Desire Nkurunziza, the LC I Chairperson of Nyairongo Village in Kabwoya Sub-County, Kikuube District is in Police custody over his alleged involvement in the Bugoma forest land saga. According to information obtained by Uganda Radio Network-URN, Nkurunziza was arrested on Sunday evening and locked up at Kikuube Central Police Station on charges of criminal trespass and inciting violence.
Julius Hakiza, the Albertine region police spokesperson told URN in an interview that Nkurunziza was apprehended by security forces guarding the disputed section of Bugoma forest, which is being claimed by Hoima Sugar Limited after leasing it from Bunyoro Kitara Kingdom. The arrest took place at Nkurunziza’s home in Nyairongo trading center.
It is alleged that he incited the local population to encroach upon Bugoma forest for cultivation and timber harvesting. Nkurunziza reportedly recorded an audio clip, which was circulated on social media, urging people in his village to invade Bugoma forest reserve. The audio clip went viral last week, leading to mobilization among area residents to engage in illegal activities within the forest.
Hakiza confirmed that security forces swiftly responded to the situation, leading to Nkurunziza’s arrest. Sources reveal that Nkurunziza’s arrest follows a dispute between some residents and individuals posing as authorities who have been extorting money from locals in exchange for cultivating the disputed parts of Bugoma forest.
These unscrupulous individuals claimed ownership of the land and evicted over 200 local residents last year. The victims were coerced into paying money to regain access and cultivate the forest land. Trouble arose when security forces prevented the locals from harvesting crops they had planted in the forest reserve, acting upon reports of extortion by the individuals claiming ownership.
Hoima Sugar Limited had leased approximately 22 square miles of the contested Bugoma Central Forest reserve land from Bunyoro Kitara Kingdom for sugarcane cultivation. However, the National Environment Management Authority (NEMA) deemed 13 square miles unsuitable for a sugar plantation due to its classification as a wetland and forest reserve.
NEMA recommended their preservation. Hoima Sugar factory was permitted to cultivate sugarcane on the remaining 9.24 square miles, establish an urban center, an eco-tourism center, and restore parts of the forest reserve. NEMA also recommended the preservation of specific areas for cultural sites and natural forests. The dispute over Bugoma forest land remains ongoing, with Nkurunziza’s arrest representing one of the developments in this complex situation.