By Jean Gatera
In an eviction exercise described by eyewitnesses as “very brutal”, eight people have died including a 10-month baby.
Residents of Ususa landing site on Lake Albert in the west were forced by UPDF into overcrowded boats, causing it to capsize. It was reported that the army was evicting the residents on the grounds that water levels were rising.
The incident occured barely 10 days after a similar one on Lake Victoria where five lives were lost. A local council chairman in the area, Benson Abeho, confirmed that those on board had been forcefully evicted by the Ugandan military.
A maritime expert based in Kampala reviewed findings, and expressed his dismay. “This was the result of a rushed eviction,” he said. “UPDF’s role should be investigated to determine why the boat was overloaded; they might have been overzealous in the conduct of eviction,” added the expert.
The recent tragedy on Lake Albert happened about 400 meters from the landing site, which is in Kikuube District. The Regional Police Spokesman Julius Hakiza reported that security forces managed to rescue 10 people from the capsized boat.
“These accidents happen because of overloading” a local fisherman explained. “It is too easy to bribe and stuff boats” he lamented. In 2018, Banabas Twinomujuni, an officer at maritime administration in the Ministry of Works and Transport, blamed marine accidents to the poor physical conditions of the boats, which risks are enhanced with incidents such as UPDF overloading them with helpless civilians.
In 2014, UNHCR estimated that more than 250 refugees had died in boat-related accidents on Lake Albert. Uganda is prone to maritime accidents on its lakes. With the recent water levels rising, UPDF brass have seen it as ok to mobilize and forcefully evict those living on the shores of these lakes, according to bitter residents of landing sites. The eviction exercises have invariably been marred by violence.