Elgon, Uganda | THE INDEPENDENT | Residents from four sub-counties neighboring Mt Elgon national park have rejected government projects worth three billion shillings over the current boundary disputes.
Uganda Wildlife authority-UWA with Rwenzori Trekking Services signed a memorandum of understanding this year in January to develop Mt Elgon national park in the sub-counties of Masaba, Zesui, Bugitimwa and Namugabwe.
Brian Kibalama, the manager of Rwezori Trekking Services on Saturday told a meeting at Bugitimwa sub county that they are going to construct good accommodation lodges for tourists, plant bamboo plants, and construct roads connecting to the national park. He added that the project was supposed to start in January this year but it has been delayed because community members from four sub-counties claim the national park land and want compensation before the commencement of the project.
Simon Gibuda, the LCIII chairperson of Bugitimwa sub country says in 2017, government regazetted the boundaries of Mt Elgon national park while upgrading it from forest reserves to a national park. He adds that during gazettement of the boundaries, the government pledged to compensate 2,000 people which has never happened update.
Gibuda says that currently, the number of people living in the park has grown from 2,000 to 5,000 from the four sub-counties neighboring Mt Elgon national park, who are going to lose their land yet the government has not yet compensated them if that project commences.
He adds that though the project may benefit locals, the government would have first compensated people whose plots of land were carved into the park.
Julius Wasukila, the LCIII chairperson of Zesui sub county says having four boundaries of 1936, 1993, 1999, 1998 and 2017 as defined by UWA has created confusion.
Patrick Wanyala and Samuel Wedanya, both affected residents from Masaba sub county say that they are not ready to welcome the project unless the government fulfills the pledge of compensation. They add that they can’t just leave their pieces of land to be taken by the government under the pretext that they are going to develop the national park.
John Hunwich, the executive director of Rwezori trekking services urged people to be calm and allow the project to start then they present their matters in court against the government later.
He adds that this project was going to benefit local community members directly and indirectly by employing their children, developing the area with social services, and their agricultural products were going to be on the market.
Lydia Gibone, female councilor representing Budadiri town council who represented the LCV of Sironko district during the meeting urged the government to first listen to locals and agree on the matter peacefully unless rather than using force such the district cannot lose these multibillion projects.
She urged local leaders in the four sub-counties to continue sensitizing locals about the benefits of this project so that they can be welcomed.
Isaiah Sasaga Wanzira, the area Member of Parliament representing Budadiri east constituency in Sironko district says that he is going to do what it takes to not leave this project since it is going to benefit people in the area. He adds that the government must fulfill the pledge of compensating people who were cursed in the national park during redrawing of boundaries in 2017. Sasaga pledged to seek offices of the prime minister and other relevant offices to expedite the process of compensation so that the project can start in time.
However, Fredrick Kizza, UWA Mt Elgon manager says that in the last two years tourism industry was seriously hit due by the outbreak of Covid-19, so as a way of reviving the industry, last year they advertised in the media for any developer who can come in and partner with the government to develop Mt Elgon National Park and Rwenzori Trekking Services applied and was selected.
Kizza also says that the Rwezori trekking services limited has failed to start work on developing the area since January this year after the community claimed the parkland.
The manager adds that due to park boundary disputes between UWA and community, the government through the ministry of lands in 2017 regazetted boundaries across Mt Elgon national park and they planted concrete landmarks on the boundaries.
Kizza also says that after regazetment, locals from Bumasobo sub-county in Bulambuli sued the government claiming that the new boundaries have carved in their land and court ordered the government to compensate them which they are planning to do but in Sironko and other districts neighboring the national park, they have no plan of compensating them because that is government land.