Benet residents battle disability meted by UWA

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Kween, Uganda  About 15 Kilometers away from Kween town lies Kwortow village in Kwosir sub-county, which is adjacent to Mount Elgon National park.  45-year-old, Alex Sorowen, a father of five children is one of the residents of the village. Donned in a brown blue jacket and a pair of brown shorts, Sorowen limped on crutches to the spot where he was meant to meet our reporter for an interview.   

He sat down on a rough and dusty bench, which had some chicken dropping he struggled to clean before the interview. Sorowen explained to URN how he ended up with the permanent disability. “In 2015, while I had gone to graze my cattle on the peripheries of the park boundaries, this is when from a distance, I saw Uganda Wildlife Authority rangers and due to fear, I decided to run away and in the process, they (rangers) shot at me rupturing my right leg,” he said.   

According to Sorowen, the bullet lodged in his right leg and that he was unable to walk. “I was left in the bushes for dead. Nobody among the rangers cared even to check on me despite reeling in deep pain. I on that fateful day struggled for my dear life in the forest alone,” he said.   

He says the rangers reported the matter to a nearby police post indicating that they had shot and injured someone in the forest and that he needed some help. According to Sorowen, it is then that police informed the community members about the fateful incident. “Community members came running to the forest to rescue me and found me totally abandoned in deep pain, they then took me to the nearest health facility in Benet,” he said. 

He was referred to Kapchorwa General Hospital. The teary Sorowen told URN that he was advised to see Dr. John Ekure, an orthopaedic at Kumi Orthopedic Hospital where he was amputated of his right leg. According to Sorowen, he has sold off almost everything he had to meet the medical bills yet he is the sole breadwinner of his family but has been rendered useless. Sorowen now survives on handouts from well-wishers in the community who have kept soliciting for him basic needs like food and other items. 

He faults the management of the park for failure to take over his medical bills yet he is suffering due to the action of their rangers. Over time, UWA, which is mandated to manage national parks and wildlife in the country has been at loggerheads with the community over the park boundaries resulting from encroachment. Residents say they have any land to live on and cultivate crops for a living. 

As a result, many lives have been lost and injured on the side of the community and UWA. Like Sorowen, 36-year-old Janet Chebet, another resident in Karatow village too has tested the wrath of the UWA rangers. She told URN that she has had difficulties passing urine due to a broken bladder resulting from several injuries inflicted on her by UWA rangers. According to Chebet, in August this year, she was badly assaulted by rangers who found her tending to her farmland that borders the park. 

“It was from the beatings that I sustained at the park on that day that affected by bladder to-date,” she told our reporter. Police medical examination forms that URN has obtained show that Chebet’s bladder and her lower abdomen were injured. This, according to Chebet is the sole cause of her current experience.   

She has since been advised by medical experts not to stop engaging in heavy work like tiling land. According to Chebet, she currently unable to provide for her family.  

David Mande, a resident of Kween told our reporter that since the government ordered the eviction of the Benet people from their ancestral land, the Benet have faced hard life at the hands of the rangers who keep raping their women and daughters while beating and shooting men. 

“Over the years the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) has terrorized this community burning homes, beating and killing people while several others have been arrested for grazing their animals in the park and trying to demand for their land,” Mande said. 

He says the community appreciates the fact that the area was gazette National Park but the government needs to fulfil the court’s maiden ruling of resettling the people on the 2250 hectares of land that was degazetted from the park.  

Wrangles between residents and UWA date back to 1983 when the first degazettement was done. There are two contradicting boundary lines of 1983 and 1993. The Benet sub-county asked for land for resettlement in 1983. In the spirit of being a custodian of its citizens, the government gave it to them but in 1993, they created another line, which triggered confusion.

The law on grazing animals in the park has escalated the clashes since many of the people injured are found in the park while grazing their animals. The owner of the animals is fined Shillings 50,000 for every head of cattle that is impounded from the park.   This, the community says has impoverished them since several animals are impounded from the park each day. Those who don’t pay or bribe the officials lose their animals for good. 

Jackeline Sangay, the Kwosir and Kitwoi sub-county woman Councilor, says that as leaders they have severally presented petitions expressing the grievances of the people to the district councilor for possible redress in vain.   

Sangay says people around the park are ignorant about the fine since it didn’t go through the local leadership in the district. 

She adds that, the UWA rangers have meted all sorts of atrocities to the communities around the park including raping the women and their daughters and this now has left the majority of the people live in a state of fear to speak out about their untold suffering for fear of losing their marriages.  

Fredrick Kiiza, the Chief Warden of Mount Elgon National Park has dismissed the allegations of torture by the rangers, saying the impasse in the park especially in Kween District is motivated by politicians and Civil Society Organizations (CSOs).  

“The Impasse in Kween, is politically motivated, it’s the disgruntled politicians who keep promising residents things that they cannot deliver,” he reasoned.   Adding that “Its these organizations like Solidarity and Action Aid that are doing public accountability to their funders but we shall not accept as UWA to be fooled, you enter the park we shall crush you, that is a protected area for Ugandans, not an individual.”   

He, however, hastens to add that there could be a few errant rangers who have meted the atrocities on the locals but it isn’t sanctioned by UWA.  

Kiiza says the resettlement on the landless people that was ordered by the court was meant to be done by the Office of the Prime Minister and not UWA.  

Source: The independent.