President Museveni’s directive to de-gazette part of Mt Elgon national park has hit a dead end. This follows the release of an inter-ministerial report recommending that the park isn’t suitable for re-settling people.
“The proposed London area for de-gazettement is a key catchment area for rivers Siti, Kere, Kaplegep and other streams. [It] is a catchment for two gravitational water schemes and source of water for Siti hydro power,” reads the report, which was done by the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM), ministry of Water and Environment, and ministry of Tourism, Wildlife and Antiquities.
Releasing the report amidst tight security at Noah’s Ark hotel in Kapchorwa town, Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA)’s director for conservation, John Makombo, aised government to look for alternative land to settle people.
“Government should consider acquiring land in Ngenge, Chepsukunya and Greek as they are now peaceful following the disarmament exercise,” he said.
“Mt Elgon is a fragile ecosystem, prone to landslides and erosion, not suitable for resettlement of the landless and should not be de-gazetted.”
Following information that 400 families of the Benet sub-ethnic group had been forcefully evicted from the park from a rock at Kapkwata in Kween district, President Yoweri Museveni directed on February 5, 2011 that part of the park called London be de-gazetted for their settlement.
Benet, also known as Ndorobo [forest people], is a small ethnic group of the Sabiny. At the time the park was gazetted as a forest reserve in 1938, the Ndorobo lived in different parts of the park including the moorland.
This group lived on hunting, gathering and keeping of livestock on a small scale. In the 1970s and 80s, the Ndorobo were joined by refuge seekers from the low lands of Sebei, particularly Ngenge due to insecurity caused by Karimojong and Pokot cattle rustlers. This immigration changed the lifestyle of the Benet to engage in activities that were destructive to the forested ecosystem like overgrazing, indiscriminate timber cutting and commercial agriculture.
Now the Ndorobo (forest people) do not comprise only of the Benet they include other small ethnic groups like Teriet, Kapsegek and Yatui.
Good plan gone bad:
In 1983, government set aside 6,000 hectares of forest land to resettle all the forest dwellers. All the Ndorobo were supposed to be accommodated on this land between rivers Kere and Kaptokwoi in Kapchorwa district. The land, which was de-gazetted by parliament in 2002, was more than enough to settle the Ndorobo.
However, according to Makombo, those in charge of land demarcation and allocation in the Kapchorwa district administration created more two categories of beneficiaries: the needy and the displaced.
“Those in charge of land allocation took aantage of the two groups to allocate themselves, relatives, friends and sold land that would have been for the Ndorobo,” Makombo said.
As a result, the intended beneficiaries like the Yatui were left out and ended up settling inside the forest above the resettlement zone at Yatui parish in Kapchorwa and Kapsekek in Bukwo, something which has left them conflicting with UWA.
Museveni’s directive that more park’s land be de-gazetted to resettle them caused an uproar among conservationists, prompting the head of Public Service to convene a meeting on March 21, 2011, which agreed that more technical information was required to guide the president’s decision.
That meeting resulted in the formation of an inter-ministerial technical team comprising of OPM’s Pamela Komujuni, Julius Mafumbo of ministry of Water and Environment, Domisiano Owor of ministry of Tourism, Wildlife and Antiquities and Makombo. The team’s report further reveals that the majority of the occupants of the land which was de-gazetted for the Benet are not genuine Ndorobo.
“People on the rock are not from the Benet sub region as indicated in HE President’s directive. They are originally workers of the forestry department, saw millers, and displaced persons from Ngenge by the Karimojong warriors,” said Makombo.
“Some of the Ndorobo had sold off their land and moved uphill to encroach on the park.”
This, according to Makombo, has resulted in drying of the once permanent rivers (Kere and Chepuyakanyet) in the Benet area, which have been reduced to streams. Mt Elgon plays an important ecological role as a water catchment area for eastern Uganda and western Kenya where the mainstay of the economy is rain-fed agriculture.
Representing government, Disaster Preparedness Minister Tarsis Kabwegyere revealed that government had identified elsewhere 502 hectares of land to resettle the landless people. He, however, appealed to people who acquired land illegally to voluntarily surrender it before government takes action.
Kabwegyere set up a Landless Resettlement Committee, which consists of LC-V chairpersons, Resident District Commissioners (RDCs) of the three districts of Bukwo, Kapchorwa and Kween, and the technical team from the three ministries, to resettle the remaining landless people.
Source : The Observer