Govt Starts Evicting Hundreds From Forest

A trading centre that has been cropping up inside Matiri central forest reserve on the Kyenjojo-Kampala highway is no more, after government last week started evicting 434 residents.

This comes two months after the expiry of the eviction deadline set by the Fort Portal High court judge, David Batema. On July 25, Justice Batema dismissed with costs two cases where Patrick Kalubanga and 40 others, and Omuhereza Rwakaboyo and 119 others had sued NFA in 2009.

The complainants were claiming ownership of the forest land neighbouring Mukonomura enclave. However, Justice Batema ordered them to harvest their crops and peacefully move out of the forest land by end of August.

“The activities of the applicantslaintiffs are dangerous to the forest and are causing irreparable damage to NFA and all the citizens of Uganda,” the judge said.

“Matiri has been heavily encroached upon by the plaintiffs and other people… only a small strip of forest remains along the roadside on the Kyenjojo-Kampala highway.”

The eviction was overseen by the Kyenjojo resident district commissioner Isaac Kawonawo, District Police Commander Martin Mbabazi Barahukwa and NFA Executive Director Michael Mugisa.

“We agreed as a team that we need to protect our forest. We carried out massive sensitisation of people to prepare them to leave the forest,” Kawonawo said. “Those with nowhere to go, we have identified land in neighbouring sub-counties of Kihura and Butunduzi where they are residing as they wait for their crops to grow so they can harvest and go.”

Gazetted in 1962 and reconfirmed in 1998 by the Forest Reserves (Declaration) order, Matiri continues to face great challenge from a private piece of mailo land known as Mukonomura enclave, which government failed to buy off at the time the forest was gazetted.

The enclave, measuring 518 hectares, is divided into two plots – with plot 193 belonging to Tooro kingdom and plot 194 to Ms Christine Knops Aliganyira, but formerly registered in the names of Samwiri Rukoma. The land, which has several tenants, acts as a springboard for encroachment on the forest.

Action needed:

While supervising the eviction, Mugisa urged government to help NFA decisively deal with the problem.

“We have suggested to government [that] if resources are available, such pieces of land in the middle of the forest should be purchased in the interest of the country – so that we have one expansive forest where we only manage the external boundaries,” he said.

In his ruling, Justice Batema, who visited the forest, also asked government to buy the enclave.

“The existence of Mukonomura enclave in the middle of the forest reserve and it being along a busy tarmac highway is a great danger to the forest reserve. The enclave harbours wrong elements who encroach on the forest and carry out activities that endanger the forest,” he said.

“The encroachers are able to reside nearer to their gardens or timber and charcoal sites, they easily monitor the movements of forest patrol teams and easily ferry their ill-gotten wealth. The enclave should be bought out so that all the land becomes forest land only.”

According to Batema, the encroachment has been worsened by lack of clear boundaries between the enclave and the forest.

“All mark stones had been removed or destroyed and the plaintiffs failed to show court any old 1962 mark stones they had respected or a 1998 declaration boundary or mark stone which the government surveyor had ignored,” he said.

In 2006, attempts by the district surveyor to survey the area by opening boundaries, ended up giving the enclave an additional 18.441 hectares. This brought the total enclave area to 536.457 hectares. The judge ordered that the forest reserve should be re-surveyed and its boundaries reopened.

Source : The Observer

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