Hoima Sugar Ltd will plant sugarcane on 9.24sq.m, establish an urban centre on 1.206sq.m, an eco-tourism centre on 1.97sq.m
The European Union (EU) delegation to Uganda has advised the Government to exploit all legal options to halt plans to use a section of Bugoma forest for sugarcane growing.
Ambassador Attilio Pacifici, the head of the EU delegation to Uganda, made the remarks during a consultative meeting with legislators on the natural resources committee of Parliament on Monday.
“The Attorney General should be called in immediately for a full brief about the legal status and options available to save the forest. He should be able to come and take Parliament through the legal options and maybe even file a restrain order,” Pacifici said.
The diplomat’s advice followed a plea from one of the legislators who sought the delegation’s input on how the Government can quickly solve the impasse over Bugoma forest.
“In our legislative framework, you should have seen grey areas that you think as a committee we could push for strengthening in such areas to save our environment. How would you advise in reference to Bugoma forest?” MP Anthony Okello (Kioga County) asked.
Pacifici told the committee how they have documented satellite images captured by over 12 satellites from Europe that show how the destruction of Bugoma forest is getting bigger every single day.
This comes after the National Environment Management Authority (NEMA) issued a certificate of approval for the environmental and social impact assessment (ESIA) report permitting Hoima Sugar Ltd to use 21sq.m out of the 22sq.m the company leased from Bunyoro Kitara kingdom at sh3b against the will of NEMA.
According to the ESIA certificate issued by NEMA dated August 14, 2020, Hoima Sugar Ltd will plant sugarcane on 9.24sq.m, establish an urban centre on 1.206sq.m, an eco-tourism centre on 1.97sq.m and restore a forest on 3.13sq.m, among other economic activities.
However, the EU diplomats wondered how government agencies in connivance with some individuals would collude to have a huge forest area cleared in favour of sugarcane growing.
The Belgian Ambassador to Uganda, Rudi Veestraeten, said for some top government officials to be in agreement with the decision to give away Bugomaf needed deeper investigation because it has significant implications.
The EU, therefore, implored Parliament to use its oversight powers to investigate the actions of NEMA, Hoima Sugar Ltd and the lands ministry for issuing land titles in forest reserves, approving ESIA reports and disregarding national laws and other illegal actions.
Keifa Kiwanuka, the chairperson of the natural resources committee of Parliament, explained to the EU delegation how the committee is preparing a report yet to be tabled on the floor of Parliament.
Kiwanuka said Parliament was equally disheartened by the developments in the Bugoma forest but have recommended to the Government that an inquiry into the improper giveaway of the forest should be instituted.
The legislators also assured the diplomats how their committee report to Parliament suggests, among many other recommendations, a directive to the lands ministry to make public the cadastral maps that were used to establish whether the forest belongs to government or Bunyoro kingdom.
Kiwanuka allayed fears of the EU delegates that the committee report has recommended government to evoke Article 26 of the Constitution that stipulates the powers of Government about land acquisition to save Bugoma forest.
Bugoma, which is home to about 600 chimpanzees and bird species, is a big tourism hub.
It is a migratory corridor for large mammals such as chimps and elephants connecting Budongo and Murchison Falls National Park from Queen Elizabeth National Park.
The EU delegates asked the MPs to jealously safeguard Bugoma forest and the surrounding wetlands by implementing the presidential initiative on wetland conservation.
Communities in Karamoja face an uphill task organising to beat international capital and authoritarian politics.
Rupa, Uganda – A handful of artisanal miners stand shirtless in an open pit, breaking boulders that glint white in the sun. Nearby, soldiers stand sullenly at the gate of the Sunbelt Marble Mine and Factory, owned by Chinese businessmen who have sunk $13m into the project.
These are the two faces of the mining rush in the Karamoja region of northeast Uganda: small-scale freelance miners, toiling with basic equipment for scant reward, and a mix of wealthy foreign and local investors protected by the state.
Here in Rupa, a sub-county of Moroto district, the locals have seen companies come and go, buying up land and dividing communities. So in 2017, when they got wind that a Chinese company was coming, they were determined to do things differently: this time, they were going to organise.
It was a pioneering attempt to ensure that local people benefitted from mining, building on customary ownership and exploiting little-used provisions of Ugandan land law.
But the story of how it worked – and how it did not – shows just how hard it is for communities to organise in the face of international capital and authoritarian politics.
Many of the 1.2 million people in Karamoja are cattle-keepers, driving their herds across grasslands managed by clan and custom. The rains are fickle, so negotiating access to pasture involves an element of give-and-take.
But the mining companies that are exploring the region want something solid and immovable: the minerals that lie beneath the soil, including marble, limestone, copper and gold.
In the early 2000s, the army forcefully disarmed the gun-wielding cattle-raiders who once roamed the plains, and speculators rushed in during the ensuing peace.
“The first businesspeople who came were taking over the land,” says Simon Nangiro, chairman of the Karamoja Miners Association, which represents small-scale miners in the region. “Companies come with military accompaniments … [They’re] negotiating behind the scenes with people who are vulnerable.”
According to the mining cadastre, the government has granted full mining leases in Karamoja to four companies – Sunbelt, Tororo Cement, DAO Marble and Mechanized Agro – across 79 square km (31 square miles) of land.
It has also issued licences for exploration to dozens of other local and foreign companies on roughly 4,000 square km (1,544 square miles) and is considering applications on nearly 5,000 square km (1,931 square miles) more.
Documents like leases, licences and land titles are how the modern state speaks – but it is a language foreign to Karamoja, where ownership is rarely written down and only a quarter of people can read.
“Here in Karamoja we have a customary land tenure system,” explains John Bosco Logwee, an elder in Rupa and one of the leaders of organising efforts there. “As a result, people [from outside] looked at the land and thought it does not belong to anybody.”
In Uganda as a whole, an estimated 80 percent of the land is held customarily although exact figures are hard to come by. The problem of proving who owns what worries everyone from activists, who warn of land grabs, to the World Bank, which wants to spur rural property markets.
Under the 1998 Land Act, communities can create “communal land associations” (CLAs) to defend their collective land rights. More than 600 have been incorporated nationwide, often with World Bank support.
Some of the first to be established were in Karamoja, where 52 were set up in 2012-2013 by a non-governmental organisation, the Uganda Land Alliance. According to Edmond Owor, its former executive director, the CLAs had some early successes in fending off fraudulent investors. But in 2016, the Alliance itself collapsed due to internal governance problems, leaving the fledgling CLAs on their own.
“The creation of a CLA is a very easy process, and that’s where the easy work ends,” says Simon Longoli, executive director of the Karamoja Development Forum (KDF), a civil society group based in Moroto. “We find it very difficult to trust a piece of paper to ensure the rights of the community over a piece of land.”
What people really needed, he thought, was organising and capacity building to assert the rights they had on paper. In short, they needed power.
Communities in Rupa had been at the forefront of Karamoja’s mining rush. A 2014 report by Human Rights Watch described how two foreign-owned companies had come to the area and started exploration without the consent of the locals.
“International capital has come into Karamoja, it has allied itself with powerful political and military elites at the centre, facilitated by influence peddlers,” says David Pulkol, a Rupa indigene who formerly served as a member of parliament, government minister and head of Uganda’s external intelligence agency. “Those three are in the same bed, dispossessing the ordinary people of their livelihoods.”
So in 2017, the three clans of Rupa sub-county joined their CLAs together to form the Rupa Community Development Trust (RUCODET), taking out the formal title to the land on behalf of 35,000 people.
Longoli and his KDF colleagues arranged training for the trust’s leaders in negotiation and other skills. No other community in Karamoja had organised on such a scale to take on mining companies.
The arrival of the Sunbelt mine would give RUCODET its first major test. Under Ugandan law, all minerals belong to the government. But landowners have “surface rights” to the land itself, which have often been trampled by mining companies.
Now, thanks to RUCODET, the Chinese investors would have to negotiate with the community. “It was tough,” says Logwee, the elder. “We had no experience before of that kind of thing.”
Sunbelt had strong backing from Operation Wealth Creation, a sprawling Ugandan military programme that started out giving seeds to farmers and was now helping build fruit factories, disburse credit and develop the minerals sector.
The programme is led by Salim Saleh, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni’s ubiquitous brother, whom many consider the second-most powerful man in the country. He is a feared general with extensive business interests, who has been accused by UN experts of grabbing resources during the 1998-2003 Congo war – an allegation he has always denied.
As part of the negotiations, a team from RUCODET travelled 400km to Kapeeka, where a Chinese-owned industrial park has been constructed close to Saleh’s personal residence. Longoli of KDF says that some leaders in RUCODET and in local government were taking calls from Saleh himself to get an agreement signed.
Major Kiconco Tabaro, a spokesman for Operation Wealth Creation, claims that it was not directly involved in the negotiations but has “a strategic working relationship with all ministries, departments and agencies of government” to “help bring about socioeconomic transformation”.
It was hard to say no to a man like Saleh, and the leaders of RUCODET did not. In 2018, they signed away surface rights to 3.3 square km of land to Sunbelt for 21 years, receiving compensation of 1.8 billion shillings ($500,000), they say.
By one yardstick, that was a lot of money. Small-scale miners in Rupa say they get just 100,000 shillings ($28) from traders for filling a 7-tonne truck with stone, a task which takes four people at least a week.
But Sunbelt expects gross revenues of $30m a year, according to the 2021 manifesto of the ruling National Resistance Movement – making the payout to RUCODET equivalent to one week’s turnover. A spokesman for Sunbelt declined an interview request for this story.
The leaders of RUCODET used 100 million shillings ($28,000) to set up 94 educational scholarships for schoolchildren and university students. Some of the rest was handed out as cash to community members.
But there was protest from those who felt left out and mutterings that money was misused or even stolen – allegations which Logwee dismisses as “speculation”. Three people familiar with the matter told Al Jazeera that the lawyer who advised RUCODET charged 400 million shillings ($110,000) for his services, which included the cost of surveying and titling the land.
Then tragedy struck. The leader of RUCODET was a man called Marjory Dan Apollo Loyomo, a brother of the former spy chief Pulkol. “He was very strong, he was very charismatic, he was very committed,” recalls Longoli. He was also the elected chairman of Rupa sub-county, which meant he had to represent his people in disputes.
In 2019, after a decade of peace, the armed cattle-raiders started to make a comeback. Loyomo had disagreed with aspects of the army’s handling of the issue.
On December 17 that year, according to the UN Human Rights office, the army called him to a military detach in Rupa. It had impounded cattle after a raid; local people were angry. Loyomo, as sub-county chairman, tried to deliberate with the officers. A soldier shot him dead.
The regional army commander was transferred soon afterwards. His successor, Brigadier General Joseph Balikudembe, says that he cannot comment on the incident due to ongoing proceedings against the soldiers involved.
Nobody that Al Jazeera spoke to wanted to speculate on the reasons for Loyomo’s killing, but everyone agreed that it was a devastating setback.
“The loss of a torchbearer, the founder chairman, has been a very big loss for RUCODET,” says Logwee, who has succeeded him to the role.
“He was fighting really for his people,” argues Joyce Nayor, an activist and Rupa resident who is critical of the trust’s current leadership. “Since he died, RUCODET has also died a natural death.”
Hardly any local people got jobs in the Sunbelt mine, Al Jazeera heard on two visits to the area with local activists. Some small-scale miners have been allowed to remain in a corner of the land that was allocated to the company, where they break boulders for sale.
They complain that Sunbelt tried to push them into an ever-smaller area and take away the traders who would buy their stone – and that RUCODET has done little to help.
“RUCODET is there in name only,” says Isaiah Aleu, a miner.
Land trusts and CLAs are promising tools for communities to defend their rights, say land campaigners. But there is no consensus about how they should navigate turbulent political waters.
Pulkol is now helping build RUCODET’s capacity through the Africa Leadership Institute, a non-governmental organisation he leads. He thinks the best hope for Karamoja is to work with investors and government for shared benefits, rather than to block them altogether.
Longoli, the activist, is not so sure. Often when it comes to minerals, “the best deal is just no deal”, he says. “RUCODET, because of pressure from above or pressure from within the institution, was in a hurry to close deals.”
Yet he remains hopeful that organisations like RUCODET can be the basis for something better. “These are not perfect but they give a bridge somewhere,” he says.
The next test is coming soon.
In Loyoro sub-county of Kaabong district, 100km (62 miles) to the north, a new company called Moroto Ateker Cement is exploring for limestone. Pulkol, representing the local government of Moroto, sits on its board.
The state-owned Uganda Development Corporation has a 45 percent stake in the project. The seven clans of Loyoro have started the process of forming a trust, after the RUCODET model.
Meanwhile, in the bush, surrounded by soldiers and tsetse flies, exploratory drilling machines bore down into their land.
A study recently undertaken to identify the tourism potential of Bugoma Central Forest Reserve in mid-western Uganda has found that converting the forest into a national park could fetch Uganda at least US$547,500 (Approx. Shs2 billion) in tourism revenues every year.
The researchers identified chimpanzee and mangabey trekking, bird watching and nature walks as the top tourist attractions in and around this tropical rain forest found in both Hoima and Kikuube districts.
The study titled, “Tourism Opportunities of Bugoma Forest” was conducted between April and June this year by the Inclusive Green Economy Network-East Africa (IGEN-EA), a regional consultancy firm, and it sought to understand what tourism opportunities exist around Bugoma Forest.
Over the last six years, Bugoma Central Forest has found itself at the centre of controversy between the government, sugar manufacturers, Bunyoro Kingdom, and conservationists with the latter insisting that the forest should remain intact given its rich plant and animal life but also the emerging oil industry in the region.
Bugoma Central Forest Reserve which is one of the most biodiverse in Uganda was first gazetted by Legal Notice No. 87 of 1932. The forest was gazetted as an undemarcated reserve of 35,840 hectares. Under Legal Notice 251 of 1944, the forest area was increased to 41,144 hectares. But it has recently been encroached upon by sugar barons, loggers and even cultivators.
In 2016, President Yoweri Museveni officially launched Hoima Sugar, the second major sugar factory in the Bunyoro sub-region which was given a big chunk of acreage out of Bugoma Forest to expand its sugarcane estate.
The company which is found in Kikuube District is owned by Rai Holdings Group. It is valued at about US$42 million and currently produces 1,500 tonnes of sugar per day. It also employs about 2000 workers on its nucleus estate and supports more than 150 sugarcane out-growers.
However, in the new report’s recommendations, the researchers want the government to upgrade Bugoma Forest Reserve to a national park to protect it, especially its biodiversity and promote tourism. The researchers also want the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA), the national agency in charge of wildlife conservation, to take over its management. The forest, like all other forest reserves in the country falls under the ambit of the National Forestry Authority (NFA).
“The forest should be put under UWA’s management after being turned into a national park; the Ministry of Tourism, Wildlife and Antiquities, UWA and the Uganda Tourism Board (UTB) should in consultation with all other tourism stakeholders develop a tourism development strategy for Bugoma forest,” the report reads in part.
In 2018, government statistics showed Uganda attracted about 1.5 million visitors into the country and about US$ 1.6 billion went into the national treasury in form of tourism revenues. The government later came out with an ambitious plan to increase the tourism sector’s earnings to US$1.862 billion; and maintain the contribution of tourism to total employment at 667,600 people.
The government said it would also embark on a promotional campaign of domestic and inbound tourism by increasing the stock and quality of tourism infrastructure; as well as developing, conserving and diversifying tourism products and services.
Bugoma’s tourism potential
According to research done by Birdlife International, an international conservation organization, of the “65 forested Protected Areas that were surveyed for biodiversity in Uganda, Bugoma ranked eleventh in overall biodiversity value and fifteenth in terms of rarity value.”
The study, “Biodiversity surveys of Bugoma forest reserve, smaller central forest reserves and forest corridors south of Bugoma,” noted that the reserve is home to primates, elephants and other vertebrate fauna. The forest is home to 570 chimpanzees, 225 bird species, the Ugandan mangabey (which can only be seen in Uganda), bush elephants, butterflies and others.
Robert Akugizibwe, the executive secretary of the Association for the Conservation of Bugoma Forest, a local conservation pressure group, is one of the leading supporters of converting Bugoma forest into a national park. His association has over the last five years been taking visitors on exclusive nature walks inside the forest.
He says although the forest has plenty of attractions such as butterflies, insects, birds like Black and White Casqued Hornbill, Black-billed Turaco and the Olive Sunbird, Bugoma’s main attraction is the encounter with the primates, especially groups of the Ugandan Mangabey (Lophocebus Ugandae), which are endemic to this forest. The other primates which are also a common sight are the red tailed monkeys and black and white colobus monkeys.
Indeed, there are already ongoing efforts to habituate chimpanzee families to support tourism and this exercise is expected to be concluded by the Jane Goodall Institute in 2023. But, seeing the encroachment that is happening on the edges of the forest by the sugarcane growers frustrates Akugizibwe.
“For the last two years, we have been trying to promote tourism but we have been abandoned. No one helps us; even the NFA neglected us. We could not tell exactly where the boundary of the forest ends,” he told The Independent. “Let Bugoma be promoted to a national park and change its management to Uganda Wildlife Authority,” he said.
According to Section 25 of the Uganda Wildlife Act, 2019, which deals with the procedure for the declaration of a wildlife conservation area, the minister may, by statutory instrument, after consultation with the Local Government Council in whose area a proposed wildlife conservation area falls and with the approval of Parliament signified by its resolution declare an area of land or water to be a wildlife conservation area.
“Before making a declaration under sub-section (1), the minister shall ensure that an environmental impact study and any other study that may be required have been conducted in accordance with the National Environment Act, 2019,” the Act reads in part.
Bashir Hangi, the communications manager at UWA told The Independent on Aug.18 that there are no ongoing discussions between UWA and NFA to make Bugoma forest a wildlife reserve.
Economic viability of tourism opportunities
However, the Inclusive Green Economy Network-East Africa (IGEN-EA) study shows the best case scenario of the economic viability of the identified tourism opportunities in Bugoma Forest as well as the anticipated income from the activities and the most preferred tourist attractions as identified by the tour operators who were interviewed for the study.
Borrowing from current chimpanzee trekking practices in already established parks like Kibaale National Park, Kyambura and Kalinzu Gorges where permits cost between US$ 50-200, the researchers say it is possible to organise ape trekking in Bugoma Forest.
For instance, the researchers say, while two groups consisting of eight tourists each are ordinarily permitted to trek chimpanzees in national parks such as Kibaale per day, scientists advise that for newly habituated chimpanzees such as those in Bugoma, only four people per group could trek chimpanzees per day.
They argue that being a new destination that would not be as popular as the older trekking sites, chimpanzee trekking permits in Bugoma forest should be charged at US$50. The study further notes that two trekking sessions with four tourists each would be organised per day.
The study also sets the bird watching activities to one session per day with five tourists paying US$80 each. “Bird watching in forests requires patience and is usually a whole day experience and this means only one session a day can be arranged,” the report reads in part.
The bird watching rate per tourist in Uganda is currently set at US$100. However, given the fact that bird watching in Bugoma Forest is new, if the activity is allowed in the forest as recommended by this study, it would be prudent to offer a cheaper price of US$80 to attract tourists.
For the other activity, the forest walks, the researchers say it is possible to organize two sessions in the mornings and evenings at the current rates of up to US$30. According to the study, the number of people going for bird watching and forest walks would be limited to five and ten respectively because few tourists should be engaged in the activities to maintain quiet in the forest. This would enable the tourists to listen to the rhythm of the forest, the researchers say.
They add that Bugoma Forest can also be harnessed for cultural tourism purposes. For instance, one of the research respondents interviewed notes that: “A section of Bugoma Forest was once the capital of Bunyoro Kingdom.”
“Two Bunyoro kings had palaces in that section. In 1830, the Omukama (King) Nyamutukura Kyebambe III moved his palace from Buyaga to Kyangwali, where Bugoma forest is partly located. It is unfortunate that a small section of the kingdom selfishly let this part be destroyed. If conserved, the forest can form part of the cultural heritage of Bunyoro, which could be harnessed for tourism.”
The respondent added: “The forest is also taken in very high regard as a traditional pharmacy with all sorts of herbs extracted from leaves, tree bark, vines and roots. There are other spiritual and/or traditional rituals that indigenous communities perform under the canopy of the forest. This part has the potential of being elevated to a Bunyoro cultural site.”
George Owoyesigire, the Acting Commissioner in charge of wildlife conservation in the Ministry of Tourism, Wildlife and Antiquities told The Independent that he would support the upgrade of Bugoma into a national park.
In any case, Owoyesigire said, there is already a joint report done in 2018 by both the Uganda Wildlife Authority and the National Forestry Authority that recommended Bugoma’s protected area status be upgraded to national park status.
He told The Independent that in the past, the government has upgraded former Central Forest Reserves such as Elgon, Kibaale, Mgahinga, Bwindi, Semliki and Rwenzori to national park status.
These, he said, were all converted into national parks and their protection levels were increased; the species have since increased and benefits to the adjacent communities have also been enhanced thanks to the revenue generation from the parks.
“Bugoma should be generating similar revenues,” he said. Owoyesigire added that Bugoma Forest is about half a kilometre from Kabaale Industrial Area where the proposed oil refinery will be based. It is also quite close to Kabaale International Airport which is about to be opened to international air traffic.
“The combination of emissions from the refinery and the aero planes makes Bugoma Forest’s enhanced protection even more important,” Owoyesigire told The Independent.
Going forward, the researchers say, while developing the strategy and tourism activities in Bugoma forest, the Ministry of Tourism, UTB, UWA and other stakeholders should maintain effective community outreach services around the forest.
“Communities should be trained in tour guiding, crafts-making, beekeeping, catering and other services to enable them to participate in tourism activities in Bugoma forest,” the report notes.
“The government and development partners should also support institutions such as the Jane Goodall Institute to habituate more groups of chimpanzees for tourism purposes in Bugoma Forest. This will create more tourism opportunities.”
“The government should also support communities to establish community-private venture partnerships such as that of the Clouds Mountain Gorilla Lodge model in Kisoro (southwestern Uganda) to support community participation in tourism.”
Speaking at the closing of the Inter-Ministerial Conference on Migration, Environment, and Climate Change last Friday at the Commonwealth Resort Munyonyo, President Museveni ordered Chinese nationals growing rice in wetlands to vacate with immediate effect.
This was the fifth time the president is ordering rice farmers and factories to steer clear of wetlands. From 2019 to date, President Museveni has issued over five orders for rice farmers and factories in wetlands to move but with little success.
The president has even ordered the arrest of government officials who parcelled out the wetlands to private developers but none has been arrested and not one land title has been cancelled.
Last Friday, the president said, “Here in Uganda we are contributing to the destruction of wetlands. It is our responsibility. It is not the Europeans who are destroying the wetlands; it is us. When we got in touch with the Chinese, they introduced a culture here that our people didn’t know. The culture of growing rice in swamps. I don’t know what swamps they use in Asia but here what they call swamps are tributaries of River Nile. When you grow rice in the swamps, you are committing a big crime. This must stop! I don’t know what the scientists told you but here in Uganda, 60 per cent of the rain is from the oceans and 40 per- cent is from the wetlands…”
“Therefore, by interfering with the forests and wetlands in Uganda, we are interfering with the rainfall of this area. The countries in the Great Lakes region should be bold and watch. In Uganda, I am fighting to make sure that nobody cultivates in the wetlands… This is terrible! How can we kill ourselves and commit suicide by attacking the wetlands? The wetlands must be vacated…” Museveni said.
Chinese have a rice farm in the Lwera wetland along the Kampala-Masaka high- way at Lukaya. Kehong Uganda Industrial Development Limited has a rice farm in Lubenge wetland in Luweero district. There are rice farms and several factories in wetlands along the Mukono-Jinja highway like Tian Tang, Abacus Pharmaceutical Industries Limited and Global Paper, etc.
In October 2017, Pastor Samuel Kakande of the Synagogue Church of All Nations in Kampala appeared before Justice Catherine Bamugemereire-led commission of inquiry into land matters. Kakande at the time was accused of having a 40-square miles rice farm in a wetland yet he had been licensed by National Environment Management Authority (NEMA) to grow palm trees there.
In November 2021, the Environmental Police arrested two people at a project site owned by Rajiv Ruparelia under M/S Speke Hotel (1996) Limited; in Kitubulu, Katabi sub-county, Wakiso district.
In their November 3, 2021 statement, Nema said that although the developer (Rajiv) had a valid Environment and Social Impact Assessment (ESIA) certificate permitting him to develop a recreational area including a sand beach, marina, and hotel within the 200 metres buffer zone of Lake Victoria; he was found dumping murram into the lake, despite a recommendation by the District Environment Committee to preserve a 30-meter buffer zone from the shoreline.
“The developer claimed that murram was being dumped into the lake to recover the original project area that was taken up by the rising water levels. On the contrary, one of the conditions in the ESIA certificate is that the developer is duty bound to prevent degradation of the lake-shore following the National Environment (Wetlands, Riverbanks and Lake Shores Management) Regulations S.I. No. 153-5,” the statement added.
While opening the 10th Africa-China poverty reduction and development conference at Commonwealth Resort Munyonyo, in November 2019, President Museveni ordered Chinese firms and individuals growing rice in wetlands to vacate immediately.
“I don’t like swamp rice, swamp rice here is dangerous be- cause they grow it in the Nile tributaries. They are branches of the Nile, they dry them up and so I want to stop it,” President Museveni said.
In an April 22, 2020 letter to Sam Cheptoris, the minister for Water and Environment, President Museveni directed him to evict encroachers on wetlands, river banks, and government forests with immediate effect to mitigate the effects of climate change. Museveni’s letter read in part, “…I am therefore directing you to remove all the people on the wetlands, shoreline, river banks, and government forests. Since I know Uganda very well, I can confirm to you that all the other encroachers on wetlands are not bonafide people. They are not genuine but conscious liars and must be removed”.
The directive, however, exempted people residing in historical wetlands in Bukedi, Kigezi and Busoga whom Museveni said had been misled by the previous governments to occupy these pieces of land.
In July 2021, Beatrice Anywar, the minister of state for Environment, announced that the cabinet chaired by President Museveni had banned rice growing in Ugandan wetlands, and approved the cancellation of at least 420 land titles in wetlands, especially in the districts of Wakiso and Mukono. Anywar said the cabinet directed that government officials who participated in the issuance of titles in wetlands and forest reserves, be held culpable.
Asked whether the land titles issued in wetlands had been cancelled, Denis Obbo, the spokesperson for the ministry of Lands, Housing and Urban Development, said,
“Progress towards cancellation of the over 420 titles has taken place. We have at least advertised the intention to cancel these land titles in the newspaper. Some sittings with the said land owners have taken place at the zonal offices of the ministry of Lands and we have registered some progress. We have faced some challenges in the process because when a person takes the matter to court, no progress can be made unless the matter is first cleared by a court. Despite all these challenges, we shall be implementing the presidential directive to the letter.”
Asked whether the land titles issued in wetlands like Lwera will be cancelled, Obbo said the matter was under the docket of the National Environment Management Authority.
Responding to questions shared via WhatsApp, Dr Barirega Akankwatsah, the executive director of Nema said, “Nema is determined to implement the presidential directive to stop rice growing in wetlands. We are coming up with programs to educate the masses, and also design alternative sources of livelihoods like fish farming for communities dependent on rice growing in wetlands”.
Asked whether licenses for rice farming in Lwera along the Masaka-Kampala highway shall be withdrawn, Barirega added, “The president was very clear, no more rice growing in wetlands. However, the Lwera issue is a complex one as the Lwera rice scheme is on privately titled land. It’s very different from community rice schemes grown on public land or wetlands”.
Commenting on Museveni’s pronouncements, Eron Kiiza, an environmental lawyer and chief executive officer of the Environment Shield, said, “It is good to talk. Museveni just needs to take his words on environmental protection seriously and ensure that government agencies enforce them. He should also ensure that wetland encroachers do not use their political or military muscle to ignore environmental laws, environmental institutions, and environmental protection directives. The president has done enough talking and issuing orders. It is about time he walked the walk of wetlands protection.”
Asked whether there was a loophole in the environment law being exploited by the encroachers, Kiiza added, “The law is not the problem. Impunity is the problem and the failure of relevant government agencies to enforce the great environmental laws, policies, and executive orders…A culture of impunity, militarism, and corruption in environmental and natural resources governance in Uganda worsens the matters. Environmental laws should be enforced uniformly and strictly.”