Environmentalists pledge to take over ecotourism site

Conservationists from Nature Uganda have revived plans to repossess an ecotourism site, which Masaka town authorities have handed over to a private developer.

The site located at Kijabwemi on the Masaka-Mbarara highway is adjacent to the Nabajjuzi Ramsar site, which provides a spawning ground for mudfish and lungfish.

It is also home to unique animals such as the sitatunga antelope and birds such as the endangered shoebill and yellow papyrus warbler.

Last year, a private developer ordered Nature Uganda, the organization that has managed the site for years, to remove his belongings, including binoculars, telescopes, guidebooks and other items.

According to Mr. Achilles Byaruhanga, the Executive Director of Nature Uganda, the disputed land was given to them by Masaka Town Council and there is no official communication reversing this.

“It was Nature Uganda that identified the Nabajjuzi wetland and promoted it as a tourist site. This was after we realized that the Kampala-Masaka-Mbarara highway had tourist traffic, but Masaka was not taking advantage of this opportunity,” he said in a May 2 interview.

Mr Byaruhanga said that despite their best efforts to market the tourist site, they were surprised to learn that the new rulers of Masaka town handed over the site and evicted their caretaker during the first Covid-19 induced lockdown.

“We are preparing an official petition to the Mayor of Masaka City, Mrs. Florence Namayanja, to express our disappointment at the way our tourist site has been sold to an investor. If we do not receive any help, we will certainly seek legal redress in the courts,” he added.

He said that although the custodian has been evicted, all Nature Uganda properties are still on the site and are being used by the new occupier whom he does not know.

Mr. Byaruhanga said the town of Masaka should jealously protect the Nabajjuzi wetland as it is an environmentally sensitive site.

When contacted, Ms Namayanja said she was unaware that the ecotourism site had been awarded to a private investor.

“I am not aware of this contentious issue, but I look forward to the petition and information from Nature Uganda on the matter,” she said.

But Ms. Pauline Nabadda, environmental officer for the city of Masaka, maintained that the disputed land is the private property of a businessman, Mr. Andy Kamugisha, who plans to create a leisure park.

“We are waiting for the land owner’s plan because he had promised to relaunch the tourist site and make it more attractive,” she said.

She said Nature Uganda had left the site to rot without making any repairs.

“The wooden watchtower is currently dilapidated and covered in overgrown trees. For the last 10 years Nature Uganda has been in charge of this site, they have failed to renovate it,” a- she declared.

For his part, Mr. Kamugisha said he was at an advanced stage of redevelopment of the tourist site.

However, he declined to explain how he acquired the land, which measures approximately one acre.

“Just know that I own this land. All preparations are underway to start developing it into an attractive ecotourism site,” he said in an interview on Tuesday.

The site was created by Nature Uganda in 2004.

Before the first lockdown was announced in March 2020, tourists flocked to the site almost daily to watch the birds, but the site is currently home to nurseries.

The Nabajjuzi wetland is currently facing increasing pollution from some adjacent factories, which may lead to loss of biodiversity and also affect the general ecological functionality of the wetland. The wetland is also the main source of running water for the town of Masaka.

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