By Ronie Mumbere
Residents living near Mt Elgon National Park in Namisindwa district have raised their voices against what they claim to be continuous harassment and destruction of their properties by officers from Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) in collaboration with Uganda People’s Defense Force (UPDF).
UWA however, accuses the residents of encroaching on land designated for the national park, leading to the ongoing conflict. But the locals have come forward with their own accounts of alleged mistreatment and loss.
Masika Micheal, a resident of Bunamulinyi parish and also the NRM chairperson for Bunamulunyi, recounts a distressing incident in which UWA officials destroyed his two-acre banana plantation and other crops. According to Masika, the officials forced him to sign an unknown document under duress, threatening further destruction if he refused compliance.
Timbiti David, had his onion garden destroyed by UWA officials when he declined to sign unspecified documents. Despite his efforts to seek help from district authorities, no assistance has been forthcoming. David is now appealing to local leaders for support.
Bwayo Emma, the Namisindwa District Male Youth Councilor, condemned what he calls UWA’s defiance of court orders.
He said he plans to take legal action against the agency for contempt of court.
Bwayo cites a 2005 interim order from the Mbale High Court, which prohibited UWA from evicting or damaging crops, and claims that similar orders have been respected in other regions.
Bwayo also says there is need for open dialogue and a fair resolution that balances conservation efforts with the rights and livelihoods of those living adjacent to protected areas
In response to the residents’ grievances, Samuel Amanya, the Chief Warden of the Mt Elgon Conservation Area, clarified that the ongoing operation is not intended to harm or destroy any crops.
He asserted that the operation aims to identify and profile individuals cultivating within the park.
Amanya urged farmers to remain calm and comply with officials, emphasizing that the only requirements are a valid National ID and an LC1 letter.
The Mt Elgon Conservation Area currently has over 5,000 individuals living within its boundaries across the eight districts of Bugisu and Sebei sub-regions. The national park plays a significant role in benefiting over 15 million people residing in its vicinity.