Mt. Elgon National Park Boundary Reopening Set for Monday

2682 Views Mbale, Eastern Region, Uganda

In short
John Baptist Nambeshe, the Manjiya County Member of Parliament in Bududa district, said relying on the 1968 boundary for demarcation is going to eat deep into the land occupied by survivors of landslides in Bududa district, and Benet community in Sebei.

Bugisu and Sebei leaders have expressed reservation as the Lands, Housing and Urban Development Ministry embarks on the Mt. Elgon National Park boundary reopening exercise. The long awaited exercise is scheduled to start tomorrow covering the districts bordering Mt Elgon National park.

They include Bukwo, Kween, Kapchorwa, Bududa and Bulambuli as well as Sironko, Manafwa and Mbale districts. Mt. Elgon National Park boundary stretches 1141 square Kilometers across the eight districts. The unclear boundary has been a source of bloody conflicts Uganda Wildlife Authority-UWA and the neighboring communities.

According to the Lands Ministry, the re-opening exercise is meant to verify the current boundary pillars placed by Geomaps and ascertain whether they are in the correct position as per the 1968 cadastral maps from the Surveys and Mapping department. It is also intended to correct any boundary alterations that don't match the Mount Elgon National Park coordinates of 1968.

On Thursday, Persis Namuganza, the Lands State Minister met leaders from the affected districts in Kapchorwa district and explained to them the scope of boundary demarcation exercise.
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However, the district leaders including Members of parliament, LC V chairperson and Resident District Commissioners expressed reservations about the exercise.

John Baptist Nambeshe, the Manjiya County Member of Parliament in Bududa district, said relying on the 1968 boundary for demarcation is going to eat deep into the land occupied by survivors of landslides in Bududa district, and Benet community in Sebei.

He said this would leave hundreds of people landless. Nambeshe warned against ignoring submissions from the local leaders on the exercise.
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Lawrence Mangusho Cherop, the Kween County MP in Kween district tasked the Lands Ministry to clarify on the resettlement of communities that will be affected by the exercise.

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The Mbale LC V Chairman, Bernard Ely Mujasi and his Manafwa counterpart, John Musila asked the Ministry to take into consideration resident's interests as they carry out the boundary demarcation exercise.

However, Denis Obo, the Public Relations Officer at the Lands Ministry allayed the fears of the leaders saying although they will use the 1968 national park boundary marks, nobody will be expelled during the reopening exercise.
Background to Mt. Elgon National park boundary

The Uganda Protectorate gazetted its side of Mount Elgon a Forest Reserve, managed by the Forestry Department, in 1929. In 1937, the boundary survey was completed but parcels were repeatedly degazetted to provide land for local residents.
In 1940, the area became the Mount Elgon Crown Forest and in 1951 a Central Forest Reserve. In 1983, the Ugandan government opened up a 6,000 hectare portion of the reserve for settlement by the encroaching Benet-Ndorobo group. An additional 1,500 hectares were settled illegally.
The area legally remained a part of the reserve until 2002 when it was officially degazetted. Management of the park disintegrated during the civil wars. In January 1994, the reserve was finally converted into a national park, although timber harvesting continued in some areas
There has been a long standing conflict between UWA, the core managers and custodians of Mount Elgon National Park and the communities residing on MT. Elgon. This according to local leaders is as a result of varying boundaries that have put both sides at loggerheads.

Adoa Kennedy Otiti, the Kween Resident District Commissioner, says communities have been divided on imaginary boundaries of 1983, 1993 and the failed 2005 survey which was marred by corrupt tendencies of surveyors.

"Over time there have been so many correspondences that have circulated within the population, including recent presidential instructions and all these are baffling people," he said.
Recent Bloody clashes

In 2013, a 21-year- old resident John Gimei, a resident of Bumasifwa sub-county was shot dead by park rangers when he went into the park to look for herbs following the delivery of his wife. In 2014, about 15 gunmen raided the UWA camp on Mt Elgon National Game Park, killed three rangers and made away with their guns.

In October 2016, residents of Bunamoli parish in Bubyangu Sub County, Mbale district invaded Mt Elgon National Park to repossess chunks of agricultural land, which they claimed belonged to them.  These form part of a group that was evicted in 2005 by Uganda Wildlife Authority in the four villages of Bunamoli, Bumasifwa, Nahandu and Namatyale for encroaching on Mt Elgon National Park land. 
A total of 214 households were affected as a result of the eviction. Currently, 430 families in Manafwa district have dragged UWA to court claiming a portion of the protected land.

In December 2015, the Prime Minister met officials from UWA and leaders of the eight districts to forge a lasting solution to the persistent problem. Among the many resolutions made was a recommendation to have the 1968 boundary re-opened to help ease the  misunderstanding.