Residents of Kitwala West Village in Muwangi Sub County Kyankwanzi District are up in arms against the National Forestry Authority– NFA for evicting them from their Bibanjas without following the due process of the law.
It is alleged that on August 6 this year, NFA officials guarded by armed security personnel stormed Kitwala West Village and razed down plantations and crops in the move to open the boundaries of Taala Central Forest Reserve in Kyankwanzi District.
However, in their village meeting held on Friday, the residents castigated the move by NFA saying that they were neither notified nor presented with any court order to vacate the land, which they have occupied for decades.
The angry residents appealed for government intervention to stop NFA from evicting them. They said that if allowed to proceed, the eviction would affect 444 homesteads with a population of more than 800 people.
Samuel Zamulya, a resident of Kitwala Village in Mwangi Sub County said that he came to the land while in Primary 2 and that he has grown to the age of 47 years without any interruptions until NFA came to destroy their gardens.
He said that the earlier boundary opening left them outside the forest land but they were surprised to see NFA officials destroying their gardens.
Dorothy Namukisa, another resident claimed that she grew up cultivating the land until she gave birth to her children while in a good relationship with the landlord, David Senvuma whom they have been paying Busuulu.
She described the destruction as unfortunate saying that they were left with no option as they are going to suffer from the looming famine.
Ruth Mukalubi,48, said that she grew up on the land until the eviction yet she knew the landlord whom they have been paying ground rent. She claims that the eviction and destruction were done without following the due process of the law and that they are now in trouble as their children have no means of survival.
Mukalubi said that the forest body opened the boundaries 5 times and their bibanja were found outside the forest land but they were surprised by the destructions amid disagreements with their landlord.
Kitwala West Village chairperson, Haaba Nafutaali said that they have lived in this village for decades and that they all along knew the boundaries of the forest reserve but they were surprised by the NFA action.
According to Nafutaali, the boundary opening marks are far from the peoples’ plantations, and appealed to the authorities to intervene, saying that the district officials shunned them. He said that 444 houses with a population of more than 800 people are now stuck because their bibanjas have been taken over and they have nowhere to go.
Mwangi Sub County LC III chairperson, Dan Mwanje said that he was called when the destruction was being conducted. He explains that despite informing the office of the Resident District Commissioner – RDC they have not received any response.
He said that a meeting was called between the landlord and the forest supervisor for NFA but no compromise was reached because the landlord claims 640 acres while NFA says it is about 478 acres.
Mwanje appealed to the government to intervene by providing surveyors to open the boundaries to ascertain the truth and also halt the eviction process to stop the plight of the people.
Mwanje castigated the NFA’s action saying it contravenes the ongoing advocacy for environmental conservation. According to Mwanje, there is a need for the NFA and the landlord to agree on the boundary before an eviction process can proceed.
However, Juliet Mubi, the NFA Public Relations Officer disputed the claims by the residents, saying that the land in question is part of Taala CFR, which measures 9150 hectares. Mubi said that the destruction of the gardens followed several engagements with the residents to vacate the forest land after the 2019 boundary opening.
She explained that the residents were given 6 months within which to voluntarily vacate the area to allow the forestry authority to restore the reserve. She also said that following the engagement, 80 percent of the residents have since vacated the area because they are preparing for forest restoration and proper management.