Who are these people the president gave land?
Almost a camp for displaced people living on a rock, close to Mt Elgon national park in the new Kween district; a mere collection of thatched huts with wooden walls, makeshift shelters, mud, wattle on a rocky hill living deplorable conditions.
Wattle, mud and debris scattered every where, pigs and ragged children is what welcomes you to ‘Rwanda and Kisangani’ camps.
Mr. Lazaru Mwanawoi, 54, of Chelibei village, Kwanyiny sub-county is one of the residents of ‘Kisangani and Rwanda camp’ at Kwanya sub-county in Kween district says they have been staying on top of this rock in make-shift structures for close to about 19 years ever since UWA displaced them from the Mt Elgon national park.
When Daily Monitor approaches him with the question; Are you Benet? he simply says, “We are not Benet, the Benet are up in the hills there. For us we are former workers of the Forest department who were laid off and others are former workers of the saw mills. But we need land because we have no where to go,”
Mr. Mwanawoi was telling the truth as I faced him although later he changed his face and said “I don’t know, I have forgotten something,” after he discovered that many of ‘Rwanda and Kisangani’ residents were staring at him.
Mr. Mwanawoi is one of the about 1400 people living on a rock at ‘Rwanda and Kisangani’ whom President Museveni directed the Prime Minister’s office to degazette the London portion on Mt Elgon park to resettle them.
Another resident Mr. Phillip Mataki says that after losing business in the forestry Authority they had no where to go so they rented land at the rock which belongs to Mr. Stanely Cheptoris at Shs. 10,000 per year.
“So we have been staying here, we have nowhere to go. We keep renting land here as we operate small businesses like selling Malwa, a local gin, rearing pigs, chicken, providing casual labour in the park and hunting but one government gives us land, we shall settle outside this rock,” said Mr. Mataki.
President Museveni in his letter to the office of the Prime minister dated 5 February at the height of elections says about 1400 Benet families where displaced from their cradle land during the demarcation of the national park and that they are living on rocks in deplorable conditions in ‘Rwanda and Kisangani’ in Kween district.
“About 1400 families of the Benet were displaced and are now living on a rock. This is not acceptable. I am therefore directing you to cause concerned ministries to degazette the London portion of the national park so that those families are settled permanently. This London portion is an intrusion of the national park into the settled area. This part should be cut off from the forest so that these families are settled,” reads the letter signed by President Museveni in part.
But who are these people staying on a rock?
The chairman of the displaced Mr. Patrick Satya insists that when government transferred the authority of Mt. Elgon national Park to UWA in 1990/92, UWA then burnt all settlement that had been constructed by the Benet, Yatui and Ndorobo in Kapkwata, evicted them from Kapkwata, their cradle land and rendered them homeless thereby forcing them to construct makeshift shelters on a rock at Rwanda and Kisangani where they are living as squatters on their hitherto own land.
“We had settled and were doing our business at Kapkwata when UWA evicted us and started planting the forest, we lost land and that is the reason why we are living here,” said Mr. Satya.
In a cultural meeting held at Kwanyiny primary school 13 September the LCIII chairman for Kwanyiny Mr Henry Tonni said UWA has been unfair by evicting them from their settlement and farmlands, rendering them homeless without allocating alternative land for settlement and farming.
“When we were evicted, we where about 61 people, the population has since grown to 1400, we are now staying on a rock in deplorable conditions, we need land to survive and UWA despite the president’s directive has refused to give us land, they harass us, arrest us, where do we go?” said Mr Tonni.
Mr William Cheposis, the LCV councilor representing the displaced people in ‘Rwanda and Kisangani’ told the meeting that UWA has the 1954 colonial, 1983/84, 1990/93 and the 2003/04 boundaries that have confused people for the last 16 years to the extent that many of them believe that boundaries are forged.
He said most of the people at the rock in ‘Kisangani and Rwanda’ are not Benet and that government gave the Benet land under resettlement scheme of 1983 and then in 2009/2010 and later in February 2011.
The Mt Elgon conservation area manager Mr. Adonia Bintorwa says the Benet got land within the park for resettlement in 1983 and recently in 2009/2010 and that the people claiming for settlement are not Benet.
A verification report by Mt Elgon conservation area under UWA comprising of the Benet and Yatui leaders and one of the longest non commissioned officer at Mt Elgon conservation area Mr. Patrick Chebet says the group asking for land comprises of people who are benefiting from Taungya farming system.
Under Taungya farming system, people have been contracted to plant soft wood plantations in the national park, look after it and have been allowed to do gardening of maize,beans and vegetables to grow alongside the trees.
“Some Kenyans [Kikuyu] who formerly worked with Elgon saw mill owned by Mr. Mr. Heron Nganga, former government workers of forest department, Kapkwata saw mill workers owned by an Indian and workers of Sipi international saw mill owned by Dr. Stephen Chebrot have all been enlisted as the displaced yet they are not Benet,” said Mr. Bintorwa.
The report reveals that there are eight two former casual labourers, traders and taungya residents in Kapkwata forest village, 21 former forest workers, 34 former saw mill workers and Mr. Robert Yesho, Mr. Peter Sikoria serving UPDF soldiers, teachers, several Sabiny and Bagisu who own land else where and are claiming to be landless.
A new report:
A new verification report by the Inter-ministerial mission to Mt Elgon National park to make assessment of the possibility of degazetting parts of Mt Elgon to resettle the people living in ‘Kisangani and Rwanda’ near Kapkwata says the people on the rock are not Benet as indicated in President Museveni’s letter.
The report signed by Ms Pemela Komujuni, disaster management officer at the Prime ministers’ office says the people living on the rock were originally workers of the forestry department, saw millers and displaced persons from Ngene sub-county by Karimojong cattle raiders.
“Therefore the proposed London area for degazettement should be halted because it is a key catchment area for rivers Siti, Kere, Kaplegep and other streams as well as two gravitational water schemes, the verification should be carried out to establish the genuine landless people in need of resettlement,” reads the report dated 27 March 2012, copy of which Daily Monitor has seen.
Although the president in his letter suggested that the London portion of the Mt Elgon park be gazette for settlement of these people, the inter-ministerial mission says since the lowe lying areas of Ngenge, Chepsukunya and Greek are now peaceful, government should consider acquiring land in these areas for resettling these people.
The report is signed by Ms Pamela Komujuni [OPM], Mr. John Makombo director of conservation at UWA, Mr. Domisiano Owor Wildlife officer at ministry of tourim, trade and industry and Mr Julius Mafumbo senior environment officer at the ministry of water and environment.
He said UWA wants the slopes of the mountain to be gazetted as a disaster area after a comprehensive geological study because people have gone past the 1993 boundary up to the cliff close to the bamboo zone which makes it even more dangerous.
UWA reports indicate that massive encroachment at Mt Elgon national park coupled with deforestation, poor farming methods signals an environmental disaster to the entire Eastern Uganda and western parts of Kenya and urges the government to design ways of ending encroachment and degradation of the Mt Elgon in order to save our people from famine, diseases and landslides Ends