Protest as private developer takes over Masaka eco-tourism site

A watchtower at Masaka Ecotourism site where tourists used to stand to watch birds and animals in Nabajjuzi swamp covered by overgrown trees on October 26,2021. PHOTO/ AL MAHDI SSENKABIRWA

What you need to know:

  •  Ms Pauline Nabadda, the Masaka City environment officer said Nature Uganda had left the site to rot without making any repairs.

Conservationists in Masaka sub region have protested a move by a private developer to takeover Masaka eco-tourism site in Masaka City.

The site located at Kijabwemi along Masaka-Mbarara Highway is adjacent Nabajjuzi Ramsar site which provides a spawning ground for mudfish and lungfish and is also home for other unique animals and birds like sitatunga, the endangered shoebill and papyrus yellow warbler, among others.
Recently, a private developer ordered Nature Uganda, the organisation which has over the years been managing the site, to remove its properties including binoculars, telescopes and guidebooks and other items.

 “I really don’t know what he [developer] plans to put there, but he called recently and ordered me to remove our property. It is unfortunate that such an important site which is promoting tourism of the area can be given away to a private developer,” Mr Achilles Byaruhanga , the executive director Nature Uganda, said.  
The site was established by Nature Uganda in 2004 and has a tower which tourists use to watch birds and animals in the Nabajjuzi Ramzar site.

Before the first lockdown was announced in March 2020, tourists used to flock the site almost daily, to watch birds, but the site currently houses tree nurseries.
Mr Byaruhanga said the private developer could have taken advantage of the first and second lockdown when tourists were not coming into the country, to take possession of the site.
He said the move will affect the implementation of a community-based management plan for Nabajjuzi Wetland system which Nature Uganda had embarked on.
“Nabajjuzi is listed as a an important bird area and we had already started promoting  eco-tourism, tree planting and wetland edge gardening to conserve the entire wetland,” Mr Byaruhanga said.

Ms Prossy Kabanda, the spokesperson Biodiversity Conservation Foundation (BCF), a local environmental rights advocacy organisation, said they doubt the private developer’s capacity to protect the ecosystem of the area as Nature Uganda has been doing.
“Some people come up with plans, but alter them when it comes to implementation, Nabajjuzi is a Ramsar site and we fear that that the private developer may end up destroying it,” She said
Ms Elizabeth Nabankema, one of the women who used to sell   handmade crafts to tourists at the eco-tourism site, said they no longer make money because tourists don’t visit the site.

”We were forced to abandon that place because we could no longer sell our products like mats, beads and baskets. We are now mobile and sometimes spend a week without selling a single item,” She said
According to Masaka City Mayor, Ms Florence Namayanja, the land being claimed by the private developer is among the city properties being investigated.
“That land is among the many pieces of land in Masaka whose ownership is contested and the only solution is to conduct a land audit which we are already pushing for," she said. 

 Ms Pauline Nabadda, the Masaka City environment officer, said the disputed land is privately owned by businessman, Mr Andy Kamugisha who plans to set up a leisure park in accordance with environment protocols.
“It is true the closure of the site impacted negatively on the incomes of artisans who were earning from selling handmade craft items to tourists, but the owner of the land has promised to review it and make it more attractive,” she said.
She said Nature Uganda had left the site to rot without making any repairs.

 “The wooden watchtower is currently dilapidated and covered by overgrown trees. For the last 10 years Nature Uganda has been in charge of that site, they have failed to refurbish it,” she said.
When contacted, Mr Kamugisha said he is sensitive about the environment and his project will not in any way affect the adjacent Nabajjuzi Ramsar site.
“I personally love nature and tourism and the project I plan to put there will be environment friendly,” he said by telephone yesterday.

However, Mr Kamugisha declined to explain how he acquired the land which measures approximately an acre.
Nabajjuzi wetland is currently facing increasing pollution from some adjacent factories which may lead to biodiversity loss and also affect the general ecological functionality of the wetland. The wetland is also Masaka City’s main piped water source.

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