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Elgon leaders task Lands ministry over delayed survey report

Women carry firewood in Mt Elgon National Park: NET PHOTO

MBALE-Leaders from the five districts that form Elgon sub-region have faulted the Lands ministry for delaying to present a report on the re-surveying and re-demarcation of Mountain Elgon National Park boundary that seeks to end long standing conflicts between the Uganda Wildlife Authority [UWA] and neighbouring communities.

The re-surveying and re-demarcation exercise was flagged off on May 4, 2017 by Lands state minister Percis Namuganza in Wanale, Mbale District.

But according to the Mbale District chairman, Mr Elly Benard Mujasi, the ministry has since failed to present the report over the status of the demarcation

“We [leaders] are quite concerned over the delay by the Lands ministry to present the survey report and this casts doubts on the entire process and yet people are being evicted from their land using the controversial boundary of 1968 instead of the one of 1993.We need to address this matter once and for all,” Mr Mujasi said.

The long-awaited exercise was meant to cut across the districts of Bukwo, Kween, Kapchorwa, Bududa, Manafwa, Bulambuli, Mbale and Sironko that border the national park, which stretches 1141square kms.

For decades, the unclear boundary has been the root cause of bloody conflicts between UWA and the neighbouring communities

It is alleged that government surveyors only planted pillars in Bududa District and only placed a mark on the rest of the districts of Namisindwa, Mbale, Sironko, and Bulambuli, implying that still without pillars, the feud between UWA and the communities will not end.

Manafwa District chairman John Musila said although the ministry had completed the boundary opening, delaying to present the report is a cause for concern.

“We need the survey report very urgently to establish the number of people whom we think were affected by the exercise but unfortunately, the ministry has delayed to present to us [leaders] the survey report,”Mr Musila said.

Ms Namuganza had earlier assured the leaders from Sebei and Elgon sub-regions that the interim report on the survey exercise would be presented to help in determining the location of land boundaries that are subjects of court cases.

The ministry public relations officer, Mr Dennis Obbo, said they are in final stages of concluding with the report and that soon it will be presented to the stakeholders.

“It’s matter of finalising with technical issues [inclusions], and then the ministry will find it prudent to present the preliminary findings to the stakeholders soon,”Mr Obbo said

Mr Fredrick Kiiza Kayanja, the chief warden Mt Elgon conservation area, said boundary re-opening exercise was done at the right time because land conflicts have affected tourism.

“There are some people who believe in 1983 boundary, others in 1993 while another group believes in the 2005 boundary. It’s high time we had a clear boundary to avoid all this confusion,” he said.

Background to Mt Elgon National park

The Uganda protectorate administration gazetted Mt 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 Mt Elgon Crown forest and in 1951, a central forest reserve. In 1983, the 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 encroached on.

The area legally remained part of the reserve until 2002 when it was officially degazetted. 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 Mt 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

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