Two weeks ago, the National Building Review Board and Arua City Council came to a collective resolution to stop the development plans for Barifa Forest as they would cause harm to the forest. The meeting brought together representatives from National Building Review Board, National Environment Management Authority (NEMA), National Forestry Authority (NFA), and Arua City Council at Mvara Primary School to review the Barifa Forest Development plan before the construction could take place. The meeting was however disrupted by community members who protested the proposed ecotourism design presented by Hon. Denis Oguzu Lee, the developer of this project and MP of Maracha County.
After listening to the community, the architect from the National Building Review Board, Jennifer noted that the Review Board had found out that the developers’ design plan would cause harm to the forest. The authorities present jointly tasked the developer, Oguzu Lee to redesign the ecotourism and recreation center construction plan, to be reviewed upon submission.
For two years, concern has been expressed by the community when they learned that the developer’s ecotourism architectural design called for the destruction of a huge part of the forest to make way for construction. This meeting comes after a nonviolent protest by Arua youth and concerned residents and leaders in 2021 that exposed Oguzu Lee’s intentions to build the Eco-city in Barifa, which would require clearing most of the forest to create space for permanent structures. The Arua youth resisted them to protect the only forest within Arua city.
In May, last year, the Arua City Physical Planning Committee refused to issue a permit to the developer, Hon. Oguzu, citing irregularities in the National Forestry Authority’s license awarding process. Upon receiving a petition challenging the decision of this Committee from Oguzu Lee on May 22, the National Building Review Board gave the Committee 15 days to issue the permit for the construction to start. Moses Findru, the Senior Physical Planner of Arua City, reaffirmed the Committee’s position that the plan would be rejected unless redesigned to avoid endangering the forest or surrounding communities.
Former Arua Municipal MP Wadri Kasiano advised Hon. Oguzu Lee, the project’s developer, to consider the environmental risks the project posed to the local community while redesigning the project.
Malon Avutia, the Division Mayor of Ayivu, emphasized that in addition to modifying the plan, the developer should think about relocating the project to a place other than the Barifa forest.
Salute to the Arua community achieved considerable success in defending the protection of this forest established by community members in 1948.