Kabale, Uganda | THE INDEPENDENT | Kabale Resident District Commissioner Darius Nandinda has told people farming in the wetlands to resist any attempts to evict them by National Environment Management Authority-NEMA and Water ministry officials supported by the environmental police until the district authorities are satisfied the exercise is going to be done properly. Consequently, scores of encroachers who had been arrested have been released from Kigezi regional police headquarters where they were being held.
The RDC gave the authorization after district security and political authorities suspended the ongoing operation of evicting farmers from wetlands in the district.
Last week, authorities from the National Environment Management Authority (NEMA) and Ministry of Water and Environment started evicting all farmers operating in wetlands in the districts of Kabale, Rubanda and Rukiga.
The eviction exercise is facilitated by Enhancing the Resilience of Communities to Climate Change through Catchment-Based Integrated Management of Water and Related Resources in Uganda-EURECCCA with funding from the Adaptation Fund and Sahara and Sahel Observatory, a non-government organization.
Implementation of the eviction of all farmers operating in wetlands in the districts of Kabale, Rubanda and Rukiga is being backed by the Environmental Protection Police Unit -EPPU officers from Kampala.
Over 50 farmers from Kabale and Rubanda who were found cultivating Irish potatoes were arrested.
In December 2020, authorities installed visible permanent marks in wetlands of Kabale district warning farmers not to go back, invoking the April 2020 directive by President Yoweri Museveni to evict all people who have encroached on wetlands, swamps, lakes, and rivers across the country.
The eviction has left farmers very bitter with the government, accusing it of implementing it with bias.
Darius Nandinda, Kabale Resident District Commissioner told URN that considering the way the operation was carried out, he has used his powers to suspend it in Kabale with immediate effect.
Nandinda accuses EPPU and Ministry authorities of implementing the eviction without first notifying district officials. He also faults them for rushing to evict farmers without any sensitization.
Nandinda argues that EPPU and ministry authorities were supposed to only observe if farmers are violating the buffer zone of 15 meters from the rivers instead of rushing to evict them.
Nandinda says that the operation has been suspended until there is a meeting with all relevant stakeholders to agree on how to handle the matter without conflicts. He urges farmers to resist in case EPPU and ministry authorities return to conduct more operations without local authorities.
Emmanuel Sentaro Byamugisha, Mayor for Kabale Municipality says that because district security authorities were not aware, ministry and EPPU officials were forced to release suspects they had arrested after remaining stranded with them at Kigezi region police headquarters.
Byamugisha says that it was unfortunate for Ministry officials and EPPU to even fire bullets in the air while conducting arrests and eviction. According to Byamugisha, EPPU and Ministry officials were too rude to listen to any question from farmers. He says that unless enough sensitization is done and farmers’ demands are met, there is no reason to why the eviction should continue.
When contacted, Louis Mugisha, the Director at Directorate of Water Resources Management -Ministry of Water and Environment, who is also the head of EURECCA for the Western region apologized and admitted that the operation was conducted in the wrong way.
Mugisha says that the ministry is this time ready to cooperate with district authorities to make sure that no further disputes arise during implementation.
Mugisha however faults farmers for vandalizing and shifting pillars that EURECCA officials had installed in the wetlands.
Efforts to get a comment from Peter Rwakifari Kibondo, Rubanda Resident District Commissioner, and Purikeria Muhindo Mwiine, Rukiga Resident District Commissioner to find out if they have also suspended the operation in their districts were futile as they would not pick their phone calls.