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Uganda Wildlife Authority station in Kween occupied by Benet community members to protest forcible evictions and abuses of their human rights

FPP - Press Release

On July 14, women and children of the Mosopisyek of Benet started peacefully occupying the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) station, Piswa, in Kween district, Uganda, to protest the current evictions taking place in Mt. Elgon and to demand release of their animals, which were impounded by the Uganda Wildlife Agency.

“This is the fifth day of us protesting at the UWA outpost where the UWA are taking our cattle and not giving receipts. The first day UWA threatened to beat us up but people resisted and stayed. Then UWA insisted we stay at some distance from them.  10 women went to the Office of the Prime Minister in Kampala but they were not allowed to go to the office because of news of what we are doing here. They had wanted to occupy it.” said a Benet Mosopisyek community representative. 

We, the Mosopisyek were forcefully evicted in 1983 and 2008 by the government of Uganda to pave way for Mt. Elgon National Park. There was no consultation, no consent and no compensation and the community has been landless and impoverished ever since. In the absence of any process to compensate or restitute lands, the community returned to their ancestral lands, and are now facing renewed violent eviction through the burning of huts, impounding of animals and beating of Mosopisyek people.

“Community members are suffering in hands of UWA and many have lost their lives through shootings by UWA since eviction started and others dying of psychological torture.” said another Benet Mosopisyek community activist present at the occupation.

He continued: “With the help of IUCN projects in the 1990s, UWA pretended that our rights could be met by giving us access to bamboo, fuelwood, places to put beehives only if we bought permits. UWA developed this as ‘collaborative management’. It suits Sabiny and Bugisu settled farmers. It does not suit us. The way conservation has happened has meant we have suffered violent evictions, killings, brutal abuses, and denial of all our rights.”

In 2005, the Mosopisyek of Benet won the right to remain in temporary settlements and to not be evicted again through a legal case and a consent judgement issued by the High Court of Uganda. 

“Through trumped up charges, we were evicted again in 2008,” said the activist. 

“We also won the right to get back our schools and services. UWA never delivered this. The judgement also recognized us as the indigenous occupants of Mount Elgon. No supporting actions for this have been taken since. Each year is worse for us,” he said. 

The current situation has intensified following the president's visit on 11th of June 2022, followed by the prime minister’s on 9th of July 2022. Since then UWA have impounded 630 cows and 100 sheep.

On 26th June 2022, four more homes were burned and two Mosopisyek community members - Malamik Kaptiyoy and Kokop Samari – were badly beaten and are now in hospital. These are just the latest to suffer at the hands of UWA who have shot and killed Mosopisyek people since evictions began. Poverty is made worse by UWA destroying their crops - claiming they are within the Park’s boundary yet there is no boundary between the Park and the community.

The demands of the community include:

  1. Release of impounded animals and to leave our community in their ancestral moorland undisturbed.
  2. Resettlement of Mosopisyek of Benet in the agreed land of 6000 ha. 
  3. To stop human rights abuses, including violence and killings.

Editor Notes

  • This statement has been written with and by community representatives of Mosopisyek communities traditionally living in and around the Mt Elgon area in eastern Uganda to raise awareness of the situation that they face and the actions that their communities have chosen to take. 
  • The Mosopisyek are a population of 12,500 scattered at the upper belt of Butwo, Kween and Kapchorwa districts. They depend mainly on pastoralism, fruit gathering, and subsistence farming. Mosopisyek have been marginalised and discriminated against in terms of service delivery, leadership, and land rights. They are also sometimes referred to as the Benet and/or the Benet Mosop, but the preferred and correct term is the Mosopisyek which refers to the whole people, while ‘Benet’ and ‘Benet Mosop’ are used to refer to communities in smaller, specific geographical areas. The term ‘Mosop’ refers to their territory. In this statement, when referring specifically to the communities in and around Mt. Elgon, the term ‘Mosopisyek of Benet’ is used. 
  • A ‘Benet resettlement scheme’ was created, but only 17% of these plots were given to the community – the rest were taken by the Sabiny, a more powerful community, and by well-connected government people. 
  • Today, only 35% of Mosopisyek of Benet have plots in the scheme, 16% live in legal ‘temporary settlements’ within the Park, and nearly half of them (49%) live secretly in their original sub-territories or hide in caves, mostly on the moorland.
  • In 2005, the Mosopisyek of Benet won the right to remain in temporary settlements and to not be evicted again through a legal case and a consent judgement issued by the High Court of Uganda. The judgement also recognized them as the indigenous occupants of Mount Elgon. However, they were evicted again in 2008. They also won the right to get back their schools and services. UWA never delivered this. 
  • The Mosopisyek of Benet are the rightful protectors of the forest since they have coexisted with the forest for years, and recently, they have participated in a indigenous tree planting project part of an environmental campaign to preserve and restore their ancestral forest in Mt. Elgon. They have witnessed lumbering activities carried out in the forest by UWA in collaboration with businessmen and they are taking action to replace the cut trees by replanting them.
  • The Mosopisyek of Benet have carried out peaceful occupations in the past and pressured the government to react. The notable one being in October 2020 when hundreds of Benet occupied Kizito UWA reserve for more than a month to demand fair treatment by the UWA and the restitution of their ancestral home. 

Further information

See also: “We do not beg, we demand an end to colonial conservation” Indigenous peoples from East Africa call on IUCN to commit to “decolonise conservation” on the occasion of the IUCN Africa Protected Area Congress

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For images: 

https://drive.google.com/drive/folders/12ZLNYhNZrYGnIg4iEBe4Ua0yZLKNPrW1?usp=sharing

REF: Uganda Wildlife Authority station in Kween occupied by Benet community members to protest forcible evictions and abuses of their human rights | FPP (forestpeoples.org)

19 July 2022. Piswa, Uganda