Families petition land probe team over pending evictions

Thursday September 13 2018

Justice Catherine Bamugemereire-led Commission

Justice Catherine Bamugemereire-led Commission of Inquiry into Land Matters. FILE PHOTO 

By DAN WANDERA

Luweero. About 520 residents occupying Mbale Central Forest Reserve in Luweero District have petitioned Justice Catherine Bamugemereire-led Commission of Inquiry into Land Matters over the pending eviction by National Forestry Authority (NFA).
Mbale Forest Reserve is approximately 1,208 hectares. It was gazetted in 1967 as a central forest reserve land, but was reportedly taken over by people who never sought permission from the NFA as required under the NFA Act.
The residents who claim to have occupied the forest land more than 40 years ago, said it would be unfair to evict them without compensating them.

Residents arrested
“We have been arrested and detained at Luweero Central Police Station for trespassing on land belonging to NFA. Our parents have occupied this land for many years. Interestingly, we even paid Busuulu (nominal grant rent) to the Buganda Land Board (BLB) thinking this land belongs to Buganda. We appeal to the Justice Bamugemereire’s land probe commission to come to our rescue because NFA has finalised plans to forcefully evict us without any compensation,” Mr Silver Kayanja, one of the affected residents, said on Tuesday.
Mr William Makumbi, another affected resident, said they had been denied the opportunity to prepare their gardens in preparation for the next planting season.
“We do not contest the fact that the land belongs to government, but seek compensation in case NFA has decided to repossess this land. Many people evicted from the different forest areas in Uganda have been compensated before eviction. We have no land where to relocate our respective families,” he said.

Mr Denis Bugaya, the BLB legal and public relations officer, could not be reached for comment as our repeated calls to his known telephone numbers went unanswered by press time.
The Luweero District chairperson, Mr Ronald Ndawula, in an interview with this newspaper yesterday, accused NFA officials of hurriedly announcing the eviction without involving local leaders.
“The proposed eviction is not in good faith because we expected NFA to hold consultative meetings with both the district leaders and the affected residents before the eviction is carried out,” he said.

“I believe these residents have a right to seek compensation from government and NFA before they are evicted since they have been on that land for more than 40 years. We need dialogue and possibly ensure that they vacate peacefully after harvesting their crops,” Mr Ndawula added.
Mr Jimmy Owona, the enforcement officer at NFA, who last week addressed affected residents in the company of riot police personnel, said yesterday that the encroachers are supposed to vacate the forest reserve land to allow NFA restore the depleted forest.
“We have held numerous meetings with those residents and they are already aware that they are occupying NFA land,” Mr Owona said.

Background
Encroachment. NFA has in the past three years been fighting encroachers who they claim frustrate their plans to re-survey forest boundaries and mark them with permanent pillars to stop forest degradation.
According to the Environment ministry, there are approximately 1.2m hectares of gazetted forest reserves managed by NFA, but 30 per cent of these are degraded.
Degradation. The 2016 Joint Water and Environment Sector Review Report revealed that Uganda’s forest cover had reduced from 24 per cent in 1990 to just 11 per cent in 2015.

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