Uganda: forest reserves, encroachers and resettlement

In 1983, when a group of Forest Authority guards and policemen stormed
his home near Mt. Elgon in Kapchorwa: “This is not your farm. You have
to leave,” they ordered him before torching his house. Chemonges, who
now lives in Bukwo district, was one of the many Ndorobo families that
were left homeless following a government decision to evict people
from the Mt. Elgon Forest.

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The Government later carved out 6,000 hectares of forest land to
resettle about 800 Ndorobo, but Chemonges and 400 others were left
out. “It was a merciless exercise,” says Chemonges, 70, a former maize
farmer, who bought his 30-acre farm in 1978. “I had nowhere to go and
it became difficult to find food,” he says. “The Government should
have helped us stay on our farms. We were not squatters, we had bought
these farms.” At that time, his pleas fell on deaf ears, but when
Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) took over the management of the
forests in the 1990s, the body allowed them to settle there until they
got an alternative.

“UWA restored some hope, but we were not allowed
to expand our farms and getting social services was a problem,” he
says. But now, thanks to the Bukwo local government and UWA, Chemonges
is happy. The former refugees, who now call themselves the Kapsekek
after breaking away from the Ndorobo, were resettled last year on land
carved from the forest and next to their former farms. The project,
dubbed Kapsekek Resettlement, saw 163 families allocated 318 acres of
Mt. Elgon Forest land to build houses, cultivate and establish social
amenities like schools, water, roads and a community centre.

Christopher Songhor, the Bukwo resident district commissioner, says
previously service delivery to the Kapsekek was difficult. “Because
the people had settled in a conservation area, UWA could not allow us
to construct health centres, schools and safe water sources. As a
result, illiteracy was high and to access health services, they had to
walk hundreds of kilometres,” he says. David Kweko, one of the
beneficiaries, says life has improved since they were settled. “I can
now grow food and no longer scavenge or beg from the rich. I plan to
grow maize next year and use it as a source of income to take my
children to school.”

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