By Paul Watala
The Police in Mbale fired bullets in the air to disperse a group of rice growers in Namatala wetland that attempted to lynch the State minister for Environment, Flavia Nabugere Munaba.
The minister, officials from the water ministry and leaders from Budaka, Bududa, Butaleja, Kibuku, Manafwa, Mbale, Pallisa and Tororo districts were on a tour of the wetland.
The wetland, which is shared by the eight districts is used for economic activities such as rice growing.
Trouble started when the residents mainly from Kibiniko and Khamoto villages in Bungokho sub-county expressed concern over the minister’s convoy, after it made a stopover at the wetland.
The residents sought an explanation from the Bungokho LC3 chairperson, Ahmed Washaki, about the motive of the abrupt visit, but he reportedly ignored them.
They then started raising the alarm, alerting their colleagues, who were tending their rice gardens. In less than 10 minutes, the rowdy group confronted the officials. Some of the residents shed tears, while others undressed and threatened to beat up the officials.
This prompted the minister and the other officials to flee.
Amidst the confusion, the residents roughed up Washaki who they accused of betraying them by agreeing to sell off their only source of livelihood.
“How can you start touring our land without letting us know? Time has come for you to kill us. You can shoot all of us, so that you take the wetland,” they said.
Efforts by the local leaders to calm the situation were in vain. This prompted the Elgon region Police commander, Jacob Opolot, to order the Police to shoot in the air to disperse the residents, as the terrified minister was whisked away into her official car.
The Police fired bullets in the air for about five minutes as the residents responded by throwing stones and charged towards the cars.
The residents later withdrew, but laid an ambush along the way, where they threw stones at the minister’s convoy, damaging her car and injuring a few people, including a Uganda Radio Network Journalist, Denis Olaka.
The minister’s convoy then used the Masanda-Musoto road back to the Bungokho sub-county headquarters.
Opolot said the minister and district leaders were uninjured, adding that the Police had started hunting for the authors of the mischief, to bring them to book. Munaba, Japanese officials and local leaders had earlier in the day held a meeting at Bungokho sub-county grounds.