By Fred Kiva
Herdsmen recently evicted from Northern Uganda have been told to leave Kasongoire Central Forest Reserve land in Masindi district where they had settled following their eviction last month.
According to National Forestry Authority and Masindi District leaders, about 4000 herdsmen with over 500herds of cattle were ferried in 15trucks from Northern Uganda and offloaded in the areas of Kimanya, Kyabijwenge, Waipacu and Kimanya Go Down in the Kasongoire Forest Reserve in Budongo Sub County last Wednesday morning.
Masindi Resident District Commissioner, Godfrey Nyakahuma said the herdsmen had settled in areas where locals had been evicted by National Forestry Authority last year.
“Immediately when we got information on Thursday, we convened a meeting and directed them to leave in seven days,” Nyakahuma said adding that the Balaalo invasion had already sparked tension with residents and some local leaders vowing to mobilize against them.
The RDC added that there was also concern that the herds of cattle the herdsmen had were not vaccinated, causing fear that they could spread diseases to the area.
“We told them to go and settle in their original land,” Nyakahuma said. The pastoralists’ original area is however not known.
Kenneth Nyendwoha, the Budongo Sub county Chairman revealed that the herdsmen had started moving.
“They have started moving, they are taking the Hoima Direction,” Nyendwoha disclosed.
It’s not clear how the herdsmen got information about the virgin forest reserve land. The Sub county Chairman is pointing an accusing finger at the National Forestry Authority.
“There is suspicion that they could have colluded with NFA, how did they know that there is a huge chunk of land!” Nyendwoha wondered
However, NFA Budongo Range Manager, Stewart Maniraguha claims that the herdsmen entered the reserve with guidance of a local leader whom he declined to name.
“We have learnt that they had a guide who is a leader,” Maniraguha alleged, adding that “they entered without licensing from NFA and we have asked them to leave. We are also on the lookout to ensure that the herdsmen don’t go to other forest reserves in the region.”
Government is currently evicting hundreds of nomadic pastoralists from the districts of Gulu, Amuru, Nwoya and Omoro after residents accused them of grazing livestock in crop fields, grabbing land and stealing of animals.
Bunyoro is not new to nomadic pastoralists’ invasion.
Hundreds of pastoralists who had settled in Bugana, Kichoke, Kataleba and Waiga in Buliisa district were evicted in 2010.The operation that saw more than 600 Balaalo families evicted was commanded by then Coordinator of security agencies Gen. David Tinyenfuza, now Ssejusa.
However, High Court in Masindi later declared the government’s December 2010 eviction of pastoralists from the oil-rich Buliisa illegal, and ordered that they be compensated up to a tune of Shs2 million each.
The eviction came after repeated bloody fights between the pastoralists and indigenous Bagungu who accused herdsmen of grazing animals in their crop gardens.