“We have Rwandans settled in the reserves and, unfortunately, some village chairpersons have given them letters to settle in the area."
PIC: Kanyamanza and his wife in front of their make-shift home in Gurama Forest Reserve in Kakumiro district. He said he bought the land from the village chairperson. (Credit: Ismael Kasooha)
KAGADI - Security officials in the districts of Kagadi, Kakumiro and Kibaale have reported that over 70% of the new forest reserve encroachers are from Rwanda.
Samuel Kisembo, the Kibaale resident district commissioner, said most of the people who are now in the reserves cannot even speak any local languages in Uganda.
"They only speak Kinyarwanda and Kiswahili."
Kisembo said some village chairpersons have gone ahead to issue letters to allow them to settle in their areas, without any valid document from the migration department.
"We have Rwandans settled in the reserves and, unfortunately, some village chairpersons have given them letters to settle in the area," said Kisembo.
He said the Rwandans are ferried in buses from Kabale to Kagadi on a daily basis, without any travel documents and end up in the forest reserves.
Salim Komakech, the Kagadi resident district commissioner, said the influx of Rwandans into the forests is a serious security threat.
He blamed the illegal encroachment on the laxity of the National Forestry Authority (NFA) to play their role of protecting the reserves.
"Some NFA officials are conniving to let Rwandans settle in the forest reserves for personal financial gains. This makes our work difficult," Komakech said.
He said the Rwandans enter the country through Kisoro sometimes, even without travel documents. Komakech said the porous border is making work even more difficult for them to prevent the encroachers because people move freely from Rwanda to Uganda, without any hindrance.
"I have tried to get in touch with my counterpart in Kisoro, to have this issue addressed, but the migration department in the internal affairs ministry has not helped us," Komakech said.
He said some Rwandans are arrested and charged over illegal entry, but are not repatriated. Komakech said they might be presenting as encroachers on the forest reserves, yet they have other hidden motives that could jeopardise national security.
Boaz Basigirenda, the NFA sector manager in Kagadi district, said the Rwandans are settled in the reserves, but are hostile and claim that they are well-protected. "The encroachers have contacts of people in these areas and when they come, they go directly to them," Basigirenda said.
He said most of them come to offer cheap labour in the forest reserves, but end up acquiring pieces of land in the same reserves. The most affected forest reserves are Kagombe, Nyabiku and Guramwa.
The Kanyamanza's Rwandan national identity cards
Basigirenda said some forest reserves where encroachers were evicted are regenerating and there is hope that they will be restored to their original status.
There are reports that encroachers clear the forest reserves at night and, by morning, the forests are no more.
Stephane Kanyamanza, one of the Rwandans in Guramwa forest reserve in Nkooko sub-county, Kakumiro district, said he came to the area looking for land to buy and the area chairperson sold to him the land where he is now settled, together with his family.
Kanyamanza, who could hardly speak the local language in the region, said he bought the land where he currently lives, unaware that it was a forest reserve.
Paul Mulindwa, the executive director of Kibaale district civil society organisations network (KCSON), said they are organising a multi-stakeholder engagement to ensure that forests are protected from encroachment.
"We want to engage all players in the forest sector so that we make concerted efforts to protect and preserve the forests in our region," Mulindwa said.
He said they are working in collaboration with the World Wide Fund for Nature to ensure that natural resources, such as forests and wetlands, are protected and conserved.
WHY THE ENCROACHMENT