In the past 2 weeks there has been a flurry of newspaper reports about Basongora pastoralists in Queen Elizabeth National Park with various statements made and opinions expressed many of which argued about striking a balance between requirements for wildlife and humane treatment of the pastoralists. Indeed some of the statements seemed to castigate UWA while most urged government to come up with clear guidance on management of national parks where pastoralists have a claim. It is only fair that UWA comes out with a clear statement of fact as some of the opinions may not have been based on a chronology of events and actions for the last one year. Here below is a chronology of events regarding the current problems UWA is trying to sort out with the Basongora:
- In 1999 a group of Basongora herdsmen went to the Democratic Republic of Congo and settled in Virunga National Park. In the same year a large area that was formerly a Controlled Hunting Area adjoining the Queen Elizabeth National Park was degazetted and land made available to the communities nearby, Basongora inclusive. (But they chose to go to DR Congo)
” In March 2006, Virunga National Park evicted them and they returned to Uganda. It should be noted that those Basongora who returned from DRC and were registered at Mpondwe border post are less than 1000 individuals (about 200 households) with just about 8000 cattle.
- Most of them found their way back into their original communities, a few drove their cattle into the Queen Elizabeth National Park.
- UWA after consulting with our Ministry and various agencies granted them temporary grazing land on the western side of Nyamugasani river pending resettlement elsewhere that government was working on.
- In April 2006, a cabinet decision was made to relocate the returnee Basongora from the park to Ibuga Refugee resettlement scheme. This decision was communicated to the District Administration who expressed some doubts.
- In May 2006, H E the President visited the area and met the Basongora returnees and assured them that government would find a permanent solution for them but stressed that NO part of the National Park would be degazzeted. In other words that land will be found for the Basongora to settle outside the park.
- In May 2006, UWA acting on the basis of the cabinet decision and the President’s pronouncement advised and requested the Kasese District Administration to start planning for the relocation of the Basongora returnees and have them move out of the park by June 30, 2006
- In July 2006, the Hon. Minister of State for Tourism Wildlife and Antiquities visited the area met all the stakeholders including the Basongora pastoralists and gave them a deadline of July 28, to move out voluntarily or be forced out.
- On July 26, 2006 UWA working with police in Kasese agreed on a modus operandi to get the Basongora to peacefully move out of the park to Ibuga refugee resettlement scheme, starting July 28, 2006 as had been directed by the Hon. Minister.
- On July 27, 2006 at midnight, the plan was called off by police claiming that it would lead to insecurity in the area.
- In August 2006, an Inter-Ministerial Committee was set up by HE the President to find a permanent solution to the Basongora but with clear advice about NO degazzettement of any park area.
- The committee has been working since then to find a solution to date (10 months since its appointment)
However, the Basongora returnees, after a few weeks of stay in the park, started agitating for the degazettement of part of the park. They were joined by friends and relatives from within Kasese and outside the district who drove their cattle forcefully into the park and have since August 2006 occupied Nyabubare, Rwenjubu, Kanyampara, Muhokya, Hamukungu, Kamulikwizi and Kyondo areas within the park as shown on the map below. Cattle have been stealthily ferried from as far as Kamwenge, Nakaseke, Luwero and Nakasongola with the owners vowing to die ‘for their land’. UWA’s efforts to have these new entrants stopped met stiff resistance from them and their political backers.
There is no doubt that some of the Basongora are landless and that their plight needs to be addressed. Unfortunately, they are being used by the rich (yes, those with over 200 head of cattle are very rich) and influential Basongora to fail the government plan to resettle the landless. The landless group is known and these surely deserve to be helped and indeed UWA is very keen to help materially and financially.
While UWA patiently waited for the guidance of the Inter-Ministerial committee, the Basongora returnees took it upon themselves to expand their grazing area deep into the park and invited their relatives and friends who had settled elsewhere in the country to come back with the hope that they could pressurize government to give them back what they consider their ancestral land in the park. Of course these developments have been unacceptable to UWA, and we have consistently drawn the attention of the political leaders and kept the Inter-Ministerial committee informed.
The current crisis was sparked off by the out break of Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD) in May 2007. The FMD out break was confirmed by a joint team consisting of technical officers from the Ministry of Agriculture, Animal Industry and Fisheries (MAAIF) and UWA amongst the cattle in the Nyabubare area among the Basongora cattle within Queen Elizabeth National Park.
- The team then met with Kasese district leadership and among others, agreed on the immediate vaccination of the cattle in the area, sensitisation of the communities and placing a ban on animal movements within the area.
- The team also noted the catastrophic nature of the disease to wildlife, livestock and the tourism industry especially due to the fact that whilst vaccination is applicable in cattle, the only practical way to prevent infection in the wildlife is to separate wildlife and livestock.
- The team further noted that whereas it was not possible to immediately separate the wildlife from the livestock, it was important that the interaction be kept to a minimum.
- Therefore on receipt of the report of the joint team, the Minister responsible for Tourism and Wildlife after consultations directed UWA to identify a location within the national park where the cattle for the genuinely landless Basongora (mainly returnees from the Democratic Republic of Congo) should be relocated and confined.
UWA then embarked on a sensitization process and advised the people to move to the designated area on the western banks of river Nyamugasani, but within the park, as they await the final resettlement being worked on by the Inter-Ministerial committee set up by H.E. the President.
During the sensitization operation UWA discovered various remains of lions including teeth, skin and claws. Some suspects were arrested and handed over to the Police for further investigation and prosecution although they were released without any charges.
Having made a clarification based on the facts, UWA would like to categorically state that the obstinate encroachment of our natural heritage and tourism jewel will not be allowed to continue. UWA shall carry out its mandate and will not allow encroachment of the park by those who already have land elsewhere. It should be noted however that UWA has never evicted the landless Basongora but rather has advised that they relocate to a specific area for ease of control of activities within the park and avoidance of disease transfer between the wildlife and the livestock. UWA is ready to contribute towards the resettlement of the landless once order has been restored.
This is therefore to implore all leaders of the Basongora and other interested parties to support this cause and avoid misinforming the public and prolonging the suffering of the Basongora. Genuine landless Basongora must move to Akisomi as they await the Inter-Ministerial committee to advise on the next steps.
The Chairman of the Inter-Ministerial Committee informed UWA on June 8, 2007 that a firm decision has been made to move all the pastoralists out of the park starting June 13, 2007. It is now UWA’s duty to ensure that there is no further encroachment on Queen Elizabeth National Park and indeed all other Conservation Areas including Katonga, L. Mburo, Semliki, Mt. Elgon and Kidepo a duty we shall undertake diligently and within the law.
Values of Queen Elizabeth National Park
- It is a source of revenue both for government and the neighboring communities. The park grosses an average of Ush2bn per year, 90 percent of which comes from park entry fees and recreational activities such as game viewing, nature walks, launch cruises and bird watching. The park recorded average annual revenue increases of over 20 per cent in the last five years. Each year the neighbouring communities got 20 per cent of annual revenue through the Revenue Sharing Program.
- The park is also a source of employment. Uganda Wildlife Authority employs 215 staff in Queen Elizabeth National Park, aside from those employed in Mweya Safari Lodge and Mweya Hostel.
- The national park also promotes conservation values, all of which are important for ecosystem preservation. Local communities collect resources like water, firewood and herbal medicines through Resource Access Agreements.
Consequences if the encroachment is not stopped
- Wildlife in the park will be wiped out if the encroachment continues. Already 15 lions have been killed. Nine of these were from one pride. Eighty percent of the hyenas living in the area occupied by the Basongora are already gone. Predators attract 90 percent of the tourists who visit Queen Elizabeth National Park, and if they disappear visitor numbers will disappear.
- Visitor numbers are going down because of the Basongora presence in the park. Available figures show that the number of visitors reduced from 48, 720 in 2005/2006 to 38,114 in 2006/2007.
- Spread of diseases in the park will increase and possibly cause extinction of certain major species. If the cattle are not contained in an area that is easy to control, the foot and mouth disease will wipe out the different wildlife species.