- Rebecca Nairuba & Merab Ingabire
Okavu Community demands NFA to vacate their land
The Northern region of Uganda is one of the major regions where many land grabs have occurred. These land grabs have been orchestrated by greedy powerful individuals and others under the guise of demarcating land for forest reserves. The Okavu community, in particular, was targeted by the forest authority then in Uganda. In 1955, the community was offered a tree-planting project that would last 40 years by Uganda Forest Department, now National Forestry Authority (NFA), after which the community land would be returned to the owners. The 40 years elapsed and there were no more negotiations with the community but rather threats of eviction by the National Forestry Authority rangers. Worse still, the community has been suffering attacks from unidentified self-acclaimed NFA rangers ordering them to vacate their ancestral land outside Okavureru forest reserve. The expansion of these borders has led to a lot of tension within the community.
The Okavu community in Logiri sub-county, held a peaceful demonstration spearheaded by women against the NFA demanding them to cease expanding the Okavureru forest reserve boundaries into the community members' land. After the community spotted NFA rangers planting pine trees on their land outside the forest, they decided to intervene. This sparked off tension among the community members. The whole community came together and was joined by communities surrounding them who face a similar problem with NFA. Some of the community members displayed documents to show the boundaries of their land as well as showed the boundary marks planted by the NFA before they expanded by over 250 hectares onto the community's land.
Jemimah Awiyo has been married to one of the senior members in Okavu for over 40 years. She shares that the community agreed to a tree-planting project that would last 40 years before the land would be returned to the community, but the NFA had taken advantage of people's ignorance to encroach on their land. Since then they have faced intimidation from NFA rangers and they have been intimidating and arresting anyone who objects to them.
"They have never returned to us for engagement and have now taken over our land by force without consulting us. This project was a scam. We want our land back because it is now more than 40 years." Logiri community member.
Even though the community members have tried to engage their leaders to intervene, they haven’t received much response, especially from their Mp who seldom responds to their calls.
Many community members in the surrounding villages have also faced the same fate as they have lost their homes because of NFA ranger attacks. Worse, a few weeks in one of the villages in Logiri, NFA farmers found planting opium on land grabbed from its original inhabitants.
We stand in solidarity with the Okavu community and demand that NFA stops the abuse of human rights and unfair evictions and land grabbing.