The case in which National Forestry Authority (NFA) is accusing Omukama of Bunyoro-Kitara Kingdom, Solomon Iguru Gafabusa for encroaching on Bugoma Central Forest Reserve in Hoima District has stalled due to lack of funds.
Since 2016, the forestry body has battled the Bunyoro King in court on accusations of fraudulent concealment and stealthily applying for a freehold title for part of the forest land which was granted by the Uganda Land Commission (ULC).
The Omukama is jointly sued with Hoima Sugar Limited and ULC, a company that purchased the land under dispute.
The land comprises Plot 216, Buhanguzi Block 2 Hoima District held by the Hoima Sugar Limited on which forms part of Bugoma forest.
Principal Judge Dr Yorokamu Bamwine says that the case file has since been allocated another judge after Masindi High Court Resident Judge Albert Rugadya Atwooki pulled out.
“As soon as the funds are made available, a successor judge will be sent to handle the case. The successor judge has the preserve to determine on the procedure whether to study the evidence on record and give judgement or have the matter heard afresh,” Justice Bamwine said, adding that the law allows it.
In December 2018, Justice Atwooki stepped down from the case after two times of adjournment for judgement.
The judge’s withdrawal followed an October 26 2018 press release in which the chairperson of the Commission of Inquiry into Land Matters Justice Catherine Bamugemereire criticised judges and magistrates for fuelling land disputes, plunder and encroachment on protected areas, leading to landlessness.
Justice Bamugemereire said the land probe committee had encountered many court orders and judgments made by various judicial officers for eviction of thousands of bibanja holders (tenants) or giveaway of land protected by gazette such as forests and wetlands.
She revealed that more than 12 square miles of Bugoma Central Forest Reserve had been handed to Hoima Sugar Works through a ruling of court that reversed the cancellation of title to the land by the Commissioner of Land Registration.
Utilising a natural forest
The NFA is seeking court declarations that the king’s stay and utilisation of the natural forest is illegal and amounts to trespass.
Through its legal department, NFA alleges that the kingdom stealthily acquired a freehold title for part of the forest land, but the king denies the allegations of encroachment and degrading of the forest.
NFA is seeking for court declarations that their stay, utilization of the natural forest is illegal, unlawful, and an act of trespass without permission of NFA.
Currently, the forest reserve is under encroachment, surveying, construction and cutting of the trees which is the subject of dispute in the main case pending determination.
The forestry authority also alleges that for the last three months, Bugoma forest reserve has been threatened by alienations, destruction, and degradation by the Omukama who holds a freehold title that has been partly leased to Hoima Sugar Limited.
However, the king maintains that the allegations of encroachment and degrading of the forest are false.
In their defence, the kingdom says the disputed part of the forest is an ancestral place of Kyangwali which forms the original seat of the kingdom headquarters and is not part of Bugoma forest.
“For more than four thousand years, this land has held a cultural site used by all kings during this period for special annual cultural rituals,” Mr John Musungu, the kingdom surveyor says in his affidavit in defence of the kingdom.
In September 2016, government cancelled Bunyoro-Kitara Kingdom’s land title in Bugoma Forest.
The developments come amid ongoing destruction of the forest reserve by a group of locals purporting to work on directives of the King to curve 8,000 hectares from Bugoma Forest reserve.
On August 23, NFA asked the Ministry of Lands, Housing and Urban Development to cancel land titles issued in Bugoma Forest to enable them secure the natural resource.
However, court temporarily halted the cancellation of the title held by the king until the land case has been disposed of.
Reduction of forest cover
Reports from the Ministry of Water and Environment show that forest cover has reduced from more than 4.9 million hectares in 1990s to about 1.9 million hectares in 2015.
By David Sseguya