By Our Reporter
Conservationists are disappointed with the court decision which granted absolute removal of a traditional ‘spiritual’ tree, the “Nabukalu” in Mpigi district, which was being revered as one of the cultural sites for the Lugave clan members.
Last Thursday, Mpigi High Court Judge Anthony Oyuko Ojok granted permission to the Uganda National Roads Authority-UNRA, to remove the spiritual tree at Mabuye-Katende in Mpigi district, which had become an obstacle in the processes of opening route for Kibuye-Busega-Mpigi 23.7 kilometers expressway.
The indigenous African “bush candle” tree, commonly known as Muwafu in Luganda, was being claimed by Hussein Katamba, who wanted to preserve it because of the cultural heritage value he and his clan attach to it.
Katamba had sued UNRA demanding for 500 million shillings to enable him to relocate the ancestral cultural site to another location after the authority declined his plea to redesign the road’s plan to avoid the site.
However, the presiding judge set aside Katamba’s prayers and granted UNRA permission to go ahead and remove the controversial tree, after upholding the shillings 4.6 million compensation fees that were earlier allocated to him by the Chief Government Valuer.
The judgement has been perceived as controversial by conservationists, who are now describing it as a slap in their face, arguing that it frustrates their efforts at a time when nature is under immense threat of destruction.
Rose Nakyejwe, the Masaka district Senior Environment Officer also a member of the Biodiversity Conservation Foundation-BCF, an advocacy organization for environmental protection, says the judgment sets bad precedence likely to cause lethal consequences to biodiversity.
According to her, the judgement overlooks the natural-historical attributes that are reflected in the tree and mainly focused on the spiritual assertions which by default Katamba could not substantiate by legal dimensions.
The judgement for instance indicates that Katamba failed to prove that the disputed tree indeed had any significant cultural value given that it was not gazetted as a protected object under the Historical Monuments Act, and as a result court failed to find viable justifications for granting his prayers.
Nakyejjwe is afraid that the judgement puts in danger many other significant historical monuments in the country, that have for many years been informally preserved under some traditional and superstitious beliefs attached to them by people of ordinary status.
She indicates that although the road project is important to the country, the tree; going by its age, the rare species and unique outlook also presented a priceless significance to the country, arguing that UNRA could have been implored to make slight adjustments in the road design to preserve it.
She challenges the Ministries of Environment, Tourism Wildlife and Antiquities to link with other nature conservationists to take deliberate interventions towards developing inventories of such significant monuments so that they can be conserved.
Martha Nalukenge, the Community Advocacy Officer at Eco-Brixs, a local environment protection organization operating in Masaka sub-region, also observes that the judgement minimizes people’s ancient cultural beliefs.
According to her, the country lost a great cultural heritage in the malicious destruction of the ancestral “Nabukalu” tree after its acclaimed spiritual values were taken in mere mockery.
Nalukenge prefers that going forward, the government needs to appreciate the relevance of every aspect of people’s cultural beliefs which is a traditional way of protecting precious heritage.
Nalukenge wonders why UNRA and the road contractor did not opt for other alternatives of relocating the tree or avoid avoiding it, over the perceived extraneous demand of Shilling 500 million as compensation sought by the overseer.
However, in his ruling, the presiding judge observed that it was boggling in his mind that Katamba was claiming six main houses yet the suit land was not in possession of even a single grass-thatched house.
“And since this court cannot hear from spirits as it only bases on viable evidence adduced before it, I am unable to find the claim for 500,000,000 million shillings justifiable, not to mention that the plaintiff failed to prove to this court the existence of a cultural site for the Lugave clan on the suit land for which he sought this enormous compensation. It is rather gluttonous of the plaintiff to want to reap from what he did not sow,” the judgement reads in part.