By George Busiinge
Destruction of a rock recognized as a Bunyoro Kingdom cultural site has persisted despite National Environmental Management Authority (NEMA) halting the Chinese Contractor from blasting it to generate construction materials.
In a letter dated February 6, 2019 addressed to the contractor-Chongqing International Construction Corporation (CICO), NEMA says Haibale rock was recognized as a “cultural site with historical, archeological and ethnographical aspects of traditional interests of Bunyoro Kingdom.”
“The purpose of this letter is to advise you to immediately halt any further blasting activities of this rock,” the letter signed by the Executive Director Christine Echookit Akello reads part.
However, the call has been defied by the contactor. When this reporter visited Haibare 1 village in Kigorobya sub county in Hoima district where the rock is located on Tuesday 5th, blasting activities could be heard from a distance.
CICO public relations officer, Asuman Mugegere told media that blasting is going on since the contactor has not received the letter from NEMA restraining them from the activity.
“No one has stopped the quarrying and we are going on. Those with NEMA letter are conmen. If it was a letter from NEMA, we would have received it before going to the media,” Mugegere said while speaking on phone.
NEMA’s letter came at the wheels of a petition from Tourism, Wildlife and Antiquities Ministry and Bunyoro Kitara Kingdom asking NEMA to stop CICO from blasting the rock.
The Kingdom Prime Minister and Minister for Tourism, Apollo Rwamparo said the land where the rock is the kingdom’s cultural site and was managed by Ababyedo clan of Bunyoro. He notes it was fraudulently leased to CICO by an individual.
“Someone who was working in the kingdom used his position to hoodwink residents and acquired the land title fraudulently,” he says.
He explains that the rock has spiritual values and cultural importance and therefore needs to be protected.
“The rock is a cultural site for Ababyedo, they used to perform rituals and historically, it was where a military fort was established after Kabalega was conquered by the whites,” Rwamparo explains.
He decries that despite NEMA’s letter; the contactor has continued to blast the rock and will finish it all if urgent action is not taken.
“Those people are big headed. We (Kingdom) have engaged them several times to halt blasting but have not heeded,” he says.
What residents say
Patrick Barugahara, the chairperson of Ababyedo clan in Kigorobya says Haibale rock is sacred natural site for Ababyedo and they would use it to perform rituals and get blessings.
“That stone has an entrance and a whole inside. I am 54 years now, but as I was growing up, I used to see our fathers going there to perform rituals. Our children joining the army would not die in the war after getting blessings from that rock, natural calamities like drought and sicknesses like Cholera would not affect us for we were protected by the that rock,” he explains.
Abdu Kabagambe, a custodian who also doubles as the LC1 chairperson for Haibale 1 Village notes that, “losing it to investor means losing spiritual attachment and dissolving of cultural norms.”
A 50 year old woman from Ababyedo clan who preferred anonymity attributes the recent water scarcity and famine as a result of long dry spell to blasting of the rock.
“These days we are experiencing water scarcity, the borehole that we have in the village has become seasonal. Even the seasons have changed and for us who have lived to know the importance of Haibale rock attribute it to blasting,” she notes.
She adds, “Whenever the rock would turn too black, we would know that its soon raining and we prepare our gardens for the season. But ever since they started blasting the rock things have changed.”
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