Prof. Bukenya is in Battle to Save Kitubulu Central Forest Reserve

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The Senior Presidential Adviser on environmental matters, Prof. Gilbert Balibaseka Bukenya, has ordered the Ministry of Lands, Housing, and Urban Development, together with the National Forestry Authority (NFA), to cancel six land titles that were created on the contentious Kitubulu Central Forest Reserve by unscrupulous government officials.

The six land titles for cancellation belong to Megah Industries Uganda Ltd. on Plots 11, 13, 17, 23-25, along Kibira Road; Deborah Mbabazi on Plot 18 along Katonga Road; David Hood Mpigi along plots 7 and 8 along Mirza Road; and Mulkin Enterprises Ltd along plot 6 Miria Road.

Prof. Bukenya, who toured the encroached areas of Kitubulu Forest Reserve, directed the Lands Ministry to conduct an expeditious search on the land titles before deleting them from the system.

Bukenya also tasked NFA’s legal department with providing him with true information regarding the illegal land titles, which he said would be presented to President Museveni.

“I want to know who issued the illegal land titles in Wakiso district and who endorsed them in the Lands Ministry so that we can say, ‘Why are you destroying our country?’ I have noticed the desire to withhold information, particularly from field workers. We discovered three plots inside the forest that were well demarcated and marked,’” he added.

“More land titles have been issued on Kitubulu Central Forest Reserve, and we keep wondering who is issuing land titles to encroachers? I see the government suing itself because encroachers sue NFA using land titles issued by the Ministry of Lands. This anomaly must stop. I will strongly recommend to the president of Uganda that he sues those issuing illegal land titles for corruption. This is absolute corruption, which must be dealt with,” said Bukenya.

“I will also take legal action against those who mine sand in the swamp on the side of Kitubulu Central Forest Reserve. We need to rehabilitate the degraded swamp area,” the former Vice President observed.

About the Kitubulu Central Forest Reserve

Kitubulu Central Forest Reserve is a protected area located in Uganda, near the city of Entebbe in Central Uganda.

Covering an area of 80 hectares, it is an important forest ecosystem that is home to a diverse range of flora and fauna.

The reserve is categorized as a Category IV protected area by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), indicating its significance for the preservation of biological diversity and the protection of ecosystems.

The forest is under management of National Forestry Authority under the National Forest and Tree Planting Act. The forest reserve was gazetted in 1932 to protect Lake Victoria and the environment.

Despite its designation as a forest reserve by the government, the Kitubulu Central Forest Reserve has faced alarming levels of environmental degradation due to human encroachment.

Activities such as unmonitored farming, logging, and mining have had a detrimental impact on the ecosystem within the forest reserve.

Prof. Bukenya has also directed the NFA to lease part of the forest reserve to local investors to plant indegenous trees like Maisopsis eminii (musizi) other than eucalyptus trees, which release a lot of carbon into the atmosphere.

“We need to plant more indigenous trees because they are climate-friendly,” said Bukenya.

The acting Director of Environment Affairs at the Ministry of Water and Environment, Stephen David Mugabi, admitted that his office is overwhelmed with issues of illegal encroachers on government forest reserves and that several restoration orders have been issued to the encroaches in vain.

“It’s true there are challenging issues regarding the forest reserve. As the ministry of water and environment, we are trying to follow up to find out why the abusers of restoration orders don’t comply with them. There is a clear law not to degazate any government forest, but this has been violated repeatedly.

“We have a program called Running Out of Trees with a target to plant 40 million trees annually. The National Forestry Authority is a big contributor to this program,” Mr. Mugabi revealed.

Big government officials

The Executive Director of the National Forestry Authority (NFA), Mr.Tom Okello, revealed that issues of encroaching on government forest reserves are more rampant in the districts of Wakiso, Mpigi, Jinja, and Mbarara and appealed to locals to report perpetrators attempting to encroach on government forest land.

“I received a concern from the Entebbe Municipality Legislator that the Kitubulu Central Forest Reserve was being taken away. We swiftly swiveled in, and we discovered six illegal land titles were created by the Ministry of Lands through its zonal office in Wakiso district. The biggest land title has 125 acres in the name of a company called Triple Sound Investment Ltd. It’s on this basis that we wrote to the Ministry of Lands to cancel all the land titles that were created within the Kitubulu Central Forest Reserve,” said Okello.

“We have realized the encroachers are not on the ground but basically create land titles by conducting a basic survey. As we move towards Easter holidays, people utilize this holiday to dump a lot of murram in the swamps, plant mature grass, and the next day a land title is issued on the same wetland,” he added.

“The issue of sand mining around the disputed forest reserve is a big one. We have discovered there are local sand miners who come at night with spades, load two or three trips, and then run away for fear of being arrested,” Okello observed.

“I want to make it clear that the National Forestry Authority (NFA) does not cancel land titles but just recommends cancellation to the relevant authorities, like the Ministry of Lands, which in turn summons the claimant for a public hearing to explain why their titles shouldn’t be cancelled,” he noted.

“The Land Act, under Section 44, says local governments can’t title any part of a forest reserve, a wetland, or a national park. The fact that it’s in a forest reserve means it’s not available for titling, and whoever does it does it illegally,” Okello explained.

The Entebbe Municipality Legislator, Michael Kakembo Mbwatekamwa, said the battle to protect and conserve the Kitubulu Central Forest Reserve started 20 years ago, saying most of the encroachers are big people in government and admitting that it’s hard to fight them. He, however, asked the National Forestry Authority to involve locals in their attempt to fight forest encroachers.

“We need to involve the locals because they have a lot of information regarding the encroachers. We also need to reafforest the degraded forest land. Let’s work together with civil society organizations to achieve this. As leaders, we can do our best to mobilize the community to plant more trees. These trees are very important in our community because they act as wind breakers. Kitubulu Central Forest Reserve must be restored, and we are ready for the restoration program,” Hon. Kakembo pledged.

“On the issue of waste management, there is a need to change the mindset of Ugandans to be able to deal with it. To make matters worse, the shores of Lake Victoria have also been encroached on, and this really shows that we are seated on a time bomb,” Hon. Kakembo noted.

The Entebbe Division Police (DPC) commander, SSP Kenneth Muheirwe, informed Prof. Bukenya that recently police arrested people who were mining sand on one of the sides of Kitubulu Central Forest Reserve, and the suspects were arraigned in court.

The Assistant Commissioner for Forestry at the Ministry of Water and Environment, Bob Kazungu, concurred with Prof.Gilbert Bukenya on the issue of planting indigenous trees, saying they greatly help to address the adverse effects of climate change.

The Entebbe municipal council town clerk, Emmanuel Gakyaro Mugisha, welcomed Prof. Bukenya’s intervention to save Kitubulu Central Forest Reserve from encroachers, arguing that this would help to alleviate issues related to climate concerns in the area.

Hajji Hussein Kavuma, the director of Hijja and Umra in Entebbe Municipality, who also owns land at the disputed Kitubulu Central Forest Reserve, said it’s good that Prof. Bukenya has visited the ground, and he is hopeful that action will be taken against illegal land occupants.

Kitubulu Central Forest Reserve is about 200 acres and is one of the four remnants of lowland areas near Lake Victoria that help filter water pollutants and silt that threaten the lake. In 2013, the NFA sanctioned a private investor to cut down trees, claiming they had become old and were in danger to the adjacent communities. Trees were harvested, but there was no reafforestation done.

In 2018, part of the forest was fenced off by a private developer, who later constructed cottages and lodges. In 2022, NFA cleared the UPDF Fisheries Protection Unit (FPU) to occupy part of the disputed forest reserve.

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