Big Story: Can Gen Lokech Win the War on Illegal Logging in Acholi?

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The Deputy Inspector General of Police-IGP Maj Gen Paul Lokech has accused security personnel in the Acholi region of abetting illegal logging and charcoal burning.

Gen Lokech specifically pointed fingers at the Resident District Commissioners, District Police Commanders, and some political heads as some of the offices through which crime is abetted. Gen Lokech linked the current “abnormal” temperature experienced in the region to the plunder of forest resources and destruction of the forest cover.

Gen Lokech’s statements come at a time the region is witnessing a surge in the destruction of trees especially endangered tree species such as Africana Afzelia and Shea nut for timber and charcoal production. Many security personnel within the region have been implicated in the plunder of forest resources in the region.

But Lokech said, whoever is involved will end up in prison. He was speaking during a memorial prayer for the former Gulu Resident District Commissioner Maj Santos Okot Lapolo in Orom Sub-county, Kitgum District. Lapolo succumbed to COVID-19 in January.

Translation“…I’m wondering if you people in Kitgum or Acholi know why the temperature is high, you are cutting all the trees, the RDCs and DPCs are the ones cutting the trees. I’m warning you that I will arrest all of you, RDCs and DPCs, I won’t forgive any of you, you will end up in Luzira. We are witnessing these problems but you DPCs and RDCs are not, because of greed. If RDCs and DPCs cut trees, then what should ordinary people do, I’m warning you that I will come for you guys,”

The booming charcoal trade has seen vast hectares of forest cover in the Acholi sub-region ripped off to meet the charcoal demand across the country. The vice has been on the rise despite sets of stringent regulations set by the various district local governments, the central government, and the Acholi cultural institution in the preservation of the forest cover and endangered tree species.

Lamwo District is one of the hotspots and key gateways in the illegal transportation of Afzelia Africana mostly harvested from Lokung Sub-county or the neighbouring South Sudan border. Commercial Charcoal production is also high in the villages of Omuwa, Aweno Olwiyo and Paladiya in Dibolywec Parish, Lokung East Sub-county.

Early this week, Julius Mpande, the Kitgum Central Police Station Officer in charge of Operations was charged with illicit logging in Paladiya Community Forest in Lamwo District at the Kitgum Chief Magistrates Court. Mpande was charged along with his business associate Habib Mwanje, following their arrest from Lokung East Sub-county. Both suspects were released on a cash bail of  500,000 Shillings each. 

Although environmentalists have welcomed Gen Lokech’s warning to security personnel over their alleged involvement in illicit trade in logs and charcoal, they question whether the “Lion of Mogadishu” will win the war on charcoal trade in the region. Prior to his appointment into the Uganda Police Force in December last year, Gen Lokech, a battle-hardened commander, served in war-torn Somalia where he set records in capturing key areas held by the Islamist group Al Shabaab between 2011-212 and 2017-2018.

Decimon Anywar, an Environment and Natural Resources Management Specialist in Kitgum District told Uganda Radio Network in an interview that such statements are helpful in deterring illegal loggers from degrading the environment. Anywar however says the warning is not new, adding that other security personnel have threatened to arrest their own but failed.

For instance, in May 2018, following a petition by the Chief of Atiak Chiefdom, Santos Ray Apire, President Yoweri Museveni warned Amuru district officials against aiding deforestation. However, Anywar says, the warnings didn’t bite, and years after, forest destruction in the district is still ongoing. He believes Gen Lokech’s statements should be backed by strong action to eliminate the vice in the region.

Anywar says Gen Lokech should identify key actors within the community and environmentalists who have been fighting the vice to help in identifying the gaps without bias. He reiterates that most of the district political leaders and security personnel were illegal logging and charcoal trade is taking place are compromised and thus untrusted in aiding the fight against the vice.

Some of the security personnel within the region have however distanced themselves from Lokech’s allegations that they are involved in illegal logging.

James Nabinson Kidega, the Lamwo Resident District Commissioner told URN in an interview that Gen Lokech’s statements were blanket and don’t implicate a specific RDC in the vice. Kidega says whereas on his part he has tirelessly worked to curtail the illegal trade in forestry products, such accusations without evidence tarnish his name.

“To me what he has said is not bad, we need to join hands to stop deforestation. He shouldn’t however have generalized everybody, he should have been specific on which district has had the highest rate of deforestation and the culprits,” Kidega told URN.

Kitgum Resident District Commissioner William Komakech, also reiterates that the accusation lacks evidence and only sought to tarnish names. Komakech says that security personnel in the district have had positive strides in curbing the commercial charcoal business by driving out several businessmen dealing in the charcoal trade.

“My district doesn’t have such cases of commercial charcoal production and illegal tree felling, we chased them away from areas of Orom where the trade was very pronounced and caused the transfer of one of the Officers in charge of Orom-Tikau Prison who was implicated in the trade,” he says.

A recent report by an environmental justice pressure group, ‘Our Trees, We Need Answers’ indicated that over 100 acres of various tree species had been depleted in Lelakadera, Obulu Ayita, and Lacekoto in Adilang Sub-county, Agago District.

The report followed an investigation by the group which comprised of community workers, journalists, and researchers in the sub-county that had been invaded by hundreds of commercial charcoal producers some of who had relocated from Amuru district targeting endangered shea nut trees.

Arthur Owor, the coordinator of the environmental justice pressure group and Director of Center for African Research noted that for long security personnel have been involved in logging and charcoal trade based on their investigation.

Owor however tasked Gen Lokech to walk-the-talk on curbing the vice, unlike his other predecessors.

According to the 2018 Status of Forestry report by the Ministry of Water and Environment, over 95 per cent of people in Uganda depend on biomass energy with about 40 million tons of firewood and 1 million tonnes of Charcoal consumed per annum. 


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