Seven hundred kilometers.
That is the total distance we covered from the town of Kapchorwa in Eastern Uganda to the shores of Lake George in the West, near the Uganda-DR Congo border, traversing the whole of Uganda from East to West in five days.
It was an intense and exhausting journey, interspersed with project visits and meet-the-people tours. In between, we met community and local government leaders and had interesting discussions with them. Kapchorwa is located 2200 MASL on the slopes of Mt. Elgon near Kenya’s western border.
There were five of us.
Besides this writer, there was Hodiah Wangare who was the team leader, Clarence Makau, Jane Kioko, and Ruth Mukuba. This was a knowledge sharing and exchange visit between Imarisha Naivasha and the Fort Portal-based Joint Effort to Conserve the Environment, JESE.
JESE had earlier paid a similar exchange visit to Naivasha in 2014, and now it was Imarisha’s turn to return the favour. All in all, the whole journey from Naivasha and back was some 2900 kilometres.
We began our journey on Monday, July 25 from Naivasha, where we were picked up by our driver, Kennedy Muchemi, at around 6.00 am. He would take us to Nakuru where we were to board a bus from the Modern Coast Company, which we had booked a week earlier.
The bus left Nakuru at 8.30 am for Kampala and we arrived at Busia on the Kenya-Uganda border at around 4.00 pm, where our travel papers were checked and we were granted entry into Uganda. From Busia we proceeded towards Kampala, but were forced to alight near Tororo as our hosts had stationed themselves in a hotel there.
The reason for this was that our tour would start at Kapchorwa on the slopes of Mt. Elgon, which is in Eastern Uganda. We duly alighted from the bus and had a short taxi ride to Tororo town where we were picked up by JESE’s Sam Nyakoojo who was to be our host and guide. By this time it was around 6.00 pm. After a brief talk and introductions, we had supper of “matoke” and fish and went to sleep.
Early the next morning, we boarded a hired van and set out for Kapchorwa. By now, our five-man team had expanded to nine; joining us were Sam, our host, and two other Government officials – Luke Patrick Onzima, District Forest Officer Kyenjonjo District and Ronald Lotet, District Environment Officer, Mubende District. With them also was our driver, Isaac.
Uganda is mostly a hilly country, interspersed by numerous lakes, rivers, and swamps. The wetland count there is phenomenal – well, at least we Kenyans thought so and would remark as much severally during our trip.
In Kenya, we know of a few waterfalls, most notable being the Thomsons and Fourteen Falls. In Uganda, waterfalls fall virtually from every nook and cranny of Mt. Elgon and other highlands. It was remarkable!
Despite Uganda having arguably the largest share of Lake Victoria amongst the three East African countries, it also has several other lakes; Albert, Kyoga, George, Edward, Bunyonyi, Mutanda, Kwania, Nabugabo, Wamala, and Bisina. All these are large fresh-water lakes that provide local communities with fish and other resources.
The Kapchorwa District Land Care Chapter (KADLACC) is a community-based organization affiliated to the International Land Care Chapter. It is a forum of small-scale farmers and the Local Government Authority advocating for sustainable agricultural practices in natural resources management. It was formed in 2003 with the intention of supporting communities adopt efficient environmental practices.
KADLACC was our first stop when we got to Kapchorwa. From the long distances, we had already seen that this was going to be a long day. It well proved to be. At KADLACC, we visited two community groups involved in environmental conservation and sustainable farming practices, Arokwo Growers Association and Tegeres Multi Purpose Group.
Arokwo is a group of 20 farmers formed in 2003 to control soil erosion in their farms as the terrain of the area is quite sloppy. The group has been trained on different soil conservation methods including digging of trenches and planting of grasses & trees and report improved farm production.
They are also in the process of installing rainwater harvesting tanks in their homesteads. The project is partly donor-funded. The group also involves itself in table banking and has accumulated savings (UGShs.30 million) in their bank account from their yearly contribution. The idea of soil and water conservation is well-embraced interpreting to ownership of the project.
Tegeres Multi Purpose Group group is also involved in activities to control soil erosion including construction of home trenches and planting of Napier grass and trees. Due to its proximity to Mt. Elgon National Park, the group is also involved in the protection of the park. As part of their MOU with the Uganda Wildlife Authority, they have an area inside the park where they keep beehives. They are also involved in table banking, biogas production and dairy cattle keeping.
Some of these interventions, such as tree-planting and beekeeping, are similar to what Imarisha Naivasha is involved in within the Lake Naivasha Basin, more so with communities in the upper catchment such as Friends of North Kinangop Plateau and Hifadhi Farmers Cooperative in Eburru Forest.
The day ended with a recap meeting with the KADLACC chairman at their office and a long drive to Kampala. As I said earlier, this would prove to be a long day, and so it was. Our troubles started when our van broke down several kilometers out of Kapchorwa town.
The brake pads on both front wheels burnt out and fell off; apparently while we were negotiating the hair-pin bends while coming down the steep slopes of the mountain. Isaac, in his wisdom, did not mention anything, but tell-tale fumes of brake-fluid might have alerted some of us. That, and the fact that he was doing well below 50 KPH all this time!
Needless to say, he got us down the slopes in one piece and to the relative safety of a small village town where he took a taxi to the next biggest town to look for a mechanic. By this time, it was well after 6.00 pm. We waited patiently, darkness fast approaching, for Isaac and the mechanic.
Kampala, we were told, was a six-hour drive from our location and we all wondered at what time we would arrive and get some rest given that the next day would be an early start. Sometime after 7.00 pm, the mechanic came and hurriedly began to repair the van. He used a torch-light when darkness finally came.
We resumed our journey around 8.00 pm. Our major regret was that we did not get to see the beautiful Uganda scenery as it was very dark, and most of us simply nodded off and fell asleep.
So we missed seeing the Nile River in all its majesty at Jinja! Sam pointed it out to us though, the lights of the city dancing upon its surface and fishermen still out in their boats with lamplights shining out of them. It still was a remarkable sight, however.
We got to Kampala at around 1.30 am in the morning and, by the time we had looked for a place to sleep and had a quick supper, it was nearing 3.00 am. The joke that was going round was that we shouldn’t say “Good Night” to each other, but “Good Morning”! We all had a good laugh about that! A two-hour sleep is all I had that day, because I slept at 3.30 am and was up by 5.45 am, as were some of the others.
The team split into two as we prepared to leave for Fort Portal where we would spend the next two nights (Wednesday and Thursday). Before reaching Fort Portal, however, there were to be several stopovers including at Mubende Town and Matiiri Forest Reserve along the way. The total distance from Kampala to Fort Portal is approximately 300 kilometres.
The first car left with Sam driving it. It belonged to JESE. The other team left with Isaac, as usual. He had exchanged the van with a more hardy four wheel drive SUV. Having had breakfast, we all clambered in and embarked on the next phase of our journey.
Mubende District is in Central Uganda and its headquarters is located in Mubende Town. Ronald Lotet, whom we had with us, is the District Environment Officer. During our trip, he gave us useful tidbits about Uganda and what was going on in Uganda in terms of environmental conservation.
Together with Patrick, DFO Kyenjonjo, and Sam from JESE, Ronald is part of the Inter District Multi-Stakeholders Forum convened by JESE with funding from CARE. The forum is aimed at combating illegal trade in timber and charcoal through stakeholder cooperation in the selected districts of Kyenjojo, Kyegegwa and Mubende of the River Albert-line rift.
The forum is geared towards strengthening community participation in natural resource management, harmonizing rules and best practices, initiating a viable coordination mechanism and access to information through regular meetings and viable channels of communication.
The forum is interested in establishing and strengthening local multi-stakeholder structures that promote social accountability in the Environment and Natural Resources sector mainly through coordination and information sharing. As one of the local multi-stakeholders structures, the Inter District Forum bears some similarities with the Lake Naivasha Basin and JESE has always been interested in Imarisha Naivasha as a key study in coordination and supervision because JESE plays a similar role in the Forum.
At Mubende, the team visited Kaweeri Forest Reserve after paying a courtesy call at the Local Government Offices where we met the Mubende Local Government Authority Chairman, Edward Birunji as well as the Deputy Chief Administrative Officer (DCAO).
Kaweeri Forest Reserve is managed by the National Forestry Authority (NFA). The NFA has involved the local community in co-managing the forest, where previously up to 50 per cent of the forest had been encroached and turned into farmland. Illegal charcoal burning was also taking place.
After sensitization and strict policy-implementation, the forest is now being reclaimed and much of the farmland has been converted back to forestland. The community is allowed supervised access to forest resources such as firewood and water bodies, but they are required in turn to act as its stewards. So far, the experiment is going well.
Participatory forest management is also being implemented at Matiiri Forest Reserve, where beekeeping and establishment of tree nurseries is encouraged within the local community. Community participation in forest conservation as well as initiatives geared towards livelihood improvement of the locals have turned around the fortunes of forests in Uganda.
Fort Portal is a small, tidy and well-planned town on the slopes of the Rwenzori Mountains at the border of Uganda and DR Congo. In town, you can see the mountains towering into the mists, and it seems as though you could reach out a hand and touch it. However, Ronald informs me that it is almost 100 kilometres southwest of Fort Portal!
Fort Portal is cool and dry, this time of the year. Compared to Naivasha, it is still a tad warm, but Kampala folk, such as Isaac, swear by its blistering cold! It is very clean and well organized, with distinct residential and commercial areas. There is hardly any garbage and the lawns downtown are manicured and well-kept. The air is crisp and fresh.
We soon discover part of the reason why. A few kilometers out of town, beyond an affluent-looking neighbourhood where former colonialists must have kept their abode and Fort Portal’s nouveau-riche now keep theirs, is a well-managed landfill that takes care of most of the town’s garbage.
This model landfill is an initiative of the Fort Portal Municipal Council, NEMA Uganda and The World Bank. It was initiated in 2010 and has a capacity to handle 50 tonnes of waste daily. It utilizes organic waste decomposition where incoming waste is first sorted into biodegradable and non biodegradable.
The biodegradable is then sprayed with cow dung which contains azotobacter and helps in the decomposition process. The leachette is then collected in a separate tank and used as liquid fertilizer and also sprayed on the segregation chamber to catalyze decomposition.
One challenge currently facing the landfill is the recent increase in population due to rural-urban migration. Currently, the amount of garbage being collected from the town is about 80 tonnes while the capacity of the landfill is 50 tonnes per day.
However, the management says that, with the over 26 acres of land available, they will seek to expand its capacity in future. The other challenge is lack of funds, but talks are currently underway with donors such as the World Bank and the Municipal Council to increase their funding to the project.
The Fort Portal landfill is proof that, with proper management, solid waste in our towns should not be the persistent menace and health hazard that they have always been.
Another scene of wonder in Fort Portal is the Amabere waterfalls, caves and campsite. The limestone caves are located 10km from Fort Portal and local legend has it that they were named after Nyinamwiru a daughter of Bukuku one of the ancient rulers of the Batembuzi dynasty of the current Toro and Bunyoro Kingdoms.
Nyinamwiru was a proud attractive girl who refused to marry the man her father chose for her. As a result, she was punished by cutting off her breasts which later are assumed to have grown into these scenic rocks with a dripping white liquid assumed to be milk.
The huge falls dictate the moisture content of the atmosphere surrounding the caves. At the entrance to the caves, the snake size slippery path guides you into a cool green world of moss and fern covered by trees and rocks. Vegetation cover is still intact and natural giving flow to clear water.
We had time to visit JESE headquarters in Fort Portal where we had several presentations; from Imarisha Naivasha, from JESE and from the Inter District Multi Stakeholder Forum.
JESSE is a non-governmental organization established in 1993. It envisions a community where people and nature flourish, and is dedicated to ensuring reduction of poverty amongst agriculture and natural resources dependent communities through empowering the communities to engage in sustainable agriculture and integrated natural resources management.
JESE runs several programmes in Uganda, encompassing environmental conservation, livelihood improvement and also Water, Health and Sanitation WASH, such as the one they have at the Kayinja Landing Site on the shores of Lake George. Lake George is located some 70 kilometres south of Fort Portal.
The people here are mainly fisherfolk. Some of the challenges the community was facing were health and hygiene related. Open defecation was the norm in the region. This made the village to be hit by water borne diseases with high cases of cholera recorded.
In 2014, JESE in partnership with an NGO (Protos) came to the community’s rescue through putting up of Eco-San toilets. These are eco-friendly toilets that do not require deep digging of the pits because of the high water-table in the area. Open defecation has now been eradicated.
JESE also put up concrete fish handling tables at the beach to improve sanitation. A fence was also erected to improve security. Residents now say that the sanitation has improved and there are better health outcomes for the villagers.
The visit to JESE marked the climax of our five-day sojourn in Uganda. On Friday morning it was time to leave, and we all said our goodbyes and began our long journey to Naivasha.