Cliff Abenaitwe

Government Promotes Access to Affordable Credit in Rwenzori Region

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Cliff Abenaitwe

Government through its body- The Microfinance Support Centre (MSC) has kicked off a campaign to promote access to affordable credit in the districts of Kasese, Ntoroko and Bundibugyo- in the Rwenzori Region. The campaign is targeting various categories of community members, along with District, Cultural and Religious leaders to sensitize them on the affordable funding opportunities available to increase household incomes and improve livelihoods.

Recently, a team from MSC concluded a two-week long sensitization drive of stakeholders and community members- the first of the many sensitization campaigns geared towards creating awareness and building capacity of community groups to access and benefit from government funding.

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Peter Kibirango- the Kabarole Region MSC Manager during one of the sensitization meetings in Kasese district

According to Hellen Petranella Matsika- an official from the MSC, over the past couple of years, government through MSC has extended cheap, affordable credit to entities in this region and more groups are being targeted for funding to alleviate poverty. “We have disbursed 29 Billion Shillings in the 9 districts of Kasese, Bunyagabu, Kasese, Bundibugyo, Ntoroko, Kamwenge, Kyenjojo, Mubende and Kabarole under our Kabarole Zonal Office, but these funds have been to SACCOS, Cooperatives and Companies”, Matsika explains. She however observed that very few community groups of people at different levels have benefited yet these groups have many members and are engaged in many income generating activities.

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According to MSC’s Hellen Matsika, government is determined to avail affordable credit to Ugandans and MSC is at the centre of this drive

Out of the 29 Billion Shillings disbursed in the region so far, Kasese District has taken a lion’s share with 27 Billion Shillings going to Corporate bodies, Microfinance Institutions and Cooperatives while Bundibugyo has benefited the least with 160 Million Shillings.

One of the biggest bottlenecks according to MSC is people’s little awareness about the existence of such affordable financing. “Government has this funding opportunity and we offer different credit products at an interest between 9 and 17 percent per annum. This is the cheapest credit in Uganda but people are not aware of this. Government is now committed to improve awareness to spur development”, Matsika confidently told this site.

To drive this, officials from MSC are now training and engaging leaders, stakeholders and people from different groups in the districts of Kasese, Ntoroko and Bundibugyo to popularize this Government program in the region.

According to Belinda Atim, the MSC Public Relations Officer (PRO), bringing Political leaders, district technical leaders,

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Belinda Atim- PRO MSC

religious leaders, opinion leaders and cultural leaders on board is key in the sensitization initiatives because these people interact with Ugandans at all levels on a daily basis adding that with them, every person will get information about this affordable funding option from Government.

Key Observations So Far

According to Matsika, apart from little knowledge on the availability of these funds, people in the region though they have groups, a number of these groups are not fully registered with the office of the District Commercial Officer (DCO), many are poor at book keeping but all these can be corrected for these groups to qualify for government funding. On the other hand, Matsika observed that there are many well organized groups like the over 1000 Women Groups under the Rwenzori Catholic Diocese that are ready for funding adding that these will be funded soon to boost their income activities.

Community Responses

Mumbere Bonny Hastings- a Person Living With Disability in Bundibugyo District

People Living With Disability and other vulnerable groups like women, the elderly have for long been neglected. However, with this government funding that takes care of all groups of people, we shall be able to access affordable low-interest funds to boost our economic activities. All we need is more sensitization on how we can organize and strengthen our groups to benefit from these funds.

Mbetegyerize Godfrey- RDC Bundibugyo;

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Bundibugyo RDC Godfrey Mbetegyerize

Government has come up with different programs to fight poverty. It has done its job. Now it is time for Ugandans to take advantage of these initiatives to access funds to boost economic activities. However, people who get these funds must know that it is not free money so it should be used for the right purpose to generate income so that groups are able to repay.

Mubulya Wilson- Prime Minister Obudhingiya Bwa Bwamba

The number of people accessing such good programs are still low yet people are still struggling with poverty. With more sensitization as initiated this time, awareness will improve and people will embrace this program and more others. We as cultural leaders appreciate the fact that we have a role to play in mobilising our communities to work towards prosperity.

Vila Nyeisi Muhindo- Chairperson Kasese Parish Women group

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Women Groups like the one Vila Nyeisi Muhindo heads are categorised as special interest groups and one of the key areas of focus 

Through our different church groups, we have been saving little funds which we have been using in income generating activities like making liquid soap, buying tents and chairs for hire among other ventures. However, our scope of activities has over the years been limited by funds. We believe that with such affordable funding from government through the Microfinance Support Centre, we shall be able to expand our activities and earn more income to support of families and fight poverty.

My Opinion

Affordable financing still remains a very big issue in Uganda. Loans from Commercial Banks are charged a relatively high interest rate which makes them unattainable. What remains puzzling is that many government initiated credit and financing options are affordable but the uptake of these facilities leaves a lot to be desired.

Now that MSC has set the ball in motion, sensitization of Ugandans in different areas on how to access this affordable finance must be scaled up. To achieve this, a sustainable, multi-stakeholder approach must be adopted for effective and efficient mobilization. A cross section of Ugandans think that government financing is like a donation hence no need to bother re-paying. However, with regular monitoring of beneficiaries, the advanced funds can be put to good use and the beneficiaries will be in position to repay.    

About MSC

The Microfinance Support Centre, a Government company incorporated in 2001, has since its inception disbursed close to 270b countrywide. The company boasts of a database of 5000 client institutions which have benefited from Government’s vision of prosperity for all. While the initial efforts were geared towards support to Savings and Credit Co-operative Organizations (SACCOs), services were later extended to Village Loans and Savings Associations (VSLAs), which attract more of the rural folk. Piloted in the East and Northern regions of the country, support to groups is now open countrywide with a call for informal business groups to get organized and registered at the district level so as to benefit from the provision.

MSC offers the cheapest micro-credit facility ranging from 9-17 percent and places emphasis on lending to the agricultural sector, the backbone of the economy.

 

 

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Genetic tweak gave yellow fever mosquitoes a nose for human odor

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One of the world’s deadliest mosquitoes sustains its taste for human blood thanks in part to a genetic tweak that makes it more sensitive to human odor, according to new research.

More details 

Story by Science Daily.

Environmental Degradation- Buhweju’s Visible ‘Benefit’ From Gold Mining

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Young and energetic men have abandoned Agriculture for mining

For over 50 years now, Buhweju has been mining gold- one of the precious minerals in the world. However, this western Uganda mountainous district is still grappling with poverty and poor social services as gold continues to ‘flow’ from this area.

I took a weeklong trip to this relatively new district to establish the contribution of the mining industry to the local government economy.

Inside Buhweju

Buhweju district has eight sub counties and half of them have huge gold deposits. Nine companies are today operating in this area but all the nine gold dealing companies have prospecting licenses.

As the name of the license type suggests, these companies are involved in assessing the gold potential of the district. As the licensed companies go on with their work, the small scale individual gold miners are also busy looking for livelihood from the ground.

In 2013, the Ugandan president directed that these small scale miners should stop but this fell on deaf ears.

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Gold Mining in Buhweju

Unlike in Tanzania (Geita District) where gold mining is in the highlands, gold mining in Buhweju is in swampy areas- something that raises key environmental worries.

On my trip I first stopped in Bisya Sub County and the area is Bukoto village where a wetland is steadily vanishing as hundreds of energetic men and women search for gold.

Every morning these people come to this swamp to mine gold. With their rudimentary tools, they dig -some as deep as 8-12 metres to extract sand which they sieve to get gold.

“I come here every day to look for money. Using my hoe and spade, I dig the ground to extract the sand where I get gold from. Sometimes the sand is too deep in some areas so I dig much deeper”, a determined Byarugaba Alexander of Bukoto Village told me.

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Byarugaba Alexander looking for the precious mineral. Here he is trying to sort gold from the sand

However, not every day is good for Byarugaba and his colleagues. Richard Matsiko, a miner in Bukoto’s neighboring gold mining village of Kyenjogyera told me that it’s not surprising digging the whole day and one fails to get anything. “Sometimes we work the whole day and fail to get anything but we must go on the next day”, he explained.

Apart from failure to earn a penny, these determined Ugandans have to also cope with flooding of their mining area since it’s a swamp, ‘harassment’ from Environmental officers, fluctuating gold prices as offered by the local dealers in the area as well as unfriendly weather conditions during the rainy season. Despite all these hardships, those involved in the industry are happy with the way things are moving as they have been able to earn a living from the trade.

District laments gold money loss

Local miners are smiling on one hand as district leaders lament over the little contribution of the gold mining industry to the economy of the area.

According to the district chairperson Sebastian Kerere, the district does not get taxes from the gold dealing companies operating in the area neither are they engaged in any activity as part of their corporate social responsibility.

“These companies are not giving us any money because they are only prospecting according to their licenses. They are also not involved in any pro-society act like road construction yet they use the district infrastructures. I can honestly say that as a district, we get nothing from them and from our gold”, he elaborated.

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Roads in Buhweju district are poor despite the gold resource.

A visibly unhappy Kerere explains that the licenses given to these companies ought to be clear to the district. “We are not getting any money from these companies because they claim to be prospecting in our district. What is unclear to us is where they take the gold they get in the process of prospecting. If we knew the amount of gold they get, we would be in position to levy something like a tax on them” a worried Karere elaborated adding that government ought to explain the duration of the prospection and the handling of the resource got in the process.

Other leaders also agree with the district chairman on this. Alison Ayetoranire Byamukama, the Special Presidential assistant on Buhweju affairs wants government to revise the current law on mining to allow local governments to have an extended say on licenses, production and sharing of the benefits rather than all these powers remaining at the responsible Ministry level.

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This young man of school going age is now into gold mining

In every mining area I visited, over 70 percent of the miners were energetic young men of school going age. Olive Koyekyenga, the district Woman Member of Parliament says that many youngsters have abandoned schooling to join the gold mining industry where they get ‘quick’ money.

“We have high illiteracy levels here because our children abandon school to join the mining industry. These young energetic youth should be the one involved in agriculture but this sector has been left to the old people. This is a bad trend that must be checked for the good of the future of this country” Mary Bashongoka- the district council speaker explained.

What the district has got from gold

Apart from providing a source of income to hundreds, in the financial year 2011/2012, Buhweju district got four million shillings (about 1600 US dollars) from government as its share from the resource.

“Yes we got this money but we are asking ourselves, this is a portion of what/how much? This is too little money and cannot do anything tangible in this vast district of ours” Kerere, the district chairman noted while speaking to me at the district headquarters in Nsika town. This amount is far less than one percent of the district’s 2013/2014 financial year budget.  For the last (2012/2013) financial year, Karere notes that they are yet to get any penny from the government.

Perhaps this explains why Buhweju still has many infrastructural problems like poor roads, poor hospitals, poor schools, poor electricity coverage as well as a big portion of the district population without access to clean gravity water.

Compared to other gold rich districts with in the East African, region, one sympathizes with Buhweju leaders when they cry of injustice.

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Manzie Mangochie- Geita district commissioner in Tanzania told Journalists last year that they get 200,000 US$ from the gold mining company operating in the area and to him this was too little. Buhweju got 1600$ in 2011/2012 financial year from government.

For example, in August 2013, when I and fellow journalist under the Revenue watch Institute oil gas and mining fellowship visited Geita district in Northern Tanzania, the district commissioner Manzie Mangochie told us that Geita gold mining company which extracts gold from the area was paying 200,000 Dollars as loyalty yet according to him, this is peanuts.

According to the Buhweju Member of parliament Ephraim Biraro, all hope is not lost and the district is optimistic that once something changes, the area will benefit more.

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Ephraim Biraro- The Buhweju Member of Parliament wants the current mining laws revised

“First of all there is a need to review the current mining laws so that we also get a say on the management of our resource. We need to know who is doing what here and also we ought to be aware of how much gold comes from our land. If this happens, we will be able to know how much is our share and how we stand to benefit from the companies operating from our area”, Biraro elaborated during a lengthy chat with him at his Parliamentary office in Kampala.

One issue that is of concern to many people in Buhweju is about the companies in the area that are prospecting. The Buhweju district council speaker Mary Bashongoka wants more transparency in the operation of these companies. “We want to know what these companies are doing, how they are doing it, what they are getting from our land, where they put the gold they get in the process and how do we benefit” Bashongoka observed adding that the companies in the area are involved in mining gold yet they do not pay taxes. This claim was raised by the local miners in all the sub counties I visited but all the companies operating in the area say they are only involved in gold prospecting.

According to the Department of Geological Survey and Mines in Ministry of Energy and Mineral Development In order to participate in mineral exploration, one must acquire a Prospecting License. The license is area specific and gives authority to the holder to look for mineral occurrence of interest in Uganda, and then demarcate it. This helps to make others aware that the area is exclusively booked and nobody else should go in. The Prospecting License is not renewable and lasts only one year from date of issue.

 Environmental concerns

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This wetland in Bukuto village is steadly vanishing. The open area is where the gold miners used to operate from. They have now shifted to another area with in the same swamp.

Like any other mining area on the continent, Buhweju is facing serious environmental concerns as a result of the ongoing gold mining activities. Swamps have been destroyed as a result of the open cast mining method and it seems little is being done to halt this trend.

In fact miners at Nyakishana, Bukoto, Bihanga and Kyenjogyera swamps told me that they rarely see environmental officers ‘interfering’ with their work.

They told me that they have an understanding with environmental authorities that they will always cover the pits they dig in the mining process to minimise on the damage to the natural swamp eco-system.

However this is not the case. When I went to Bihanga, I visited a swamp that was used by miners almost two years ago but the open pits can still be seen and the vegetation has not recovered.

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The recovery of such a wetland is most unlikely even if these miners close the open pits

When I asked those involved, they confessed that what is on the ground is the opposite of what was agreed upon. “Yes, we are supposed to cover our pits but most of us do not follow this and no one is there to enforce it”, Kakuru Everist one of the miners in one of the swamps in Bihanga sub county told this site.

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According to the National Environmental management Authority and the Buhweju district Environmental officer, gold miners are supposed to cover the mining pits before going to another area but this just a wish.
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Behind me is a wetland yet to be encroached on but soon, the gold seekers will come.

According to the National Environmental Management Authority (NEMA) there should be an environmentally friendly mining. “We need the two resources. “As we do mining, we must also protect the environment for today, tomorrow and for the generations to come”, Jeconious Musingwire, a NEMA officer notes.

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With their rudimentary tools, these Ugandans have done more harm than good to the Eco-system.

By Cliff Abenaitwe- 2013/2014 Revenue watch and ACME Oil Gas and Mining fellow

Bio-Science key to Achieving MDG1 in Africa

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Bio-Science key to Achieving MDG1 in Africa

 

Cliff Abenaitwe

African countries have a long way to go if they are to achieve the
millennium development goal one (MDG1) of halving by 2015 the
proportion of people suffering from extreme hunger and poverty.
Less than 3 years to the deadline, the continent is still synonymous
with millions living below the poverty line and it is still affected
by hunger which seems to be going nowhere.

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African continent still has millions of poorly fed children despite its rich Agricultural potential.

According to the UN food and agriculture 2010-2011, sub Saharan Africa is home to 26 percent of the world’s undernourished population, has the highest number of countries experiencing food emergencies due to in part, to climate extremes such as drought and exacerbated by civil unrest. The same reports reveals that Sub Saharan African still experiences increased food imports and is very vulnerable to global food price increases.
Experts attribute this trend to the poor performance of the agricultural sector.
The academy of science of South Africa (ASSAF) in its 2012 regulation
of agricultural GM technology in Africa report reveals that the poor
performance of the agricultural sector undermines Africa’s prospects
of attaining the MDGs and sustainable development in general. “The low agricultural productivity is associated with a wider range of
factors, including low investments in education, infrastructure,
research and development and over reliance on convectional technologies”, the report explains.
The solution for Africa is to improve the performance of the
agricultural sector.
However this report warns that much as the application of the best
conventional agricultural technologies can make significant
contribution to improving food security, it is not sufficient in
itself. “ The expansion of cultivated land through mechanization and provision of fertilizers can make a positive impact on food security in Africa but further benefits can be achieved by the application of modern biotechnology methods to plant improvement programs, principally for the so-called ‘orphan crops’ of particular importance to Africa”, the
report suggests.

According to Doctor Fen Beed, a pathologist from the USA who has worked in Uganda, Tanzania, Malawi and Ghana, it would be surprising if Africa met the MDG1 by 2015 but according to him, this can be achieved in years to come.“If African countries can adopt bio-technology and other good farming practices, poverty and hunger can be reduced but this will be after 2015,” he added.

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Expanding Agricultural productivity in Africa coupled with bio-technology and other good farming practices is key in attaining MDG1

Other scientists also agree with Doctor Beed on the role of bio-technology in agricultural improvement in Africa.

In the book Insights; Africa’s future.. can bioscience contribute?, Calestous Juma, a world renown scientist argues that African agriculture will need to intensify the use of science and technology more than would have been the case without the threats of climate change. “Investment in science and technology will be required along the entire agricultural value chain from resource intelligence through production, marketing, storage and ecological rehabilitation,” he explains.

Synonymous with what the researchers are recommending, African countries are making commendable progress in the use of Bio-science.

At Mukono zonal agricultural research and development institute research into improved crop species is under way and the institute has already developed improved fruit varieties. “The breeds we are developing as a result of grafting and cross breeding are disease resistant, quick maturing and high yielding,” Robinah Gafabusa, a fruits and vegetables research technician at this institute explains.

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Planting of poor crop varieties will give you poor yields and this further deepens poverty and hunger problem in Africa.

At the National research Organization NARO, researchers are developing different crop varieties to help farmers cope with the problem of diseases and low yields. According to Tendo Sali Lauben, a crop breeder at NARO, they have already developed banana varieties like M20, M9, M21 which mature fast, are disease resistant and they give high yields.

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The difference is clear. Improved Banana varieties will give better yields.

Numerous research institutions and scientists are currently working on developing different Bio- technologies and the African continent is getting itself ready for genetically modified technologies. However, Doctor Charles Lagu from the Mbarara agricultural research and development institute is calling for more sensitization of the farmers to adapt to these technologies if the current efforts are to bear fruits.

It is estimated that by 2050, the world population will increase to 9 billion people and this will increase food demand. The food and agriculture organization of the United Nations (FAO) is predicting that food production will need to increase by 70 percent.

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If Africa embraces Bio-technology and other good farming practices, agricultural input will be increased. This will give people enough to eat and the surplus for the market.

To me, scientists and researchers, embracing Bio technology and genetically modified technology for agricultural improvement is the way to go and we all have a role to play in this.

Danger Looms As Foodborne Diseases Hit Alarming Levels

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Danger Looms As Foodborne Diseases Hit Alarming Levels

Cliff Abenaitwe

Food safety is an increasingly important public health issue and governments all over the world are intensifying their efforts to improve food safety. These efforts are in response to an increasing number of food safety problems like foodborne diseases. According to the world health organization, these are diseases usually either infectious or toxic in nature, caused by agents that enter the body through the ingestion of food.

Foodborne diseases are extremely fatal and severe

Magnitude Of Foodborne Illness

Foodborne diseases are a widespread and growing public health problem, both in developed and developing countries. The global incidence of foodborne disease is difficult to estimate, but it has been reported that in 2005 alone 1.8 million people died from diarrhoeal diseases and ever since, this number is believed to have increased. A great proportion of these cases can be attributed to contamination of food and drinking water. Additionally, diarrhoea is a major cause of malnutrition in infants and young children.

In industrialized countries, the percentage of the population suffering from foodborne diseases each year has been reported to be up to 30%. In the United States of America (USA), for example, around 76 million cases of foodborne diseases, resulting in 325,000 hospitalizations and 5,000 deaths, are estimated to occur each year. While less well documented, developing countries bear the brunt of the problem due to the presence of a wide range of foodborne diseases, including those caused by parasites. The high prevalence of diarrhoeal diseases in many developing countries suggests major underlying food safety problems.

While most foodborne diseases are sporadic and often not reported, foodborne disease outbreaks may take on massive proportions. For example, in 1994, an outbreak of salmonellosis due to contaminated ice cream occurred in the USA, affecting an estimated 224,000 persons. In 1988, an outbreak of hepatitis A, resulting from the consumption of contaminated clams, affected some 300,000 individuals in China.

 Major Foodborne Diseases A Glance

 Salmonellosis: Thisis a major problem in most countries. Salmonellosis is caused by the Salmonella bacteria and symptoms are fever, headache, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain and diarrhoea. Examples of foods involved in outbreaks of salmonellosis are eggs, poultry and other meats, raw milk and chocolate.

Campylobacteriosis: This is a wide spreadinfection that is  caused by certain species of Campylobacter bacteria and in some countries, the reported number of cases surpasses the incidence of salmonellosis. Foodborne cases are mainly caused by foods such as raw milk, raw or undercooked poultry and drinking water. Acute health effects of campylobacteriosis include severe abdominal pain, fever, nausea and diarrhoea. In two to ten per cent of cases the infection may lead to chronic health problems, including reactive arthritis and neurological disorders.

Cholera: This disease is increasingly becoming synonymous with the developing world thus a major public health problem. The disease is caused by the bacterium Vibrio cholerae. In addition to water, contaminated foods can be the vehicle of infection. Different foods, including rice, vegetables, millet gruel and various types of seafood have been implicated in outbreaks of cholera. Symptoms, including abdominal pain, vomiting and profuse watery diarrhoea, may lead to severe dehydration and possibly death, unless fluid and salt are replaced.

Together we can lessen the spread and the effects of Foodborne diseases

The list is endless but what is more important to note is how to lessen the outbreak of these diseases. The world ought to join hands in promoting food safety through senstisation and policy formulation among other initiatives. These efforts should cover the entire food chain from production to consumption should embrace all types of expertise world over.

Some of the manifestations of Foodborne diseases.

 

 

Culturists Kill Police Officers In Kasese

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Culturists Kill Police Officers In Kasese

Cliff Abenaitwe

July 28, 2012

Two police officers attached to Mukokya police post in Kasese District, Western Uganda were Friday killed by suspected Rwenzururu tribal agitators.

The fateful incident happened at approximately 6am when a group of about 15 residents attacked the post with one automatic rifle and an assortment of spears, machetes, knives and shields.

In what appears to be a puzzling incident up to now, a police constable Ssemakula Mugabi was stubbed in the neck and he died on spot while the post commander Corporal Sunday Levi died later as he was being taken to Kirembe hospital.

The Western Regional Police Commander Wilson Kwanya confirms the incident which also left another police Constable Mandule Wilson badly injured.

Kwanywa told this site that three errant attackers were killed by police, two police rifles were as well taken by the foes as they retreated while some people have been arrested to help police in the investigations.

Police has heightened operations in the area to arrest the attack perpetrators

Police sources have identified the killed assailants as Alamazan Baluku, Zakayo and Daniel all residents of Kasese district.

Kyanywa says the intentions of the attackers are not yet clear but rules out any link to Uganda Congo cross border conflict. “The reason for the attack is not known at this point, but thought to be connected to local inter-tribal conflict and is not connected to the recent activities across the border in the Congo”,  he explains.

This is the first attack on a security establishment in this area where people are sharply divided along tribal lines.