The government has cancelled about 100 titles for various pieces of land erroneously or fraudulently acquired in the central forest reserves in Wakiso District by different individuals and companies. The Ministry of Lands says the move is intended to recover government’s forestry resources from wrong or unscrupulous beneficiaries.
However, it should be noted that the 96 cancelled land titles are only in three forests - Namanve, Nonve and Kyewaga in Wakiso District. This means if more incidents of encroachment in other central forest reserves outside Wakiso District are counted, the statistics on forest destruction will be more astronomical than meets the eye.
The government and the Anti-Corruption Coalition Uganda, which carried out the survey that exposed the syndicate, did a commendable job. But government should not stop at Wakiso forests alone; it should crack the whip harder and beyond.
Government should extend the crackdown to all central forest reserves countrywide to regain possession of its forest resources and enhance the drive to restore the country’s lost forest cover in line with Uganda’s Vision 2040. Let’s hear in the coming months or year that more such dishonest titles have been revoked in government forests elsewhere.
The Uganda Vision 2040’s objective of restoring the country’s forest cover from 15 per cent to 24 per cent by 2040 and the National Development Plan’s target of increasing the forest cover from 15 per cent to 18 per cent of Uganda’s land surface by 2021 will not be achieved unless the government recovers all its lost forest land from the wrong beneficiaries or claimants.
The Joint Water and Environment Sector Review Report 2016 shows Uganda’s forest cover had diminished from 24 per cent in 1990 to 11 per cent by 2015. A staggering 1.3 million hectares have been destroyed by unscrupulous charcoal dealers and encroachers, who have literally stolen or taken over the land in forest reserves. In 2015, the Directorate of Environment said in the past 10 years, Uganda had lost 900,000 hectares of forest cover yet government had only planted 100,000. This has had adverse effects on climate and brought devastating weather hazards like droughts and floods unseen before. Government must arrest this delicate situation before it is too late.
These forests are not only rain catchment areas but also habitats of various animals, birds and other creatures that constitute the country’s wildlife resources and bolster Uganda’s tourism potential. It is a treasure we must protect at all times to restore and preserve the country’s ecosystem and biodiversity. Besides cancellation of the land titles, government should prosecute the perpetuators. Where fraud has been proved, the culprits must be brought to book and penalised in accordance with the law.