A grim toll has been exacted in a protracted conflict between the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) and the local community surrounding Mt Elgon National Park (MENP).
A total of 25 individuals, comprising 15 game rangers and 10 residents, have lost their lives. Adding to the tragedy, 35 rangers now bear permanent disabilities as a result of the same dispute. These distressing figures span from 2003, as reported by UWA.
MENP, initially designated a forest reserve in 1938 and later upgraded to a national park in 1993, encompasses Mbale, Namisindwa, Kapchorwa, Kween, Sironko, Bukwo, and Bududa districts. The park witnessed a reduction of 7,500 hectares in 1983, with a portion allocated to the Benet community as a temporary settlement area.
Despite this allocation, persistent encroachments on the park have ensued. Factors such as rapid population growth, the settlement of the Sabiny people, and land pressure have contributed to these incursions. Samuel Amanya, MENP chief warden, elucidates that attempts to safeguard the park’s borders frequently result in violent clashes with locals, particularly in the Kween district.
To mitigate this conflict, UWA has adopted a new approach, emphasising coexistence with local communities through the implementation of the “Taungya” program in contentious areas. This initiative involves registering encroachers and permitting them to cultivate crops in restored softwood tree plantations for a duration of three to four years, fostering collaboration between farmers and the authority.
Amanya underscores that this revised strategy has been operational for the past 40 days, prioritising the registration of encroachers over forcible evictions. Farmers participating in the program report increased yields and express appreciation for the positive impact on their income.
Contrastingly, the Benet community remains steadfast in their demand to revert to the 1983 boundaries. They assert that UWA intentionally altered demarcations to displace them from the land. Stephen Ayeko, a Benet elder, conveys his concerns through a translator, objecting to the label of encroachers on what he claims is their rightful land. Notably, key facilities like schools and health centres now fall within the park, despite recent government constructions.
Source: The Ankole Times