Prince Wilson Kachope of Jongoza Village near Kalisizo Town in Rakai District truly loves nature and lives a simple natural life, close to his personal forest of just about one acre. It is a forest he has planted, out of his love for nature and commitment to preserve biodiversity.
“I take care of two other forests but, unlike this one, the other two are natural forests,” he told Daily Monitor during a recent visit to his home. “One forest is called Namagoma in Kalisizo Town Council and it belongs to the late Sarah Ndagire’s family members most of whom live overseas and I have volunteered to protect it on their behalf.
The forest which is about four square kilometres is also the source of water for the entire Kalisizo Town,” he says “the other forest which is about two square kilometres is called Nagalyonja- Botela located close to Kabwoko Catholic Church land. I try my level best with encouragement of its owners, the Ssemakula family, to ensure that it is preserved in its natural form.”
His own forest
He is proud of his own forest at Jongoza which he says has recently acquired the appearance of a natural forest. “Most of the trees, as you can see, are indigenous and are not spaced or arranged in any
special way,” he explains.
“One way to achieve this is not to harvest the fruits of the trees ,but to let the birds and the wild animals feed on them, including fruits like jack fruits. When the ripe fruits are eaten by the birds and wild animals they carry the seeds in their tummies and pass them out as dung whereverthey go where they germinate without following any particular order.
“This also has another aantage in that the birds and the animals go far and wide in different villages passing out the tree seeds in their droppings and cause trees to grow even in areas where people don’t care about tree planting. This is very good for my cause because I want people to plant more and more trees. Another aantage about not harvesting the fruits in a forest is that, when they are ripe, they fall on the ground and their seeds germinate wherever the fruits fall and in no particular order or spacing. In the setting of a natural forest it is a struggle for the fittest. The trees don’t grow in any particular order and they compete for light and soil nutrients.”
The conservationist says he never cuts down any tree in his forest for whatever reason. “I use firewood for cooking and all my neighbours in the village collect firewood from my forest, but it has to be the dry branches that drop off the trees on their own or due to the wind or other natural causes. Nobody is allowed to use an axe or a panga to cut down any tree or any branch of a tree in my forest and the other forests that I take care of. I get very offended if anyone does such a thing.” He is aware that some of his trees and plants are medicinal, but he does not want anybody to ‘harass’ them by peeling off their bark or digging up their roots.
“It is better to use the leaves that fall off the trees as a result of wind.” Kachope, who stays with no wife or children took this writer to one medicinal tree from which the birds peck off some wood dust which has accumulated right at the footof the tree. Not far from it he keeps a table spoon strung on a string that hangs on a small shrub. “A spoonful of this dust taken regularly helps to prevent over forty different illnesses including liver infections,” he says.
Where his love stemmed
The prince’s love for trees and the forest began in the mid-seventies when he was a student at Jamhuri High School in Nairobi, Kenya after fleeing Uganda due to the political instability then under Idd Amin’s
rule. “As a young refugee I lived in Kilereshwa with a relative who worked with the East African Community and I could walk every morning through a well maintained forest to go to Jamhuri High School. I used
to enjoy the atmosphere in the forest and often I wished it was mine.”
Due to the collapse of the East African Community in 1977 his relative lost his job and he could no longer
pay Kachope’s tuition fees and he dropped out of school. He however continued to live in Kenya where he polished his Kiswahili and later became the contact person for environmental news on the Kiswahili programmes of Voice of Germany Radio Deutsche Welle.
“Later,I got under the influence of the Green Belt Movement (GBM)led
by the late Professor Wangari Maathai and made up my mind that one day in my life I would plant my own forest similar to the one I used to walk through in Nairobi on my way to school.”
His engagement with GBM delayed his return to Uganda and he finally got involved in the National Resistance Army external wing activities that brought President Museveni to power. He returned soon after the army took over Kampala.
Ironically, the fifty-five-year-old is the Forum for Democratic Change secretary for Publicity, Information, and Mobilization in Rakai District. He accuses the NRM government of not being strict enough on people encroaching on the wetlands and destroying forests.
“Most village local council committees comprise of people with no idea about environment protection at all,” he
complains. “Our wetlands and forests are fast disappearing and we must reverse this dangerous trend.”
He has two children who live in Kampala with their mother.
His house is almost submerged in a heap of plastic garbage he collects from Namagoma Forest and streets of Kalisizo Town. The garbage includes plastic water bottles, old car tyres, all types of plastic containers, and polythene bags. Nearly all of them are filled with water. The entire compound is fenced off with mosquito nets and sheets of bark cloth.
“Whenever it rains a lot of water flows into Namagoma Forest from a big part of Kalisizo Town carrying with it
garbage that you se,” he explains. “All the mosquito nets that you see all around here, I have picked them from the rubbish that is carried by the run-off water to the forest, which by the way is also the source of water for the town. If I did not pick this garbage which as you realise is plastic or rubber, it is possible that some people would just burn it and further pollute the environment with the fumes that are mainly carbon dioxide which is a global warming gas. I keep them here because I believe one day government will find a way of recycling them and put them to other use. All those that can contain water are filled with water for me to use, especially for watering the tree seedlings in my personal tree nursery.” When the tree seedlings are ready, he donates them to schools and all other people interested in tree planting.
The bark cloth sheets on the fence of his compound carry a special message for him. “For many people it reminds them about death because traditionally here in Buganda when people die they are wrapped in bark
cloth and buried. But I have no fright for that. I use the bark cloth on my bed to sleep on and even when I die it is what I wish to be buried in. No cement should be wasted on my grave since that kind of grave wastes space that would be used for farming and tree growing. The cement used to build graves in this country should in my view be used to construct classrooms and latrines for our village schools.”
To earn a living, Kachope keeps pigs and grows some crops including coffee, cassava, bananas on some two acres which he has reserved for farming.
Not afraid of the wild
By living so close to his forest, is he not afraid of snakes and other such dangerous reptiles and creatures commonly found in forests?
“The snakes and whatever other creatures that you might have in your mind have a right to life just like all of us human beings. The best thing is to let them live and just learn to live with them.”
He has never killed a single snake in his life. As a Rastafarian he believes in peace, love, and perfect happiness which he also wishes all living things.
This prince, as he is referred to since he claims that his grandparents originated from the royal family of Bunyoro Kingdom, seems to have found his kingdom.
SOURCE: Daily Monitor