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NFA Challenges Minister’s Orders on Bajjo Forest

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Officials from the National Forestry Authority (NFA) have rebuffed an order issued by State Minister for Lands, Mr. Sam Mayanja in a contentious land dispute concerning Bajjo Central Forest Reserve in Galilaaya Sub-county, Kayunga District. The directive sought to permit over 8,000 previously evicted tenants to reclaim their residence on the contested forest land. However, NFA officials dismiss Minister Mayanja’s actions as “sham” and “politically motivated,” signaling a deeper conflict over land management and conservation.

Mr. Moses Muhumuza, head of the NFA legal department, criticized the minister’s directive, asserting that entry into a forest reserve without proper authorization violates the law. He emphasized that the forest reserve serves a crucial purpose for future forestry endeavors, rejecting Minister Mayanja’s assertion that the absence of trees negates its status as a reserve.

Minister Mayanja’s intervention followed the eviction of tenants, many of whom claimed decades-long occupancy on the forest land. The eviction, allegedly conducted by soldiers and policemen under high-ranking security officials’ orders, triggered significant unrest in the district, with reports of property damage and theft.

During a meeting convened by State House Anti-Corruption Unit officials in response to escalating tensions, promises were made to investigate the matter. However, the situation remained tense, with tenants expressing grievances over land allocations and the handling of the eviction process.

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Minister Mayanja criticized NFA’s actions, accusing the agency of disregarding legal protocols and favoring new tenants over long-standing occupants. He questioned the legitimacy of land titles issued within the forest reserve and ordered the cancellation of Kiira Motors’ land title, alleging fraudulent acquisition.

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Despite the minister’s stance, NFA officials maintain their position, citing proper allocation procedures and adherence to legal frameworks. The conflict underscores broader issues surrounding land governance, conservation, and community rights, with significant implications for the region’s environmental and social landscape.

Bajjo Central Forest Reserve, gazetted in 1932, plays a crucial role as a catchment area for River Ssezibwa and River Nile, vital water sources for Lake Victoria. However, concerns over its protection and management persist, especially in light of past instances where adjacent reserves were reportedly sold off to sugarcane growers under unclear circumstances.

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