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Illegal Charcoal Dealers Disguising as Pastoralists

In Paibona Sub County in Gulu district, Richard Watmon the LC3 Chairperson told URN that more than 100 herdsmen who are non-natives of the area have pitched camp in Ayweri, Akoo, Tugu Lwala purportedly to graze cattle.
Chunks of land in Okidi North, Attiak Sub County Amuru district reportedly cleared by the puported nomadic pastoralists. Photo by Emmy Daniel Ojara

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Authorities in Gulu and Amuru districts have raised concerns about new methods being used by illegal charcoal dealers and loggers to gain access to forest reserves and cut down trees.

In Paibona Sub County in Gulu district, Richard Watmon the LCIII Chairperson says that more than 100 herdsmen who are non-natives of the area have pitched camp in Ayweri, Akoo, Tugu Lwala purportedly to graze cattle. 

However, Watmon says that intelligence reports from the community members indicate that the said ‘’ herdsmen’’ are massively involving in tree cutting for charcoal or harbouring their colleagues who come to trade in charcoal.    He disclosed that more than 7,000 heads of cattle are currently spread in the areas which are also the worst affected by the massive indiscriminate cutting of trees regardless of the endangered species for charcoal purposes.

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Watmon says that the Sub County is incapacitated to drive away the purported cattle keepers nor illegal charcoal dealers due to inadequate manpower and resistance from the neighbouring communities who receive meagre pays from the illicit traders. 

In Palaro Sub County, Gulu district, thousands of heads of cattle are being grazed in Oroko and Mede parishes which also harbour the most numbers of illegal charcoal dealers and loggers.  

A resident in Mede parish who spoke on condition of anonymity due to fear disclosed that the nomadic pastoralists are only disguising in that business but the majority of them are those cutting trees for charcoal and logs.  

The same cases have also been reported in Okidi North and East Parishes in Attiak Sub County Amuru district where the illegal charcoal dealers and loggers are operating.

In the said areas, at least five lorry trucks loaded with either charcoal or logs leave for the central parts of Uganda daily. 

Xavier Sekanabo, the Commander Environmental Police Protection Unit says that they have witnessed and also received concerns that the illegal charcoal dealers are conniving with the nomadic pastoralists to clear trees for their grazing grounds while others are disguising to conduct the illicit business without being recognized.

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He disclosed that during a month-long operation against illegal charcoal dealers and loggers in the Northern Region, several people who claimed to be nomadic pastoralists were found within the different illegal charcoal dealers` camp, they were detained but later released with cautions. 

When contacted both Resident District Commissioners of Gulu and Amuru, Stephen Odong Latek and Geoffrey Oceng said they were yet to investigate the matter and urged the community members to report such cases for ease of follow-ups.

Last year at the peak of the countrywide Covid-19 lockdown, Brigadier Bonny Bamwiseki the Fourth Division Commander ordered for the eviction of all nomadic pastoralists from Acholi Sub Region after information emerged that they were taking part in the destruction of forests for charcoal and logs.

Meanwhile, the Police in Patongo Police Station has arrested five suspects over the alleged illegal charcoal business. The suspects have been identified as Augustine Akullo, John Omwony, Charles Akope, Michael Ochen and Moses Ochoro.

They were arrested on Tuesday from Rugu –Rugu Village, Adilang Sub –County in Agago District by a joint team of police and local leaders during the ongoing crackdown on illegal charcoal business that is so rampant in the district.

Jimmy Patrick Okema, the Aswa River Region Police Spokesperson says that the suspects were found with three axes, two spades, three folk hoes and two machetes from suspects.

He says the suspects are still in police detention as investigations into the case continue. Leonard Opiyo Ojok, the Agago District Chairman says in a bid to wipe out illegal charcoal business in the district, local leaders with the aid of police are arresting the landowners who are giving out their lands to the illegal charcoal dealers.

Ojok also revealed that Agago district authorities have banned the issuance of movement permits to the charcoal dealers.

On Tuesday afternoon, police set ablaze over 600 bags of charcoal impounded from Rugu –Rugu Village in Adilang Sub –County. They also impounded two trucks loaded with bags of charcoal and parked them at Patongo Police Station.