Since the inception of our project that seeks to improve access rights to forestry resources in the sub region, community engagement has improved, especially about seeking accountability for environmental and climate justices. Women have been seen to take the center stage in this work, mobilizing their peers and community in defense of their environment. They have also been seen to demand for their natural resource rights within their community so that they too can benefit.
In Itirikwa and Ukusinjoni Sub-Counties for example, women took to talking to their sons and daughters – educating them about the benefits of Zoka as a natural resource and urged them not to surrender their natural resource rights merely in exchange for material gains like money and motorcycles during the vote canvassing period, even when the stakes were high.
Protection of natural resource rights in the sub region was one of the determining factors for the 2021 general election in the sub region. The management of forests, specifically, Zoka Central Forest Reserve, was high on this agenda. Many seeking political office(s), both incumbents and those who sought first time elective positions, pitched their campaigns on the premise of preserving and fighting against abuse of the forest resources in Adjumani district, particularly citing Zoka central forest reserve.
Standing out, was the race for Adjumani district chairperson, where the out-going chairperson Lames Leku was ejected on grounds that he and his administration authored documents permitting illegal logging and commercial charcoal trade and let the violations thrive unabated.
The populace opted to elect Ben Anyama, who had campaigned on platforms of plunder of natural resources in the district including Zoka Central Forest Reserve.
Similarly, in the Parliamentary election of Adjumani East, the incumbent Hon. Mark Dulu Angel lost to Mr. Mamawi James who pronounced his support to save Zoka central forest reserve and pledged to provide leadership that will protect natural resources in the Sub Region.
The youth In Itirikwa sub county through the influence of the various women groups, chose to elect one of their own for Member of Parliament for Adjumani West, where they blame the out-going leadership for grave lapses in addressing climate change challenges and environmental abuse in the area.
It is evident that the work ‘FoZ’ has been doing in the last five years or so has been very impactful in the critical decision-making process. Their work precipitated the civic awareness and clearly shaped the voting pattern in the just concluded elections. This indeed is a milestone achievement in the advocacy work to save Zoka Central Forest Reserve and forested landscapes in the region and has the capacity to spill over to neighboring communities who seek to protect their natural resources.
Whatever afflicted Zoka Central forest in the last five electoral years prominently surfaced in the campaign materials of candidates, campaign songs were composed with lyrics pledging to voters the protection and conservation of the forest for the posterity while lamenting its continuous depletion.
Our advocacy work continues to be put to a real test now, through shaping policies and environmental ideological trends in the sub region. We are aware that this also has a far-reaching security implication on both our personalities and the institution, but we remain committed in pursuit for social and environmental justice.
So far as a result of our work and its impact in the region, we have received anonymous calls threatening us and we are now being openly tracked by people whose identity is not known to us.
One fact that is clear is that 90% of all those whom we investigated and wrote about on our different social media accounts (WhatsApp, Facebook or Twitter) of being involved in the depletion of Zoka Central Forest Reserve and other forested landscapes in Adjumani have all failed in these recent elections.
By Amanzuru William
Team Leader, FOZ