By witnessradio.org Team
Kampala – Uganda Human Rights lawyer Nicholas Opiyo has been granted bail pending trial in regard to accusations of money laundering.
Justice Jane Okuo of the Anti-corruption Court has on December, 30th, 2020 ordered for the release of Mr. Opiyo on bail but ordered him to deposit cash of Shs15m in the bank.
The court also ordered Mr. Opiyo to deposit his passport in court to restrict his movements out of the country and each of the four sureties were bonded at Shs100m, not cash.
Justice Okuo ruled that Mr. Opiyo has a legal right to bail based on the presumption of innocence.
His lawyers, David Mpanga, Robert Mackay, and Elison Karuhanga argued that Mr. Opiyo is a lawyer in courts of law, a human rights international award winner with substantial sureties.
They said that Mr. Opiyo knows his obligations to bail.
Mr. Opiyo appeared before the High Court judge by way of a video conference at Buganda Road, hardly a week after a lower court remanded him until January 11, next year.
Mr. Opiyo, the executive director of Chapter Four Uganda was arrested last week from a city restaurant and detained at the Special Investigations Unit (SIU) Kireka. He was charged with money laundering, a charge that can only be heard by the High Court judge.
Mr. Opiyo was abducted alongside two members of Witness Radio – Uganda legal team Esomu Simon Peter Obure and Anthony Odur. Others were Herbert Dakasi and Hamid Tenywa who were later granted a police bond on December, 24th, 2020.
The prosecution alleges that Mr. Opiyo on October 8, 2020, at ABSA Bank Garden City Branch, in Kampala District acquired $340,000 (about Shs1.2 billion) through ABSA Bank account No.6004078045 in the names of Chapter Four Uganda, knowing at the time of receipt that the said funds were proceeds of crime.
Opiyo is the lawyer representing two NGOs including the Uganda National NGO Forum and Uganda Women’s Network whose accounts were recently frozen by the Financial Intelligence Authority over alleged involvement in moving money to finance terrorism activities.
Ugandan communities battle to benefit from mining on their land
Conservationists want Bugoma Forest made national park
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.”
Museveni barks but Chinese refuse to leave wetlands.
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.”
Source: The Observer
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