Africa Institute for Energy Governance (AFIEGO) is an Uganda company undertaking public policy research and advocacy to influence energy policies to benefit the poor and vulnerable.
Since August 2020, when mechanical graders roared to life as part of a controversial sugarcane development project, residents and civil society groups under the Save Bugoma Forest campaign have been waging an uphill legal battle.
The arrest came after a ruling by the Uganda High Court Civil Division Musa Sekana in September 2021.
After the ruling in favor of the Kingdom to lease part of the forest after the AFIEGO and Water and Environment Network (WEMNET) had filed a case against National Environment Management Agency (NEMA) for approving an environmental and social impact assessment (ESIA) report.
The report was falsely presented by Hoima Sugar Limited claiming that the reserve they wanted to use for sugar production was in a degraded grassland and not affecting the boundaries of the forest. It was claimed to be adjacent to Bugoma forest despite satellite imagery showing the contrary.
The Bugoma Forest is a protected tropical forest that is situated southwest of Hoima and northeast of Kyenjojo towns, and east of Lake Albert, in the Hoima district of western Uganda. It was gazetted in the 1930s and came under the mandate of the National Forestry Authority in 2003.
On 1st August 2016, Uganda Land Commission issued a Land Title for 5,779 hectares (22 Square Miles) to the Kingdom of Bunyoro Kitarawhich
The land was leased immediately to Hoima Sugar. In May 2019, Masindi District High Court Judge, Wilson Masalu relied on testimony by the Commissioner of Lands and Mappings, Wilson Ogalo in a trial against the National Forestry Authority (NFA) that
The judge ruled based on the testimony, the 5,779 hectares of Bugoma Forest Reserve were to be considered located outside the forest.
Therefore it was ruled the land in dispute belonged to Omukama (King of Bunyoro). This ruling opened a free hand to the kingdom to lease the land to Hoima Sugar.
Commissioners Ogalos’s scheme is characteristic following his denial during a similar investigation on the destruction of Kisankobe Forest in the Mukono district in October 2020.
Led by Kamgusha, the #SaveBugomaForest campaign eventually reached the Rt. Honorable Speaker of Uganda Parliament Jacob L’Okori Oulanyah Chambers on Thursday 9th September 2021.
Communities living around Bugoma forest called for the conservation of the forest
They also want Parliament to discuss a motion on saving the forest. The motion has been on the order paper since September 28, 2021.
A petition was submitted in a bid to stop the destruction of Bugoma Central Forest Reserve.
The petition was signed by over 20, 000 people residing in the 30+ villages in the districts of Kikuube and Hoima.
These districts are home to the threatened forest. Species in the forest include Uganda Mangabey, Chimpanzees, and birdlife.
The petition demanded to immediately stop the ongoing destruction of the Bugoma forest and save the livelihoods of local communities and conserve Uganda’s natural heritage.
The Speaker committed the matter to a parliamentary committee on the environment.
The petition was also backed by other civil society organizations including Africa Institute for Energy Governance (AFIEGO), Water and environment, Media Network (WEMNET), Chimpanzee Sanctuary and Wildlife Conservation Trust, National Association of Professional Environmentalists (NAPE), ECOTRUST, Uganda Tourism Association, Association of Uganda Tour Operators (AUTO) Association for the Conservation of Bugoma Forest and Tree Talk Plus.
Between August and September, a forest elephant and two chimpanzees have been found dead in the forest precincts of the forest as a result of this human-wildlife conflict as the animals get dislodged dehydrated while the forest was forcing them to look for food in gardens belonging to adjacent communities.
Since the clearing of the forest began, vexed chimpanzees and herds of fleeing wildlife have attacked villagers in surrounding areas and raided their crops.
AFIEGO has also been under immense pressure due to defending oil-affected communities’ rights in the Hoima district. Ironically they are also defended by the Bunyoro Kitara Kingdom.
In September 2020, Venex Watebawa and Joshua Mutale, WEMNET journalists were arrested in Hoima on their way to attend a radio talk show at Spice FM.
The Uganda police attempted to block the#savebugomaforest campaign.
AFIEGO’s purge is the latest in a string of arrests since in August 2020, several Non-Governmental Organisations were involved in human rights work, people affected by a crude oil production project and the environment had their activities halted after they had rubbed the government in the wrong way.
The Resident District Commissioner Kikube Amian Tumusiime is in agreement as he has accused some central government agencies and the Bunyoro Kitara Kingdom of corruption over failure to open the boundaries of Bugoma Forest when responding to concerns in by communities conservation discussions organized by an Anti-Corruption Coalition.