What you need to know:
- The leaders say government should not evict encroachers to avoid inconveniencies of resettling.
Members of Parliament (MPs) and some ministers in Bugisu and Sebei sub-regions have opposed government decision to evict people living in Mt Elgon National Park.
During a press briefing on Saturday, the Minister of Local Government, Mr Raphael Magyezi, said government should allow the locals occupy the land to prevent further encroachment.
“Since the encroached area is small, the government should let people occupy that land and maintain the current boundaries to avoid inconveniencing people by moving them from one area to another,” Mr Magyezi said.
According to a 2018 report, which was compiled by the Lands ministry following the reopening of the boundaries in 2018, the community has encroached on more than 6,746 hectares of the park land, while the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) has also encroached on about 2,000 hectares of community land.
“The forest is not tampered with and people are not going inside the forest. The park is not under threat. We should not destabilise the area,” Mr Magyezi said.
Earlier, the Minister of Tourism, Wildlife and Antiquities, Mr Tom Butime, had demanded the eviction of locals who had allegedly encroached on the conservation area.
“The encroachers have to leave the park immediately or face being forced out by the army and police,” he said.
Mr Butime said about 48 families in Zesui Sub-county, Sironko District, and others in Busano in Mbale District are living inside the conservation area.
“There is also heavy settlement on the park land in the Benet area. People have climbed beyond the cliffs and it’s dangerous,” he said.
Mr John Makombo, the UWA conservation director, reiterated that communities have occupied high altitude areas, which is risky in case of landslides.
However, the Minister of Water and Environment, Mr Sam Cheptoris, who is also the MP for Kapchorwa Municipality, said eviction will affect the well-being of people, adding that it would be expensive for government to resettle them. “We have been struggling with this problem for so many years and I think it’s time we let people stay there,” Mr Cheptoris said.
The Bubulo East MP, Mr John Musila, suggested that government maintains the park boundaries to end community conflicts with UWA.
The legislators made the remarks on Saturday as the district leaders of Sebei and Bugisu sub-regions met with Prime Minister Robinah Nabbanja at Mbale Resort Hotel following a presidential directive to resolve encroachment of Mt Elgon game reserve.
It was a follow-up meeting after leaders pleaded to the president to intervene over the continued harassment of locals by UWA, during a meeting at Kapchorwa State Lodge last month.
The State minister for Karamoja Affairs in the Office of the Prime Minister, Ms Agnes Nandutu, said: “The communities should be supplied with tree seedlings to plant and help restore the forest cover that has been lost over time.” The T’oo County MP in Bukwo District, Mr Solomon Chelangat Alinga, said last year President Museveni directed the prime minister to resettle about 4,000 families in vain.
However, the Prime Minister urged leaders to stop politicising the matter, saying many people are living dangerously on the cliffs and that the only solution to save them is evicting them.
“Scientists have also indicated that because of massive encroachment, Mt Elgon as a water catchment area is facing depletion at a very high rate. The soils are getting loose with cracks across Bududa District and there will be another landslide anytime,” Ms Nabbanja said.
She added: “This is an issue of life and death. Some rivers have already dried up, which indicates the dangers of encroachment on the forest.” Ms Nabbanja said the evicted would be compensated.