By Frank Lukwago, New Vision/NECJOGHA
Masaka, Uganda – Residents who derive their livelihood from fishing activities in the southern Uganda districts of Kalungu and Kalangala have asked government to reopen fish landing sites that were closed two years ago.
The affected residents including fishermen and fishmongers are currently doing odd jobs on rice fields in the area while others are still jobless.
In Kalungu, the fishermen were chased away from the three sites: Kamuwunga in Lukaya Town Council, Bulingo and Kalangala both in Bukulula Sub-county.
In Kalangala District, those affected were occupying land sites such as Kasisa, Lwamayiba, Butulume, Bwamba, Kagoonya and Buwunge.
Before the closure of Kamuwunga Landing Site, there were 1,784 residents eking out a living from fishing activities while Bulingo and Kalangala landing sites had 200 and 150 residents, respectively.
Kasim Ssempala, the chairperson of Bulingo Village, says the crime rate in the area has gone up ever since the landing site was closed.
“We request that the landing site is reopened so that people can have some work to do,” he says.
He adds that many youth, who used to spend most of their time fishing, are currently jobless and engage in criminal acts to survive.
“This has comprised security in the area and we are sitting on a time bomb,” he adds.
Ssempala says he has, on several occasions, tried to reach out to army officers attached to Fisheries Protection Unit (FPU) to have the landing site reopened, but they refused, saying fishermen in the area should first secure recommended boats and licences so that they can be allowed to resume work.
FPU was formed by President Museveni in January 2017, to crack down on illegal fishing on Ugandan water bodies, which was blamed for the dwindling fish stock in the country.
Ssempala says they have tried to create a Savings and Credit Cooperative Organisation (Sacco) at the landing site so that residents can acquire soft loans and start up other small income generating projects but many still believe in fishing as their sole source of income.
“Government was ready to help them and the Agriculture minister, Vincent Ssempijja, had promised to lobby for the start-up capital but some residents did not buy this idea of forming a Sacco insisting they want to do their traditional business of fishing and not getting loans that require paying back,” he says.
While campaigning for ruling NRM candidate for Kalungu District chairperson by-election in August 2017, President Museveni directed Ssempijja to dig fish ponds on the peripheral zones of the spacious Lwera swamp so that youth who were evicted from landing sites can get employment.
The President re-echoed the same message in July this year during his countywide wealth creation tour in Masaka, saying people who are still occupying illegal landing sites need to vacate to allow fish stocks to regenerate.
Ronald Ssemanda, the chairperson of Kamuwunga Village, says the Presidential directive could have made sense if the line ministry had enforced it.
“When the President talked about establishing fish ponds in Lwera, we thought the project was going to be fast tracked by the line ministry to enable our people get an alternative source of income, but there is nothing on the ground yet,’’ Ssemanda says.
Ssemanda adds that soldiers under FPU, who could have guided them on how they can engage in sustainable fishery, have instead resorted to beating them whenever they meet them.
“Those soldiers don’t listen, sometimes they find us in Lwera swamp catching mud fish, they beat us and confiscate our motorcycles claiming that we are getting the fish from the lake, which is not true,” he says.
Jackson Baguma, the Kalangala District fisheries officer, says the closure of landing sites has led to displacement of people, which has also affected the district’s local revenue by 20 per cent.
The FPU commander, Lt Col James Nuwagaba says the closed landing sites will only be reopened after confirmation that no illegal activities are taking place there.
“We shall not reopen those landing sites now. We don’t succumb to blackmail from fishermen. If they (fishermen) had fulfilled the standards we set, I would have been the first person to know through local leaders, not the media,” he says.
He says rather than reopening the landing sites, they will instead deploy more soldiers to ensure that individuals who secretly engage in illegal fishing activities at night are apprehended and prosecuted.
“ Those fishermen are not easy people. When our officers do not use force, they ambush them at night and take back fish from them. So, we cannot tolerate such acts,” he says.