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Eviction of Indigenous Benet in Uganda risks conflict

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Minority Rights Group International (MRG) warns that the plan by the Government of Uganda to evict the indigenous Benet people from part of the disputed Mt. Elgon National Park in eastern Uganda to resettle other communities will cause more landlessness and increase tensions.

MRG Africa Programme Manager Jolly Kemigabo echoed community concerns: “I appreciate the Government efforts but doing it this way will be brewing conflict. The same leaders who benefitted from the land grab in the past will not allow the resettlement to succeed.”

Chebet Mungech, the Benet Lobby Group (BLG) Acting Coordinator, said that the Government is planning to evict over 2,000 Benet from 1,500 hectares of Mt. Elgon National Park to resettle 2,000members belonging to other communities.

A similar scheme by the Government to resettle the Benet in the 1980s witnessed a massive land grab by local leaders. This left more than half of the 2,800 Benet then landless.

“The Benet are already landless and you want to evict them. How can you evict the Benet from their ancestral land? This will create more landless people and a bloody conflict,” Chebet said.

According to Chebet, the people whom the government wants to resettle were originally living in the lower plains of Kapchorwa, Bukwo and Kween districts along the drought and cattle rustling prone border of Karamoja district in Northeastern Uganda. Due to the problems they faced, they were displaced into the Kisitu internally displaced people’s camp in Kween district.

Now, the Government of Uganda, in consultation with the local district leadership wants to resettle them to the disputed land within Mt. Elgon National Park. Chebet says the Benet community was not represented in the local district leadership and the Government during the consultations.

The 1,500 hectares that they are to be resettled on is part of Mt. Elgon National Park that is occupied by over 2,000 Benet who had previously been evicted by the Government in 1990 to pave the way for the park. These Benet are part of the original inhabitants who were earlier evicted from the then Mt. Elgon Forest in 1983 by the Government before it was turned into Mt. Elgon National Park.

The Government eventually compensated the Benet with 6,000 hectares of Mt. Elgon Forest land.  But during the land distribution, it was found out that majority of the beneficiaries did not belong to the Benet community.

The Government through the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) violently evicted the Benet from the park between 1990 and 2004. The Benet took their case to the Ugandan High Court. In October 2005, the High Court adopted a consent judgment, between the affected Benet community, the Ugandan Wildlife Authority and the Attorney-General,  and signed and agreed by all parties, which declared that the Benet  were the “historical and indigenous inhabitants” of the National Park. The ruling stated that the Benet should be allowed to “carry out agricultural activities” in the areas to which they have historical claim.

However, the Ugandan Government has failed to implement the judgment. Consequently, UWA – which agreed to the consent judgment – has on several occasions violently evicted the Benet, forcing the President of Uganda to intervene.

In 2011, Ugandan President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni directed UWA to allow Benet to temporarily settle in the Park until a permanent solution to their problem is found. But to date, there has been no solution to their troubles. Over 1,000 Benet remain in Mt. Elgon National Park, with no official recognition of their ancestral rights.

Notes to editors

  • Minority Rights Group International (MRG) is the leading international human rights organization working to secure the rights of ethnic, religious and linguistic minorities and indigenous peoples. We work with more than 150 partners in over 50 countries.
  • Benet Lobby Group (BLG) is the local MRG partner that defends and protects the rights of the indigenous Benet (Land rights, conservation of their culture, customs and traditions, and right to social services).
  • Who are the Benet?Currently, there are 9,080 Indigenous Benet people in Uganda according to BLG. Benet have lived in Mt. Elgon National Park for 500 years to date. The group was evicted from Mt. Elgon National Park by UWA in 1990.

    They began facing land problems in 1930 when the British colonial government declared Mt. Elgon forest a reserve. According to 57-year-old Benet elder Andyema Banan, this is when the marginalization of his community started.  “Our ancestors lived in the forest. We are part of it. It is the park that encroached on us,” he explains. “We were carved into a forest reserve and just because we were few, we were left to rot in poverty while other areas developed,” he added.

    The Benet are marginalized and have no access to social services. The roads are impassable and there are no schools or health centres to speak of.

  • Interview opportunities:

To arrange interviews, please contact the MRG Press Office on press@minorityrights.org.

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