Whose in­ter­ests does UWA serve?

By: ISAAC OKELLO

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.