Friday, July 24, 2009



Thursday, 23rd July, 2009

By Gerald Tenywa and Alex Bukumunhe

TWENTY-FIVE-YEAR-OLD Patrick Kalemera accepted an offer to patrol Nakalanga forest reserve in Mukono district hoping to earn good money to look after his family. Little did he know that he would not even touch his first payment.

His passion to stop illegal loggers lured him into a death trap in which he perished together with his pregnant wife, Teddy Nampima and a three-year-old daughter, Patricia Kisakye.

Their bodies were reduced to ash in a mysterious Wednesday night fire, which residents of Kiwafu village, Ntenjeru sub-county suspect was started by illegal loggers whose timber Kalemera had intercepted a day before his death.

“My son was so supportive unlike the rest,” Prosy Nakiyingi, Kalemera’s mother, wailed. “He started working with the National Forestry Authority (NFA) last month and we were looking forward to a brighter future.”

“The timber loggers have been warning Kalemera,” said Christine Nakamya, Kalemera’s aunt. “The Police should arrest them and help ensure justice.”

Sources said Kalemera had on Wednesday informed NFA of a stockpile of illegal timber in the area, which the authority impounded.

Joseph Kategyeka said his son rang him at 2:00am for help, saying his house had been set on fire. The father, who has been staying on the same village with the deceased, said his son told him that the doors had been locked from outside by unknown people.

“But by the time I reached the house, there was nothing to save; the fire had engulfed the house,” lamented Kategyeka.

Peter Muhire, a brother to Kalemera, who was staying in the next tenement (muzigo), said he woke up at about 2:00am to loud cries of people begging the attackers to spare their lives.

“I was confused and suffocating because of the smoke, but I got out of the house,” says Muhire. “Everything happened too fast, probably within five minutes. I remember seeing two people standing out and thought it was Kalemera and his wife. I became unconscious and when I recovered, neighbours told me that Kalemera and his family had died.”

As mourners gathered on Thursday morning at Kalemera’s house, reports kept filtering in that illegal loggers were still camped in Nakalanga forest, about a kilometre away.

“We think the attackers used petrol to burn Kalemera’s residence,” said Geofrey Mwima, the head of the Kisoga Police Post, said.

He added that illegal logging was on the increase and those involved were becoming too violent. “Even when we mount roadblocks, the timber dealers never stop,” he said.

Last month, illegal loggers organised a mob that descended on NFA staff in Bufumbe forest, Mukono. One of them, Ambrose Tibarimu, escaped death by a whisker. He is admitted at Nsambya Hospital, Kampala, with deep cuts.

In a similar attack earlier this year, two NFA officers, Alfred Ezati and Emmanuel Asimwe, were murdered while on duty in Masaka.

The Lake Victoria range manager, Steven Galima, said yesterday that a threatening letter had been sent to his staff working with Mabira Central Forest Reserve after they netted charcoal burners and illegal loggers.

“I have advised my staff to move in groups,” he said. “It could be a scare tactic, but the lawlessness is on the increase.”

Galima said timber was on high demand in Kampala, Mukono, Lugazi and Masaka because forests are disappearing outside the protected areas.

Robert Mubokhisa, a forest law enforcement supervisor, attributed the problem to population pressure, poverty and political interference. “Dealers are now cutting the least desirable timber tree species. There is a lot of construction going on and schools need charcoal and firewood,” he said.

The other problem, he noted, was coming from the poor who push politicians to let them grow food in the reserves, or lose elections.

NFA’s public relations manager Moses Watasa called for the lifting of the executive order that restrains NFA from evicting encroachers from protected areas.