By Gerald Tenywa
The legend in which a Greek war hero, Odysseus, captured the city of Troy using a wooden horse gift is being replayed at Namanve forest reserve.
After hiding some of his troops in the huge wooden horse, Odysseus pretended to sail away, leaving the horse behind.
The Trojan troops fell for his trick, thinking their enemy had given up. They dragged the horse into their city and at night, the enemy troops came out of the horse and opened the Trojan city’s gate for more of Odysseus’ men. And Troy fell.
A proposal to build a sh486b Bukasa inland port, which will connect Uganda to Mwanza and Kisumu, funded by the World Bank, should have been followed by degazetting 1,200 hectares of Namanve forest reserve and compensation of the 75 tree farmers.
This, according to Michael Mugisa, the executive director of the National Forestry Authority (NFA), has been ignored.
Instead of following the law, events have unfolded that have rendered Namanve ungovernable and could cost the Government billions in compensation and damage to the environment.
Currently, part of Namanve or Bukasa forest is allocated to tree planters under licenses running for 25 years, but there are people who hold land titles for similar plots. There is also a group of lawless people who started invading Namanve in 2011 and settled on the same land.
Who is going to benefit from compensation when the Government starts constructing the inland port? Is it the tree farmers, the land title holders, or the invaders who have built houses on the land?
In a dossier presented to Parliament in 2011 by Betty Anywar, the Kitgum Woman MP, the alliance is between greedy businessmen and the political elite, who are mortgaging the natural assets.
She also pointed out that during the surveying of the plots in the reserve, NFA arrested the surveyors and took them to the Police. On December 22, 2010, Balam Mubbala, the secretary of the Uganda Land Commission, wrote to the Kira town council Police commander, saying “the exercise should be done without undue interference,” and asked the DPC to provide security to the surveyors against NFA personnel.”
Anywar explained that lawless groups were agents of politicians and businessmen, who wanted to benefit from Government compensation.
“As private tree growers took on Government for taking over the land for which they held licenses without compensation, lawless elements, mostly army veterans, were moved into the reserve to cut down the trees, remove the stumps and start constructing houses,” Anywar said.
“They set up illegal roadblocks and stopped NFA staff from entering the areas they commanded. They have set up administrative structures whose chair is now selling plots of land in the forest reserve at sh400,000 to sh800,000.”
Anywar accused Maria Mutagamba, the then Minister of Water and Environment, for the chaos in Namanve forest reserve.
In her letter of October 18, 2010, to the then housing minister Michael Werikhe, Mutagamba wrote: “If it is agreeable to you, a formal instrument to excise off this area will be prepared for degazettement.”
Mutagamba, according to Anywar, said the land was unutilised, yet she should have been the first one to know that the Namanve forest land was under the custodianship of NFA, an agency that was then under her docket. At the time, Werikhe and Mutagamba were considering proposals of relocating the urban landless people from Kisenyi, Nakawa-Naguru housing estate and Kawempe to Namanve.
By Matt hias Mugisha
Manna is heavenly and free for all. And for the last three years, manna has been falling in Namanve forest reserve, not from heaven, but from the National Forestry Authority.
Encroachers are making money by taking over the forest reserve, carving out territories, cutting trees and selling both, before they lose the loot to another machete-wielding mob. Unlike manna from heaven, this one, in form of land, is not free. The cost is blood and death.
The politics and military strategies of modern land grabbing in Uganda unfolded on slightly less than one square kilometre of already grabbed land in Bukasa, Kirinya on Tuesday.
Fight over control
Over 100 encroachers, from four factions, all armed with machetes and sticks, sized one another for supremacy and control of the loot.
They came from all corners of the country, with Luganda as the main language. The Bakiga, Lugbara, Bagisu, Baganda and Baruli all spoke one language — Luganda.
“Territories are built on top of corpses,’’ a pangawielding youth, called Sula Masaba, who hails from Mbale, shouted. “We want to annex plots and become landlords.” Sula and his group number about 10.
The biggest force was that of veterans, who had come to demand their pay in kind (land) from the farmers and brick-makers (abarombe). The farmers and abarombe were the first people to encroach on the contested land. Their immediate neighbor is a man called Tenda Twaha, who, also through his means, acquired big chunks of forest land.
About two weeks ago, the farmers and abarombe attempted to annex part of Twaha’s land. It was a miscalculation. Using a private army, Twaha repulsed the invaders.
The invaders hired veterans as mercenaries. After one week of fighting, where four people were seriously cut, the alliance of farmers, barombe and veterans conquered Twaha and annexed part of his land.
The alliance, however, collapsed when the veterans demanded the land captured as their compensation for a mission well executed. When the farmers and barombe refused to relinquish the land, the veterans, numbering about 70, commanded by one Lt. Stephen Mugume, came to evict them last Tuesday.
Masaba and his group came with machetes concealed in jackets to surprise the warring factions and claim victory. Their strategy was to first let the warring factions wear themselves out and then strike.
Nobody knew Masaba’s deadly intentions. When war plans were being perfected, somebody brought an exercise book to write down those who wanted land. Everybody around, including passersby, qualified to own land. Some of the passersby, including women, armed themselves with sticks in anticipation of a fight, before they could truly become land owners.
It was not clear who their enemy would be once the battle commenced. This writer was also promised land as long as he would be around after victory.
Confronted with such an overwhelming enemy force, the farmers and barombe tricked the veterans that they had agreed to their demands and went to demarcate the land as one of them called the Police.
Abbey Ngwire, the OC of Bukasa, accompanied by his Kirinya counterpart, Jane Acan, came and asked why the veterans were attacking.
“We want our pay,’’ one of them, who could not be identified, replied. Asked why they wanted to be paid, the unidentified veteran said: “We fought.”
“We are looking for the suspects who cut four people here last week,” the Police said. With heads bowed, the veterans started retreating in fear, before the order to disperse was issued.
They were followed by Masaba’s disappointed ‘hit squad.’