NEMA defends Lubigi demolition amid public outcry

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NEMA defends Lubigi demolition amid public outcry
NEMA is adamant it will enforce Lubigi wetland restoration to the letter | Courtesy

The National Environmental Management Authority (NEMA) has defended the ongoing demolition in the Lubigi wetland, an exercise that has left thousands homeless.

The environment watchdog has come under intense scrutiny over the demolition of homes.

In a statement, NEMA said the restoration exercise is a crucial measure to preserve the Lubigi wetland system, which serves as a vital water catchment area for the city of Kampala and neighbouring districts.

"We cannot allow illegal activities to degrade the environment and jeopardize the lives of citizens," the Authority said.

NEMA had previously issued restoration orders to all encroachers in 2021, granting them a 21-day period to vacate the wetland, remove dumped materials, restore the degraded area to its original state, and demolish any illegal structures.

The objective of the exercise is to eliminate illegal structures, gardens, and settlements that have encroached upon the wetland, posing a significant threat to the environment and the city's water catchment.

On Monday, tensions escalated at the Lubigi wetland site when the Leader of the Opposition, Joel Ssenyonyi, was forcefully prevented by the police from inspecting the aftermath of the recent evictions carried out by NEMA.

The evictions primarily targeted residents who were allegedly occupying the wetlands illegally, leading to public outcry and accusations of unfair treatment.

Speaking to the displaced residents, Ssenyonyi condemned what he perceived as discriminatory actions by NEMA.

He highlighted the contrasting treatment of local families and the apparent leniency shown towards businesses operating in other protected wetlands.

"There are known wetlands in Uganda that are filled with factories, yet they remain untouched," he said.

He suggested possible government connections shielding certain commercial interests

Tensions escalated further when Ssenyonyi attempted to tour the demolition site to assess the extent of the damage and engage with affected families.

Police swiftly intervened, leading to a standoff that escalated into a five-minute exchange before tear gas canisters were deployed to disperse the gathering. Ssenyonyi was later escorted to safety by parliamentary security amidst chaotic scenes.

This clash highlights broader tensions surrounding land use policies and human rights in Uganda, with Ssenyonyi linking the evictions to wider allegations of rights abuses and political targeting.

He referenced the recent abduction of lawmaker Paul Akamba shortly after being granted bail, suggesting a pattern of repression against opposition figures.

Meanwhile, families affected by the evictions in Ganda-Nasere Village, Wakiso District, have recently appealed to the Buganda Kingdom for compensation.

They claim that Buganda Kingdom officials had misled them into settling in Lubigi, a protected wetland area, and had collected annual ground rent (busuulu) from them.

Simon Nyanzi, a leader among the evictees, vowed to pursue justice until compensation is secured from the Buganda Land Board, the kingdom's property management arm.

NEMA's crackdown on wetland encroachment across the Kampala Metropolitan area continues unabated, with officials urging encroachers to vacate as per Section 36 of the National Environment Act, which restricts such land use.

The agency warned that the failure to protect wetlands like Lubigi could result in severe water shortages affecting several districts in the Central Cattle Corridor.

After addressing the residents, Ssenyonyi attempted to tour the wreckage but was swiftly blocked by the police, leading to a heated exchange lasting five minutes before tear gas canisters were deployed to disperse protesting residents.

"There are other wetlands in Uganda full of factories that remain untouched. Perhaps it's because those businesses have ties to the government. That's why we're asking, why discriminate among Ugandan citizens?" Ssenyonyi queried.

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