Thursday, July 2, 2020

Press release: launch of Save Bugoma Forest Campaign 2020, "Forest Life Matters"


June 26, 2020
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Kampala, Uganda
CSOS & TOURISM ACTORS CALL FOR AN END TO BUGOMA FOREST DESTRUCTION BY LAND GRABBERS, LAUNCH THE INITIATIVE “FOREST LIFE MATTERS”
Press Conference 26 June 2020
The civil society organizations (CSOs) and tourism associations listed below met today to launch the initiative “FOREST LIFE MATTERS”. The CSOs and associations are working under the coalition, Save Bugoma Forest Campaign 2020.
The objective of the FOREST LIFE MATTERS initiative is to strongly object against the current attempt to destroy Bugoma forest by land grabbers for sugarcane growing, other destructive projects and to remind stakeholders that Bugoma is an important ancient tropical rainforest with ecological, climatological and socio-economic importance. Notably, the forest is a sanctuary for chimpanzees, an endangered species.
Despite the above, two companies, namely Hoima Sugar Ltd and MZ Agencies, are in the process of cutting down over 10,000 hectares of the forest for sugarcane growing.

On March 10, 2020, MZ Agencies obtained a court order to chase away National Forestry Authority (NFA) and UPDF soldiers that were guarding Bugoma Forest. The NFA and UPDF were protecting the forest from being destroyed for sugarcane growing and other land grabbers. On May 14, 2020, all security personnel guarding Plot 115 Nyangabi and Plot 105 Nyaigugu, which make up part of Bugoma forest (Nkwaki South sector), left. Consequently, up to 100 MZ Agencies workers started cutting down over 2,000 hectares of Bugoma forest. This happened even before determination of the main case that NFA filed to prevent destruction of the forest in the High Court.

Before this, on December 3, 2019, Hoima Sugar Ltd and Bunyoro Kitara Kingdom got a favorable ruling from the Masindi High court ordering NFA and her agents to stop guarding the contested part of the forest (Muhangaizima sector of Bugoma) for Hoima Sugar to use the said land as it wishes. In the appeal, NFA requested that the status quo of maintaining Bugoma as a forest is preserved. However, the judge ruled that the applicant, NFA, failed to prove that there is a threat to the status quo but NFA’s prayer was rejected in favor of Hoima Sugar to cut down the forest.
Today, Hoima Sugar Ltd has approved Terms of Reference (ToR) from NEMA and is in the final stages of an Environmental and Social Impact Assessment (ESIA) process that may pave way for a certificate of approval from NEMA to commence destruction of Bugoma forest. There is no reason why NEMA, the country’s overall environmental regulator is processing tools to allow land grabbers to destroy a central forest reserve at a time when the project land is still being contested in court. Why NEMA is not working with NFA to defend and protect the national forest remains a big question.
Converting Bugoma forest into a sugarcane plantation among other land uses that are not compatible with forest conservation is not only illegal but is also a danger to the environment and to humanity. The CSOs and tourism associations that are launching the FOREST LIFE MATTERS initiative today are calling upon government and the land grabbers including the above companies to stop the destruction of Bugoma forest. We are also making the following demands:
Mr. Dickens Kamugisha, Spokesperson
1.      Land grabbers remain a threat to Bugoma forest amidst ongoing court cases:  It is sad that threats to Bugoma forest have continued to increase at a time when there are cases in court. In 2019 cases against Bunyoro Kitara Kingdom and Hoima Sugar Ltd were being fought. Today, MZ Agencies has also emerged to destroy Bugoma forest. Yet government has said that the lease title given to Hoima Sugar in 2016 was cancelled. Why did court reject NFA’s prayer to maintain the status quo of the forest until the main case was determined?  Unfortunately, despite the case in court, Hoima Sugar Ltd continues to claim ownership of 8,000 acres of Bugoma forest and are holding a court allowing them to use the contested land even before final determination of the main appeal. We request that the status quo is maintained until final judgements are made.

2.      Investigate court rulings which were given in favour of land grabbers and cancel all the illegal titles: the NFA and government have continued to lose court cases against land grabbers who are determined to destroy Bugoma forest. As was earlier noted, NFA has lost cases to Bunyoro Kingdom, Hoima Sugar Ltd and MZ Agencies. This is unfortunate. Government should investigate the Bugoma forest court processes to ensure that the court losses are not as a result of corruption where some court officials may connive against NFA. Moreover, too many actors, including cabinet ministers and judges, seem to have forgotten that Bugoma forest, with an area of 41,144 hectares, was gazetted by the Parliament of Uganda under Statutory Instrument No. 63 of 1998.  The Parliament of Uganda has never changed this gazettement, therefore all the titles are illegal and must be cancelled.

3.      Investigate and prosecute all government officials who processed the land titles in parts of Bugoma forest: Bugoma forest is part of a long list of protected areas for which land titles have been processed by the lands office under the Ministry of Lands and the Uganda Land Commission. The titles have been issued to private investors. These illegal actions are being facilitated by corruption in government offices. It is necessary that the perpetrators of these illegal actions are prosecuted and if found guilty, be punished.

4.      Enable public access to cadastral maps of the boundaries of Bugoma:  The NFA and government should immediately make public all the relevant cadastral maps regarding the boundaries of Bugoma forest and its catchment areas.  Under Article 41 of the 1995 Uganda Constitution, citizens have a right of access to information including information on protected areas such as Bugoma forest. The maps will help citizens determine the boundaries of Bugoma forest, which are under dispute for easy protection.

5.      NEMA’s approval of  Hoima Sugar Ltd’s ESIA ToR is in bad faith: Further, while NFA is in court fighting land grabbers who have taken over Bugoma forest, NEMA, a government agency charged with regulating and promoting environmental conservation efforts, is going ahead to process Hoima Sugar’s ToR and ESIA applications. The role being played by NEMA is more of a political one as opposed to the technical role that the authority should play. This is unacceptable. Government agencies must work together to promote conservation.

6.      Publicize ministerial and parliamentary reports on Bugoma forest: For the last five or so years, both government and parliament have either failed or ignored to release the investigation reports regarding claims of land ownership of Bugoma forest by Bunyoro Kingdom. Government should publicize these reports to enable the public understand the progress made to stop destruction of Bugoma forest. The reports are also important for the cases in court.

7.      Operationalize draft ESIA regulations to guard against illegal projects: The Ministry of Water and Environment (MWE) should urgently consult the public, complete and operationalize the 2019 draft ESIA regulations. The new regulations should provide against commencement of any ESIA process for a project that is subject to court proceedings and/or is being investigated by government and surrounding communities have not been consulted and consented.

8.      Government should give Bugoma forest a chance to develop its full potential for eco-tourism and conservation-related activities. Currently all licenses, permits, Memoranda of Understanding (MOUs) and contracts for Bugoma forest are on hold pending all the cases in court. This has greatly damaged private sector investments in eco-tourism, accommodation and other activities aimed at increasing tourism in Bugoma forest. The activities started in Bugoma only in 2018 with introduction of nature walks and need to be strengthened, not weakened. The ecofriendly private project developers in Bugoma forest need to be reassured of the rule of law and about the fact that Bugoma is and will remain a tropical rainforest of high biodiversity importance. The forest should not be degraded for sugarcane plantations. It should be noted that currently, Uganda earns over $1.6 billion in revenues from tourism per year. Destroying Bugoma forest will lead to loss of these revenues at the expense of Ugandans, especially local communities.
 
From right: Benedict Ntale, Joshua Rukundo, David Kureeba, Aggrey Malinga, Venex Watebawa, Cynthia Nantumbwe, Joshua Mutale, Dickens Kamugisha.
9.      The people of Kikuube district, local leaders, smallholder farmers and other businesses in the area of Bugoma are tired of years of uncertainty of their landscape and their environment. People are tired of seeing the arrogance of land grabbers that want to make them victims and impoverished on their own land. For many years, the communities have suffered intimidation, attacks and evictions of smallholder farmers. The land grabbers are using sensitization meetings held at community level to tell lies to communities about how sugarcane development will benefit communities and yet we know it is a curse. We demand an end of abuse of community rights.

10.  Oil activities attracting more land grabbers: It is clear that the new oil sector in the Albertine Graben that has led to construction of roads and other facilities in and around protected areas including forests, national parks and reserves, wetlands, around lakes and rivers, etc are a major cause attracting all politically, economically and corrupt people to acquire titles and destroy protected areas. This is what is called the oil curse and it is sad that it has started in Uganda even before commencement of oil exploitation.

11.  Government should use its land acquisition powers under Article 26 of the Constitution to save Bugoma forest and its catchment areas from land grabbers. Considering the importance of Bugoma forest, we call upon government to use its compulsory land acquisition powers to save Bugoma forest. This should be done as a last resort after all other options including cancelling the land titles in Bugoma forest have been exploited. However, the practice of compensating people who illegally acquire titles over Bugoma forest and other protected areas should be discouraged as it will worsen corruption and destruction of environment in Uganda.

12.  Once again, we would like to reiterate that FOREST LIFE MATTERS and we call on every citizen to stand up and protect Bugoma forest from destruction.                                                  
ENDS

#SaveBugomaForest
#ForestLifeMatters

For more information, contact:

·        Dickens Kamugisha – Tel: 0782407085
·        Benedict Ntale – Tel: 0772151904
E-mail: bugomacampaign@gmail.com

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