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Destroying Bugoma is ripping through the heart of Bunyoro’s culture



A chunk of Bugoma Central Forest Reserve is being cleared for sugarcane growing after NEMA gave the project a go-ahead, claiming the area was a grassland, an excuse conservationists say is fl awed. We look at the significance of Bugoma to the people of Bunyoro Kingdom and the region in general

Bugoma Central Forest is central to Bunyoro Kingdom and its people and culture, a Vision Group team discovered recently during a fact-fi nding mission, after part of the forest was leased to sugarcane growing. Not only is the forest part of the kingdom and its people, but has rare tree species too.

Over the years, the Banyoro have shown strong reverence to nature with a tradition of planting and preserving forests.

According to Apollo Rwamparo, the second deputy prime minister and minister of tourism in Bunyoro Kingdom, Bugoma and Budongo are cultural forests which were planted by Bunyoro kings, including the powerful Omukama Kabalega. However, Hoima Sugar Limited, which is seeking to cultivate sugarcane in part of Bugoma in Kikuube district, is disregarding such cultural importance.


According to Rwamparo, it is important to understand names such as Bugoma. He says the name Bugoma comes from drums.

“We have different drums, such as war drums and people would walk prepared for war,” he said, adding that Bugoma means a small drum. “Bugoma was partly planted with indigenous trees. Some of the tree species came from DR Congo and South Sudan. The trees were planted in Bugoma and parts of Budongo,” said.

He added, “This was the gene bank for Bunyoro region, so Bugoma and Budongo forests are cultural properties.” The trees in Budongo’s royal mile, where the Omukama used to train his army, Abarusura , and retired after his war expeditions, are still standing. Today, the area is a popular destination for visitors. “The royal mile was planted by Kabalega,” Rwamparo added.

He also said there are specific trees used in the making of canoes and for brewing local brew, known as mwenge bigere. The brew is extracted from bananas, then fermented to make alcohol.

“We have regalia and music instruments. They do not come from any piece of tree, there are specific trees in Bugoma and Budongo forest,” Rwamparo stressed.

He also pointed out that there was a lot of cultural coffee in Bugoma. “We have plenty of coffee in Bugoma,” he said, adding that there are also rattan , locally known as enga, which are used in the making of chairs and other furniture. The Bunyoro second deputy prime minister stated that totems of Banyoro are either animals or plants and most of them live in forests like Bugoma, explaining why the forest is treasured. “So when you destroy Bugoma, you are destroying the identity of Bunyoro,” he added.


According to Rwamparo, Omukama Kabalega’s palace was located at Muhangazima, which is being turned into a sugar plantation by Hoima Sugar Limited in Bugoma forest reserve.

The Vision Group team also learnt about a tree species believed to have mystical powers and revered by the Banyoro. Locally named Mwitansowera, the trees grow in Bugoma and the surrounding areas. They are never touched or cut down, even the fearless and hardcore charcoal burners or illegal loggers do not dare bring them down.  It is widely believed that Mwitansowera produces electric shocks that can kill anyone who gets close to it.

According to Peter Mautsi, a forest supervisor at Kisindi sector in Bugoma Central Forest Reserve, the trees (Mwitansowera species) are spared because many insects, including flies, are found dead near them and hence the name, Mwitansowera, literally translated to ‘killer of insects’.

It is believed that insects that approach it die of electric shocks emitted by the tree. Whether Mwitansowera produces electric shocks to prevent intrusion or not, the belief that it destroys anybody that goes close has been passed from one generation of Banyoro to another and it is supporting conservation. Fearing to be electrocuted, illegal loggers and charcoal burners have spared Mwitansowera from the chop.

But it is now feared that cutting part of Bugoma for sugarcane growing could see the end of the trees before modern scientists study its mystical powers.

The Vision Group team found out that no Munyoro dares cut Mwitansowera even when it is found outside the forest. It is said that upon approaching the tree, one finds dead insects littered under it, which locals use to confi rm their belief that the tree emits electric shocks.

The Kwonga clan leader, Steven Nyakooj


Not far from the cultural treasure of Bugoma, a clan known as Kwonga is conserving a forest sitting on part of their land at Kitoole village in Kabwoya sub-county, Hoima district. This is about 40km from Hoima, along the Hoima-Kyenjojo road.

The forest is largely intact and is estimated to cover over 100 acres. The Kwonga is one of the clans in Bunyoro Kitara Kingdom, whose totem is the bushbuck (one of the antelopes). The clan elders have established a legacy of handing over, from one generation to generation, a natural forest called Kwonga clan forest.

“Not only did the old men pass the forest to us, they also left behind over two square kilometres of land, where our clan members have lived for generations,” Dezi Irumba, one of the clan leaders, said.

Currently, Kwonga forest is better kept than the nearby Bugoma forest. Kwonga forest looks intact as opposed to Bugoma, which has become a theatre of destruction. Given that the only forest patch that is left is 4km away, Kwonga forest has become a refugee for the birds that were dispersed after destruction of the natural forests on private land.

The forest is also a catchment for rivers, springs and streams. It has one permanent spring well called Kamwiruki which was used as a source of water by the great grandparents of the Kwonga clan. The forest provides a catchment for three rivers; Nyakabaale, Waniaha and Wamparamba, all of which originate from Mpanga Central Forest Reserve, located 4km east of Bugoma.

The rivers feed Wambabya, where the 9MW Kabalega dam has been constructed. Wambabya empties into Lake Albert. The Kwonga people’s practice of conserving forests is similar to that of the people of Kilifi  in Kenya.

In Kilifi, north of Mombasa, a coastal clan known as the Kayas have conserved their forests for generations. The forests stretch from northern Kenya to southern Africa. The Kayas have preserved their forests and handed them from one generation to another.

The Kayas do not bury their dead in coffi ns and concrete graves. So, the bodies that have taken nutrients from the earth have to return them. As the clans conserve the forests, they also conserve water sources and also provide carbon sinks, which absorb emissions blamed for causing climate change.

**New Vision

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Breaking: Witness Radio and Partners to Launch Human Rights Monitoring, Documentation, and Advocacy Project Tomorrow.



By Witness Radio Team.

Witness Radio, in collaboration with Dan Church Aid (DCA) and the National Coalition for Human Rights Defenders (NCHRD), is set to launch the Monitoring, Documentation, and Advocacy for Human Rights in Uganda (MDA-HRU) project tomorrow, 22nd February 2024, at Kabalega Resort Hotel in Hoima District.

The project, funded by the European Union, aims to promote the protection and respect for human rights, and enable access to remedy where violations occur especially in the Mid-Western and Karamoja sub-regions where private sector actors are increasingly involved in land-based investments (LBIs) through improved documentation, and evidence-based advocacy.

The three-year project, which commenced in October 2023, focuses its activities in the Mid-Western sub-region, covering Bulisa, Hoima, Masindi, Kiryandongo, Kikuube, Kagadi, Kibale, and Mubende districts, and Karamoja sub-region, covering Moroto, Napak, Nakapiripirit, Amudat, Nabilatuk, Abim, Kaabong, Kotido, and Karenga districts.

The project targets individuals and groups at high risk of human rights violations, including Human Rights Defenders (HRDs) and Land and Environmental Defenders (LEDs). It also engages government duty bearers such as policymakers and implementers in relevant ministries and local governments, recognizing their crucial role in securing land and environmental rights. Additionally, the project involves officials from institutional duty bearers including the Uganda Human Rights Commission (UHRC), Equal Opportunities Commission, and courts, among others.

Representatives from the international community, faith leaders, and business actors are also included in the project’s scope, particularly those involved in land-based investments (LBIs) impacting the environment.

The project was initially launched in Moroto for the Karamoja region on the 19th of this month with the leadership of the National Coalition for Human Rights Defenders (NCHRD).

According to the project implementors,  the action is organized into four activity packages aimed at; enhancing the capacity and skills of Human Rights Defenders (HRDs) and Land and Environmental Defenders (LEDs) in monitoring, documentation, reporting (MDR), and protection, establishing and reinforcing reporting and documentation mechanisms for advocacy and demand for corporate and government accountability;  providing response and support to HRDs and marginalized communities; and lastly facilitating collaboration and multi-stakeholder engagements that link local and national issues to national and international frameworks and spaces.

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Kiryandongo leadership agree to partner with Witness Radio Uganda to end rampant forced land evictions in the district.



By Witness Radio team.

Kiryandongo district leaders have embraced Witness Radio’s collaboration with the Kiryandongo district aimed at ending the rampant violent and illegal land evictions that have significantly harmed the livelihoods of the local communities in the area.

The warm welcome was made at the dialogue organized by Witness Radio Uganda, Uganda’s leading land and environmental rights watchdog at the Kiryandongo district headquarters, intended to reflect on the plight of land and environmental rights defenders, local and indigenous communities and the role of responsible land-based investments in protecting people and the planet.

Speaking at the high-level dialogue, that was participated in by technical officers, policy implementers, religious leaders, leaders of project affected persons (PAPs), politicians, media, Civil Society Organizations (CSOs), and development partners that support land and environment rights as well as the Land Based Investments (LBIs) Companies in the Kiryandongo district, the leaders led by the District Local Council 5 Chairperson, Ms. Edith Aliguma Adyeri appreciated the efforts taken by Witness Radio organization to organize the dialogue meeting aimed at bringing together stakeholders to safeguard community land and environmental rights in order address the escalating vice of land grabbing in the area.

During the dialogue, participants shared harrowing accounts of the impacts of land evictions and environmental degradation, including tragic deaths, families torn asunder, young girls forced into marriage, a surge in teenage pregnancies, limited access to education, and significant environmental damage which have profoundly affected the lives of the local population in Kiryandongo.

Participants attending the dialogue.

In recent years, Kiryandongo district has been embroiled in violent land evictions orchestrated to accommodate multinational large-scale agriculture plantations and wealthy individuals leaving the poor marginalized.

According to various reports, including findings from Witness Radio’s 2020 research Land Grabs at a Gun Point, the forceful land acquisitions in Kiryandongo have significantly impacted the livelihoods of local communities. It is estimated that nearly 40,000 individuals have been displaced from their land to make room for land-based investments in the Kiryandongo district. However, leaders in the district also revealed in the dialogue that women and children are affected most.

The Kiryandongo Deputy Resident District Commissioner, Mr. Jonathan Akweteireho, emphasized that all offices within the Kiryandongo district are actively involved in addressing the prevalent land conflicts. He also extended a welcome to Witness Radio, acknowledging their collaborative efforts in tackling and resolving land and environmental issues in the district.

“Ladies and gentlemen, we all know that the land rights together with environmental rights have been violated in our district, but because we don’t know what our rights are, because we have not directly done what we could to safeguard our rights and now this is the time that Witness Radio has brought us together to safeguard our rights. I want to welcome you in Kiryandongo and be rest assured that we shall give you all the necessary support to help us manage these rampant cases,” Ms. Adyeri said in her remarks during the dialogue meeting.

The team leader at Witness Radio Uganda, Mr. Geoffrey Wokulira Ssebaggala expressed gratitude to the participants for their active involvement in the dialogue and revealed that Witness Radio’s objective is to find a holistic solution to the escalating land disputes in Kiryandongo district serving as an example to other districts.

“We are here to assist Kiryandongo district in attaining peace and stability because it stands as a hotspot for land grabbers in Uganda. Mismanagement of land conflicts in Uganda could potentially lead to a significant internal conflict. Everywhere you turn, voices are lamenting the loss of their land and property. Kiryandongo, abundant with ranches, suffers from a lack of a structured framework, which amplifies these land conflicts. The influx of wealthy investors further complicates the situation,” Mr. Ssebaggala disclosed.

Within the dialogue, Mr. Ssebaggala emphasized the need for the Kiryandongo district council to pass a by-law aimed at curbing land evictions as an initial step in addressing the prevalent land injustices.

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Kiryandongo authorities decry rising cases of land disputes



The LC5 chairperson of Kiryandongo, Ms Edith Aliguma Adyeri, has saidnland dispute has impacted on people’s lives, dignity and children’s education in the district.

Just like other parts of Uganda, conflicts over land in Kiryandongo arise when individuals – who often are blood relatives – compete for use of the same parcel of land or when members of the community lay claim over ownership of unutilised government land.

Ms Adyeri further said land and environmental rights affect people both directly and indirectly, “and we are not hearing it from afar. It is already together with us [here], it has already affected us!”

She was speaking at a meeting which sought to discuss alternative remedies to salvage the appalling land and environmental rights situation in Kiryandongo at the district headquarters on Thursday.

The one-day dialogue was aimed at reflecting on the plight of land and environmental rights defenders, local and indigenous communities and the role of responsible land-based investments in protecting people and the planet.

It was attended by private companies, members of civil society and local government officials and organised by Witness Radio – an advocate for land and environmental rights in Uganda – in partnership with Oxfam, and Kiryandongo District leadership.

“Some people have even died, families are broken up, and brothers are not seeing eye-to-eye because of land rights. Access to justice is equally becoming very difficult because when you hire one lawyer that
lawyer will talk to learned friends, and they agree. They leave you in suspense,” Ms Adyeri said.

According to her, some children have not accessed education because of land and environmental rights.

Mr Jonathan Akweteireho, the deputy Resident District Commissioner of Kiryandongo, said enlightened people especially should be sensitive to the historical injustice of this area.

“We can never handle the Bonyoro land question without thinking about that history. It will be an injustice to the incomers, to the government and to the leaders who don’t understand,” he said.

“We had 38 ranches here which on the guidance of these international organisations, especially the World Bank, the government restructured them, allowing people to settle there, they were never given titles and up to today, there are big problems in all those ranches,” he added.

Mr Jeff Wokulira Ssebaggala, the executive director of Witness Radio, said that a well-functional land sector supports land users or holders and investors, reduces inefficiencies and provides mechanisms to resolve land disputes.

Mr David Kyategeka, the secretary to the Kiryandongo District Land Board, said the issue of land rights is very clear but the major challenge has been sensitising the locals to know what rights he or she expects to enjoy out of this very important resource.


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