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Museveni should halt Kigyezi wetlands evictions ​ ​

Edited by Admin
Museveni should halt Kigyezi wetlands evictions  ​ ​

Photo: Remnant of the swamp at Maziba Hydroelectric Falls, Ndorwa, Kigyezi. 


The presidential directive to evict Ugandan citizens from wetlands is a measure that invites careful reflection and resolution. It invites diehard environmentalists like me to set our emotions aside, and don sober pragmatism, mindful that successive governments have been enablers of environment destruction during the last fifty years.


But first, let me tell you about the wetlands in Kigyezi, and those along the Kabaare-Kampala highway, with which I am very familiar, to illustrate the dilemma that we face. I will then make a personal public appeal and recommendations on behalf my people in Kigyezi, whose pain and realities I understand best. In doing so, I do not represent any organization or group.


In Kigyezi of my childhood, the rains of Katumba (March) soaked the hills and mountains, with millions of liters of water infiltrating the rich soil. The runoff was slowed down on its steep descent by the verdant blankets of thick bushes, grasses and Burikooti (Blackwattle trees.) Weakened sheets of water arrived in the V-shaped valleys and gently found their way into the large streams and rivers, and headed down to the enormous swamps that were everywhere. 


The swamps, green with reeds gently swaying in nearly every valley, presented a beautiful sight that we considered normal and permanent. In Rukiga and Ndorwa counties, where I spent most of my childhood, there was more land under swamps and marshes than that occupied and tilled by the relatively small population at the time.


These papyrus swamps were part of a nearly continuous system of public wetlands stretching from Bufumbira, through Omurubanda, continuing south through Omuruhita and Rwakaraba, along the great River Kiruruma. At Kabaare, the swamp branched southwest, along River Rwabakazi-Rugyendaira, through Kitumba to Rubaya and Rwanda. The main swamp at Kabaare continued down through Kyanamira to Maziba, hugging the Kiruruma, whose name perfectly described the power of its roar (okururuma) as it hurried towards the man-made waterfalls downstream.  The swamp hugged the waterway through Birambo, Kigarama, all the way to Kahondo ka Byamarembo.

From Muhanga to Rushebeya was all swamp. Here it would rendezvous with its sister that drained the valleys of Ibumba, Ibugwe, Sindi, Noozi, Mparo, Kashaki, and Kangondo, then head north to Kashambya and Nyarushanje, feeding the River Rushoma, along which the infamous 30-meter waterfall at Kisiizi lies. The swamp continued to Kebisooni in Rujumbura, hugging the River Mineera.

On my journeys to and from school in Buganda, I enjoyed a visual feast of swamps in the districts of Ankole, Masaka and Mengo. The swamp between Masaka and Mpigi was beautiful and scary, my mind convinced that deadly reptiles lay in wait for the unsuspecting wanderer. Past the pristine and uncluttered junction to King’s College, Budo was Kyengera, a tiny hamlet that was the gateway to a gorgeous swamp on both sides of the road to Busega and Nateete, completely free from human habitation and spoilage. 


These swamps were part of an indispensable ecosystem whose destruction we mourn with heavy hearts, but for which we do not blame our struggling compatriots to whom the small farms on the wetlands mean the difference between life and death. 

The real destroyers of these swamps, and the environment in general, were the governors of Kigyezi and Uganda, from the mid-1970s to the present. The better educated leaders did no better than their uneducated predecessors. They encouraged the destruction and looked away as humans committed environmental suicide. 


In Kigyezi, the well-to-do were the first to persuade government officials to allocate them vast parcels of wetlands that they turned into pastures and farms. Within a few years, the great swamps of my childhood vanished, replaced with cattle farms and concrete structures. The great swamp from Rwakaraaba to Bubaare, and on to Ahamurwa gave way to an obscene nakedness that, decades later, remains a most unbearable eyesore.


President Yoweri Museveni’s own disregard for the environment, including the destruction of Namanve Forest in Kampala, his attempt to give away Mabira Forest, giving square kilometers of swamp at Lukaya, Masaka to Chinese rice growers, and supervising the conversion of greenbelts and drainage systems into urban jungles and sand mines, encouraged others to continue the assault on the environment.

To compound the problem, Museveni opposed and dismissed experts’ recommendations to prioritize family planning as a means of population growth management. He favoured accelerated population growth to serve as a market for business and for the defence of the country. In 2007, some ruling party MPs, among them Dr. Chris Baryomunsi, voiced strong opposition to the president’s ill-considered opinion.  Baryomunsi argued that Uganda’s population growth rate of 3.5 percent per year would increase poverty in the land. As expected, Museveni got his way. Ugandans obliged him and produced children with passion. Our small territory is now home to 50 million people. 


In Kigyezi, where the population density in 1969 was 170 per sq. km., it grew to 314 per sq. km. in 2014. The population density in Rukiga District in 2020 was 246.8 per sq. km. The figure for Kabale District was 401 per sq. km, while Rubanda District had 689.8 people per sq. km. To put these figures in perspective, the population density in Uganda in 2020 was 183.6 per sq. km. Kiruhuura District, home of the president, had only 61 people per sq. km. Neighbouring Kazo District had 139.8 people per sq. km., and Isingiro District had 225.2 per sq. km.  


Baryomunsi was proved right. With dwindling tillable land per person in places like Kigyezi, poverty thrived. The consequences of environment destruction were depressingly oppressive. We need not narrate them for they are your lived experience. 


Having dropped the ball on environment protection, the president should be the last person to evict citizens from their plots of land, albeit in the preciously delicate wetlands. Museveni would be wise to (1) halt all evictions of Ugandan citizens from the wetlands; (2) offer mass education about environment restoration and conservation; (3) develop a very carefully considered, negotiated, well-planned and well-funded compensation and resettlement program to move people from overpopulated areas in Kigyezi to underpopulated areas in districts like Kiruhuura and Kazo in Nkore; (4) enact legislation for mandatory return and restoration of drained swamps to the Government once the current occupants have been moved with justice and fairness; (5) evict foreign nationals and companies from Uganda’s swamps, lakes and hillsides; (6) embark on escalation of family planning programs to slow down population growth in areas like Kigyezi; (7) abandon policies that put industrialization and other economic pursuits above environment and human protection; and (8) create a national Environment Day, with mandatory tree planting and other environment restoration activities.

This is a time for political leaders in Kigyezi to rally and support Abanyakigyezi in those wetlands. It is the time for all who seek election to various political positions in 2026 to make their stand known on this critical subject, so that the voters can make informed choices. 


For his part, President Museveni should remember that most people tilling the soils in the wetlands of Kigyezi were born long after the destruction had occurred. They are innocent inheritors of lands that they consider to be theirs. Telling them to vacate those lands without a viable alternative is courting social discord and potential violence. It must be avoided at all costs.


© Muniini K. Mulera




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