the boundary reopening of Bugoma forest reserve in Kikuube district.

Covering 410 square kilometers of 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 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 pitted residents against NFA for decades. It would also protect Bugoma forest from illegal loggers and encroachers neighboring the land in Kikuube district.

In 2016, Bunyoro Kitara Kingdom leased 22 square miles to Hoima Sugar Limited for sugarcane growing for 99 years.

However, the National Environment Management Authority-NEMA found 13 of the 22 square miles unfit for 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.

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.

In a letter dated February 21, 2022, and addressed to Judith Nabakooba, the Minister of lands, housing, and urban development, Rucunya wants the entire exercise of boundary reopening halted. He argues that Bunyoro Kitara Kingdom officials including the Prime Minister Andrew Byakutaga who have been assigned to work with the relevant government authorities to oversee the boundary reopening were suspended from office and consequently ceased to handle any Bunyoro Kitara kingdom affairs.

“This is to inform you that on 30th of January 2022, the Prime Minister of Bunyoro Kitara Kingdom Andrew Byakutaga was indefinitely suspended from office and consequently ceased to handle any Bunyoro Kitara kingdom affairs. The suspension was occasioned due to lack of accountability and gross mismanagement of Bunyoro Kitara land and property specifically Bugoma forest ancestral land and Muhangaizima cultural site in Bugoma forest.

On January 30, 2022, Members of the Babiito clan ordered Byakutaga to immediately vacate office. The clan members also suspended Edgar Agaba, the Attorney General of Bunyoro Kitara Kingdom, and Robert Owagonza, the minister for finance and planning. But the Bunyoro Kitara Kingdom Royal Commission reinstated Byakutaga on grounds that the Chief Prince has no powers to appoint and dismiss any person in the Kingdom apart from the King himself.

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