MILITARY GAGS KASIRYE GWANGA OVER MITYANA FORESTS AS AREA CATHOLIC PRIESTS DECLARE WAR ON MUSEVENI & NRM OFFICIALS
By Mulengera Reporters
General Kasirye Gwanga had a few weeks ago emerged as the leading actor in protecting forests in Mityana while forcefully taking on the highly connected businessmen that have always thrived on harvesting trees and timber from government (NFA) forests in the area.
Whereas the one-man operation that saw Gwanga shoot at heavy trucks carrying timber several times made him popular, it unsettled some of his superiors in the army. And consequently, sources close to him have now told Mulengera News that the man who Norbert Mao one time contemptuously dismissed as “an expired soldier” has since been deflated and made to eat a humble pie. “He now can’t act against anyone anymore and the guys are now having the last laugh. The truth is those guys, about 10 of them, were licensed by NFA to operate in those forests ostensibly to re-plant them. So, they waved their permits to people above Gen Gwanga and phone calls just came in urging him to coil and let them be because his unlawful activities risked damaging the image of the army by making it seem lawless,” says a source.
Gwanga’s argument was it was unfair for the NFA licenses to be given to people from outside Mityana yet the district also has even wealthier people with capacity to pay and get licensed by the NFA to re-plant the forests. The guys from outside the district, against whom Gwanga has been making sectarian remarks, are about 10 in number and paid Shs30,000 per acre to be leased to them (for 49 years) which Gwanga says is something even Mityana local residents (whose businesses like banana plantations were slashed to pave way for the external people’s taking over) have the money to pay. He argues priority should have gone to such people.
Many of the displaced Mityana natives are now wallowing in poverty after hundreds of acres of their matooke plantations were slashed and themselves violently kept out of the forest reserve areas, a thing Gwanga says wasn’t equitable.
TROUBLE FOR M7
As Gwanga lies low like an envelope (as Mirundi would say), the burden to defend hundreds of people has since fallen on the Catholic Church leadership under Kiyinda Mityana Diocese. And the rhetoric is clearly now aimed (by radical priests) at painting the NRM government as sectarian and insensitive to the needs of the local Mityana populace. Some priests have even had to be jailed for speaking out against these mass displacements, prompting Woman MP Judith Nabakooba to bail them out often after Minister Godfrey Kiwanda turned his back on them. Taking advantage of this rapidly-spreading anger, rural Mityana People Power coordinator Dr. Gordon Sematiko has offered his Mboona FM to host the outspoken priests for one hour every Saturday evening. The priests are enthusiastically using this free airtime to eloquently sensitize area residents to resist land grabbing and mass displacements.
The situation has become so toxic (with some priests increasingly leading the resistance against perceived state injustice on land matters) that some extremist Catholic priests have gone as far as banning the donning of NRM colors by people coming for Bukalango-like prayers. Mulengera News recently interacted with some diehard Musevenists from Mityana district who said they aren’t comfortable anymore going to some Catholic churches in rural Mityana because priests treat them with open hostility.
The priests, who even the area RDCs have feared to confront, keep preaching that Mityana residents must unanimously be angry and outspoken against land grabbing because those displacing others aren’t discriminating between NRM and opposition supporters. But they still blame the NRM because in most cases the land grabbers are allegedly aided by members of the security forces to carry out operations aimed at displacing people who have operated in these forests for generations (without necessarily becoming owners). The other argument is that when it was time to lease out the forests, NFA should have given priority to sitting tenants/farmers who have been farming in these reserves for an eternity as opposed to prioritizing people from outside the district.
Dr. Sematiko, a former diehard Musevenist now campaigning for Bobi Wine, says “it’s hard to blame the priests because in Mityana it has now become impossible to criticize land grabbing and mass displacements of people without demonizing the NRM because the state security apparatus is what is being used to orchestrate these evictions.” Sematiko says in some cases as many as 400 families have been displaced to pave way for outsiders who don’t hail from Mityana. “What then do you want the priests to do? Remember its to them all these victims of land-related injustices run. You expect them to just keep quiet simply because they have no army to resist land grabbers?” He says even if the NRM top leadership speaks to the Cardinal (as some cadres are suggesting) and the outspoken priests are transferred “the problem won’t go away because these are injustices angry people live with every day and they aren’t angry because the priest told them.”
Indeed, Mulengera News separately established that there is a lot of public anger especially after area Magistrates remanded victims who had run to court with complaints calling them encroachers. This has angered many who now see the state institutions as directly being responsible for their misery. Regarding Kizika forest Kalangalo Sub County, NFA (which is a government agency) angered many when it threw 400 farmers out of there and licensed 10 wealthier farmers who have since moved in. The 400 farmers demanded to be given priority offering even more cash but were rejected by NFA in favor of the 10 farmers from outside Mityana. Something almost similar happened in Bulera Sub County.
The Catholic priests have also been loudly ranting against mass displacement of people from Namutamba Hill in Sekanyonyi Sub County (without any compensation) simply because this is near the secretive army barracks which is used to train intelligence officers for the country. There is also another place called Nalujji near the Catholic Parish where hundreds continue to lead very uncertain lives in the face of an impending eviction. This is in Kikandwa Sub County some of whose threatened residents have resorted to crying to the priests after State House lawyer Flora Kiconco who the H.E. assigned failed to solve the problem. Some residents are even apprehensive about Kiconco because of the nasty things the Kasanda South MP Simeo Nsubuga has been saying about her. Using their 7-8pm Saturday program on Mboona fm, the priests have resorted to telling hapless Mityana residents that “this is time for twebereremu because nobody from Kampala is going to help us.” (For comments, reach us on 0200900416 or email us at email@example.com).