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Wednesday,August 12,2020 21:17 PM

Stop trading votes for encroachment

By Vision Reporter

Added 17th August 2008 03:00 AM

Since December 2005, conservation agencies, including the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA), have been battling encroachment on protected areas. The most affected areas are Semliki Wildlife Reserve, Mt. Elgon National Park and Queen Elizabeth National Park. Efforts by the UWA to contain the encroachme

Since December 2005, conservation agencies, including the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA), have been battling encroachment on protected areas. The most affected areas are Semliki Wildlife Reserve, Mt. Elgon National Park and Queen Elizabeth National Park. Efforts by the UWA to contain the encroachme

By Moses Mapesa

Since December 2005, conservation agencies, including the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA), have been battling encroachment on protected areas. The most affected areas are Semliki Wildlife Reserve, Mt. Elgon National Park and Queen Elizabeth National Park. Efforts by the UWA to contain the encroachment failed and resulted in violent clashes and bashing from top government officers. Matters were not helped by overzealous local authorities and other leaders who argued that wild animals and plants must give way to human settlement and development. Trees and wild animals, they said, do not vote in elections, which is obvious but absurd because even children under 18 years do not vote.

However, the UWA can now sigh with relief following President Yoweri Museveni’s directive that encroachment must stop and that those involved must be evicted and prosecuted. The President made the directive on August 6, during his tour of the eastern region and had made a similar one in May 2008 while in Bunyoro.

The President’s name has been used in the Mt. Elgon encroachment in disregard of the law and the legal boundaries of the park. Statements like: “The President promised to come and show us the correct boundary of the park” or “we are waiting for the President to re-settle us” had become common. Some people even blackmailed the ruling National Resistance Movement party by threatening to vote rival parties in the next election. Others went to court disputing the park boundaries or wrote memoranda to the President and the prime minister.

Now we can celebrate that the President has been to Mt. Elgon and he has spoken emphatically on why the encroachment must stop. “Natural forest ecosystems like Mt. Elgon, Mt. Rwenzori and Mabira are water catchment areas we cannot allow encroachment or have any parts of them degazetted,” the President said.There are genuine cases of landlessness which the Government considers such as the Basongora near Queen Elizabeth who have been resettled, the Benet in Mt Elgon who are about to be resettled for the second time, the Mbwa tract in Bwindi which will soon to be corrected and the Batwa in Semliki who are being assisted. Pastoralists have also been assisted with regulated grazing or access to water in times of drought or floods. Protected areas are created by Parliament and their boundaries determined by an Act of Parliament. Therefore, any changes can only be effected by Parliament. The arrogance of some individuals who create difficult management scenarios and then take it upon themselves to petition the President must stop. These individuals must be dealt with because they incite innocent people while abusing the UWA staff and making baseless allegations of rape, torture and bribery against them. They do not report these allegations to the Police but they obstruct conservation staff on duty.

The tendency to run to the President asking him to intervene in every small matter is unnecessary and expensive because there are government departments responsible for addressing management issues.

This tendency keeps us either waiting until the President gives the order or speculating on what he might want. As we speculate or wait, a lot goes wrong and resources are lost because we continue to earn salaries, make endless field visits and sit in meetings discussing what is obvious or repeating ourselves as destruction continues. Hopefully, we shall not see encroachment as we near the election period in 2011.

Plants and animals do not vote but they sustain our livelihoods. In the words of Nelson Mandela: “Nature (plants and animals) can exist without man, but man cannot exist without plants and animals.” That is why conservationists are always advising on the need for an optimal balance or co-existence between man and nature. Global human population is growing at the expense of nature, many animal and plant species are extinct and the next could be man. All humans owe their existence to nature - the plants we grow as food, the animals we keep and the rain and water for our sustenance all come from nature. Scientists are going to the extent of creating hybrids between humans and animal cells in order to fight debilitating diseases like Perkinsons.

Now that the President has spoken against encroachment and the Police and other law enforcement agencies are supportive, we at the UWA are re-energised to conserve for generations.

The writer the executive director of
the Uganda Wildlife Authority

Stop trading votes for encroachment

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