ADJUMANI, UGANDA: Elders of Adjumani district through their umbrella Association Adjumani District Elder’s Forum [ADEFO] together with the cultural leaders have demanded for a comprehensive environmental audit report on Zoka Central Forest Reserve.
The resolution by the enraged elders and the cultural leaders follows the sustained and systematic destruction of Zoka Central Forest Reserve[CFR], which is directly under the control of National Forest Authority (NFA) and East Madi wildlife Reserve[EMWLR]which is under the direct control of Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA).
Zoka Central Forest Reserve which is 6145 hectares in located inside East Madi Wild Life Reserve which covers 827 kilometers square, this land size is almost half of Adjumani district which is about 3.100 kilometers square.
Addressing members of the press on Monday, December 20, 2021 at Adjumani Multi-Purpose Training Center, the chairperson ADEFO, Mr. Paulino Vuso said, he strongly believes there is an organized group that is carrying out massive illegal lumbering and logging in Zoka Forest and accused NFA and UWA of overseeing the illegalities in the area.
“Mr. President please prevail and stop the destructions which are ongoing in Zoka Central forest reserve, I know that forests all over the world are under pressure, I know this very well and surely we are losing our dear Zoka central Forest Reserve”. Mze Vuso Paulino cried out loudly.
“I cry to our prime minister, I pray to our members of parliament, let us do something about it, let us act now because our forest is fast vanishing” Vuso stated”.
Vuso rallied the support of all elected leaders across the region to come to their aid and bring to an end the criminalities in Zoka forest noting that little has been done to stop the illegal charcoal burning, lumbering and the illegal logging inside the forest.
Vuso appealed to the president to provide alternative livelihood for the people living around the forest by encouraging, vegetable growing, apiary farming that can be done in the forest without cutting down of trees from the forest.
The former Adjumani district Mr. Anyama Saul said government Agencies like NFA and UWA must be held accountable and their leaders be investigated with the view of prosecution because it is on record that they have also indulged illegalities and protected mafias in Zoka forest.
“Why I am saying NFA and UWA must give us an accountability is that there are laws in place to protect the natural resources why are the laws not being enforced, at all if the laws are being enforced why to apply it selectively?”.
Anyama said the elected and appointed leaders who are mandated to stop the illegalities seems to be losing direction and have also failed to advise government on the correct form of intervention.
Mr. Benson Karega the information officer from the Oyuwi cultural clan that borders the forest, said they are suspicious about the road openings in the district that passes through, the forest and have recently attracted a lot of illegal activities in the forest.
According to Mr. Benson Karega Zoka forest used to command a lot of respect from the people, but respect is gone long as strangers invaded the forest after relative peace returned to the area following the over two decades of insurgency caused by the Lord’s Resistance Army of rebel leaders Joseph Kony.
Ms. Margaret Amoko expressed disappointment in the government for taking long to stop the depletion of Zoka central forest reserve and lashed out at the elected leaders for abandoning the population to their own sorrow.
“I think the government is not serious and lacks goodwill in curtailing the depletion of trees in the area and our continued trust and believe in government will earn our dilemma and in five years Zoka forest will become like an airport without trees in it,” Margaret remarked.
Mr. Ibrahim Lagu, an elder from Ofua Sub county, argued that the biggest obstacle in fighting the environmental injustice in the area is disunity coordinated by the elite class in Madi sub region who have become beneficiaries in the lucrative illegitimate deals in Zoka.
He appealed for the need to lead another delegation to meet the president on the failures to stop the destructions in Zoka central forest reserve and the game reserve.
He noted that another entry point into the forest has been Otubanga Village in Aliba Sub County, Obongi district across the Nile which he described as a safe entry and exit points for transporting timber, logs and charcoal from Zoka forest, unfortunately, he said the route is manned by armed people.
The cultural leaders meanwhile have unanimously resolved to have the matter sorted out using traditional methods, since government has paid deaf ears to the cries and pleas of the Madi people.
Mr. Oneka Van Chope the head of Environment in Palaro clan, said the only solution to the depletion of trees and the overall destruction of Zoka forest lies in the gods of Madi people, he said he is quite optimistic that the soil, the forest and the ancestors of Madi will listen to the cultural leaders.
The cultural leaders have assigned duties especially to the clan leaders of Oyuwi, Ali, Adropi, Pakele and Palaro, so that they will mobilize extensively and start consulting their gods early so, that on the final day, they will be able to pronounce deadly curses and anybody who will enter the forest for illegal activity will be struck dead.
President Yoweri Museveni has promised to settle the conflict in Apaa in December 2021, but time is ticking fast with no sign convening a meeting with the leaders in Acholi and West Nile region as he promised, during his separate meetings with leaders from the two sub regions, this year.