NFA, Bunyoro fight over Budongo forest boundaries

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NFA, Bunyoro fight over Budongo forest boundaries
Buliisa locals and leaders during the land dispute meeting | Alan Mwesigwa

Settlers on the boundaries of Budongo Forest Reserve in Bunyoro say they have no intention to vacate swathes of the land as demanded by the National Forestry Authority (NFA).

At least 19,433 hectares of land is at the centre of ownership dispute between locals, Bunyoro Kitara Kingdom, Bunyoro Prince Kintu Gafabusa, and NFA.

During an engagement at Biiso Town Council on the possible boundary reopening of the contested land, which also touches Budongo Forest Reserve, District Chairman Fred Lukumu said they are not ready to surrender the land to either the kingdom or even NFA.

"Now Bunyoro Kingdom do you want to take this 19,433 hectares of land because people of Buliisa are asking to autonomy, so that they can remain poor," he said.

"I think neither the kingdom or Prince Kintu, or NFA deserve this, our people already have less land, not even three acres per household, now you want this one, mind you the prince grew up in good families, so all the way from Hoima you want to take Buliisa people's land, this will not happen."

Mr Alan Atugonza, the Buliisa MP, said the district has suffered a lot with Bunyoro Kingdom's claims that most of the land in Buliisa was hunting grounds for the king.

He said the kingdom had claimed compensation for land in Buliisa from the oil and gas exploration activities.

"We are tired of this style, the kingdom is making life in Buliisa difficult," the legislator said.

"As we speak, about five subcounties in Buliisa have issues with Bunyoro Kingdom claiming big chunks of land. Does the kingdom want its people to be homeless? Or are there crooks behind these conflicts?"

Norah Bigirwa, the woman MP for Buliisa, faulted NFA who she accused of extending boundary markers to people's land.

She waned both the kingdom and NFA that the people of Buliisa "have had enough".

Bunyoro Prince Kintu Gafabusa, son of the late King Winyi Gafabusa, claims the land covering the four villages of Kitigo, Kahona, Kalengeja B, and Bubwe belongs to him even when the kingdom claims it belongs to the institution.

"All people discussing this matter don't understand it, but this land was given to me by my father," he said.

"He sent a leader to school when I was at St Edwards Bukumi Kakumiro to call me, when I came he offered an agreement of land and told me things would change but that land will belong to me.

"I kept the letter with my mother who unfortunately died in 2022. for me I'm 76 years old and I want justice. This is my land, it has taken long due to funds, local politics but also sometimes I would not be around."

However, NFA spokesperson Aldon Walukamba insists that part of the contested land falls within Budongo Forest Reserve.

"We have had a lot of encroachment on government land, but why we are here is to ensure that our reserve is protected, all we want is boundary opening so that we fulfill the mandate given to us by Government of protecting reserves," Walukamba said.

Longino Bahebwa, the Buliisa RDC, has directed all parties, including Prince Gafabusa, NFA, and the Bunyoro Kitara Kingdom, to present their documentation to the district security committee for scrutiny.

"Now prince and your team, go back, start the process afresh and you must work with area land committe," he said.

"We will see the way forward either boundary opening, but what we don't want is to have eviction of our people, I'll not allow it to happen."

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