State of the World's Minorities and Indigenous Peoples 2012 - Case study: Land injustice: Basongora in western Uganda

The Basongora are a pastoralist community that lived and occupied land in Kasese district, north of the Maramagambo forest in western Uganda.

The Basongora rely on cattle-herding for their livelihoods. Under colonial rule, Basongora lost 90 per cent of their land between 1900 and 1955 to establish the Queen Elizabeth National Park. The Basongora were evicted, their animals destroyed and huts torched, and no alternative settlement was provided, all in the name of wildlife protection.

Post-independence governments have done little to address the social injustice suffered by the community. Instead, more Basongora land has been parcelled out for government development projects and military use, without community consultation. These actions have reduced the Basongora to a vulnerable landless group.

In 1986, when the current government took power, it promised to address historical injustices and return land to thousands of people displaced by development projects. In the 1990s, the Ugandan government recognized the Basongora as a minority that had to be protected and provided with alternative land.

Yet in 1999, large numbers of the Basongora community began to cross the border to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and settled in the Virunga National Park. In 2006, the DRC authorities drove the Basongora back into Uganda, where the community tried to return to the Queen Elizabeth National Park. Once again, the Uganda Wildlife Authority tried to brutally evict the Basongora from the park, drawing the attention of many human rights groups and the government. Women and children were placed in camps in Nyakatonzi.

After claims that excessive force was used, the government eventually offered Basongora evicted from the DRC alternative land outside the park. However this settlement was also problematic; the government ordered the Basongora pastoralists to share land in Rwaihingo with Bakonjo cultivators. Local politicians in Kasese district have stirred up ethnic tensions over land allocation in the district to delay any meaningful dialogue on resettlement. Ethnic tensions have led to clashes between pastoralists and cultivators, often culminating in the death of animals and the destruction of property and lives. Today, the Basongora community number about 11,000 according to the national census (40,000 and 50,000 according to community estimates); the area they occupy is less than 2 per cent of their original land and they are living in deplorable conditions.

In April 2012, Uganda's President Yoweri Museveni warned the Uganda Wildlife Authority against arbitrarily evicting people from national parks, urging them to instead convince communities of the benefits that conserving national parks and tourism can bring. 'There is no conflict between animals and humans.... We need to bring out the linkages, compatibilities and the symbiosis between the parks and the people,' he said.

With a final draft of the national land policy – containing important recognition of the rights of pastoralists – soon to be tabled before parliament, maybe the Basongora will finally see a peaceful and equitable end to their predicament.

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