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Kikuube residents, leaders protest Bugoma forest boundary reopening

Kikuube, Uganda | THE INDEPENDENT | Residents neighboring the contested Bugoma forest reserve in Kikuube district are protesting the ongoing boundary exercise. In November last year, the government through the Ministry of Housing, Lands, and Urban Development and the National Forestry Authority-NFA started opening the boundaries of Bugoma central forest reserve.

However, Kikuube district officials halted the exercise a few weeks later citing irregularities. They accused NFA and the Ministry of Lands of declining to engage local leaders, area residents, and a private surveyor to represent the interests of the local community.

In February this year, the Lands Ministry resumed the boundary opening exercise. However, the exercise hit another stalemate when residents protested the criteria used by the government to reopen the forest boundaries. In August this year, the Ministry and NFA revised the boundary opening exercise.

Residents accuse the Ministry and NFA of sidelining them. Ephraim Muhereza, a resident of Katikara village in Kyangwali sub-county says that the officials annexed part of his land to the forest reserve. He says that he has never been engaged in the boundary reopening exercise at any point in time.

Lawrence Katusabe, the LC I chairperson of Mburara village in Kyangwali sub-county says that he was disappointed when NFA encroached on part of his land during the boundary reopening exercise. He wonders why residents settling adjacent to the forest reserve are not being involved in the process.

Carolyne Ahebwa, a resident of Nyairongo in Kabwoya sub-county who is near the forest, says that it is unfortunate that they were not involved in the boundary reopening exercise and want the entire exercise halted. Francis Kazini, the Buhaguzi county member of parliament wonders why NFA and the Ministry of Lands are working without the involvement of area leaders and the local community.

Amlan Tumusiime, the Kikuube Resident District Commissioner-RDC says that at first, a team from the Lands Ministry agreed to work with the community and area leaders but they later abandoned them.

Juliet Mubi, the Communications Manager at National Forestry Authority-NFA, says the Ministry of Lands undertook the boundary reopening exercise on behalf of NFA, arguing that the exercise could have not gone on if the area leaders and locals were not involved.

Last week, Bunyoro Kitara Kingdom contested the Bugoma forest boundary opening exercise reasoning that it was not involved. Andrew Byakutaga, the Kingdom’s prime minister wondered how the Ministry of Lands and NFA conducted the exercise in the absence of kingdom officials who are well versed with the forest boundary.

He stressed that the kingdom will not accept the results of the exercise since they were not involved. Covering 410 square kilometers of a protected area and a stretch of forest measuring 40 kilometers, Bugoma is a tropical forest that was gazetted in 1932. It is home to 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.

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