The roots of the conflict trace back to the gazettement of the Mount Elgon Conservation Area in 1983, a move that displaced approximately 2,000 inhabitants, primarily the Bennet people, whose traditional livelihoods were deemed compatible with conservation efforts at the time.
MBALE - The serene landscapes of the Mount Elgon Conservation Area (MECA) in Uganda have become the battleground for a conflict steeped in historical grievances and environmental conservation concerns.
As the population of the Benet ethnic group continues to surge, tensions between the community and the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) have reached a boiling point, resulting in casualties and irreversible damage.
Comprising four protected areas spanning over 6,000 square kilometers across eight districts, Mount Elgon Conservation Area serves as a vital ecological sanctuary, hosting a myriad of species including the endangered roan antelopes, wild dogs, and ostriches.
However, the delicate balance between conservation and human habitation has been disrupted by the exponential growth of the Benet population.
"The pressure exerted by the expanding Benet population has led to encroachments beyond designated boundaries, exacerbating resource depletion and endangering the delicate ecosystem," stated Amanya
The roots of the conflict trace back to the gazettement of MECA in 1983, a move that displaced approximately 2,000 inhabitants, primarily the Bennet people, whose traditional livelihoods were deemed compatible with conservation efforts at the time.
However, subsequent population growth has strained resources, leading to accusations from both sides.
Bennet elders allege irregularities in the demarcation process, accusing UWA of encroaching on their ancestral lands and orchestrating forced evictions.
Hangi Bashir, the spokesperson for UWA, countered these claims, emphasizing the need for dialogue and cooperation to resolve the impasse.
"Peace talks are essential to finding a mutually beneficial solution that safeguards both conservation interests and the rights of the Bennet community," Bashir remarked.
The conflict has not been without casualties, with at least 15 UWA rangers losing their lives and 35 others sustaining permanent disabilities as a result of confrontations with Bennet residents.
"We mourn the loss of our dedicated rangers and call for an end to violence," Amanya lamented, highlighting the human toll of the conflict.
In a bid to address the contentious boundary issues, UWA has implemented a registration system to delineate the park's boundaries accurately. This initiative aims to clarify land ownership and mitigate future disputes.
The plight of the Bennet, a historically marginalized community, adds another layer of complexity to the conflict.
Despite their ancestral ties to the land, the Bennet have faced systemic neglect, exacerbating tensions with conservation authorities.
As political leaders weigh in on the situation, there is a growing consensus on the urgent need for peaceful dialogue and sustainable solutions.
The fate of Mount Elgon Conservation Area hangs in the balance, as stakeholders grapple with the dual imperatives of conservation and social justice in a region marked by turmoil and uncertainty