Whose interests does UWA serve?
To many Ugandans, land is a matter of life and death since is it the most important factor of production. Taking land from someone could easily be equated to sentencing them to death if it is the only land from which he derives his or her livelihood. Several societies living within Wildlife conservation areas often look to the same for their livelihood. They build their shelters in the areas, hunt, gather fruits, graze animals, burn charcoal, gather firewood, and in some instances, lumber; economic activities they need for survival.
The drafters of the 1995 Constitution of the Republic of Uganda thought it necessary to protect and preserve the environment for the current and future generations. Accordingly, Acts of parliament created agencies such as Uganda Wildlife Authority, established to conserve, and protect gazetted areas from encroachment and degradation.
There are, however, several gazetted areas that have had immense human activity. This has prompted UWA to evict the people living in those gazetted areas in a bid to secure them. The Benet sub-group of the Sabiny could not be spared. Accordingly, their conditions of living did not impress the President when he learnt of it.
In a letter to the Prime Minister dated 5th Feb 2011, the president directed that the 400 families of the Benet sub-group of the Sabiny people of the Sebei region who had originally settled in the in the Mt Elgon forest National Park be resettled. These families had settled in the National Park during Amin’s regime when there was less regard for environment. However, with the coming into force of the Wildlife Act, the need for preservation of the forests and river catchment led to the displacement of the people and are now living in rocks.
The president criticised this kind of living and directed that the London portion of the forest be de-gazetted so that the affected families are resettled permanently. He also added that building material such as cement iron-sheets and bricks be availed to them so that they build their homes, and that the National park authorities should examine the request of the families to be allowed to graze their cattle in the grasslands; the IGP was equally directed to investigate the allegations that some 2 people were killed by the hoodlums of UWA because they were collecting firewood.
The environment in which the meeting took place was not favourable for the faint hearted. Members of the Committee on Presidential Affairs had earlier on had an opportunity to visit the affected area and when they narrated the situations on the ground, they acted as though it was the end of the road for the Executive Director Dr Richard Sseguja along with his officials. Hon Odonga Otto sprung up with images that were shameful threatening to move a motion that the Executive Director is relieved of his duties, along with his team. To express his disgust, he added that had he been area MP, he would have organised for a revolt against government.
Apparently, there was an allocation of land to certain members, but this was unfairly done, to the extent that some people had got 12 acres of land whereas some got 1 acre or nothing. This unfair distribution had left some 400 families living in camps, landless. Attempts by the ED to persuade the Committee that the people had sold their plots were futile as the RDC who participated in implementation of the distribution of land was there to inform the committee of what happened.
Submissions by the officials of the UWA left members wondering whose interests they serve, whether they had the slightest concern for the citizens of this country. To the Committee, it appeared as though UWA cared more about the tourists, trees, animals and the businessmen who were carrying out lumbering in the forests and transporting the timber to the neighbouring country, Kenya. The committee directed the ED provides details on the amount of money made from the sale of timber to the Kenyan companies and.
The Presidents directive has not been adhered to from February 2011 up to date. Instead, the UWA are throwing the responsibility of resettling the affected families in the area directed by the president to the office of the Prime Minister. They should instead get to the drawing board along with the Office of the Prime Minister and work a way forward so that the affected can get adequate facilities to improve their lives.
This is not in any form an advocacy that the gazetted areas be reallocated without due consideration to the effects to the environment. However, the government through its agencies, ought to make Ugandans feel Ugandans and not be treated as though they were refugees in their own countries. What good would the National Park be for a community that has no other form of livelihood? They have to be given an alternative place to settle. The IGP should also expeditiously investigate allegations that the UWA rangers were raping the locals and killing those who were gathering firewood in the forest so that the Authority and the locals can harmoniously live together.
Unfortunately, like most agencies of government, if no one points out to you what each one has achieved, to the common man out here, they are all underperforming. Investigations are still underway regarding execution of the directive of the president being delayed for 4 years.