Mt. Elgon National Park suffers fresh encroachments


UGANDA (eTN) – Disturbing reports emerged last week that aspiring politicians, either seeking re-election or vying for office for the first time, have again allegedly incited communities living near the Mt. Elgon National Park boundaries and seemingly encouraged a number of them to invade the park and claim land.

It was not long ago that prolonged rains swept villages away, which created steep hills that were tilled without safeguards, killing hundreds in the process and prompting hasty evacuations of other illegal squatters from the park area for their own protection.

However, with memories seemingly so short, a fresh wave of park invasions is now expected during the election campaign, as few politicians hunting for votes will dare to tell the people the bitter truth, which is that the park boundaries must stand, illegal farming inside the park is dangerous, and that they must desist from squatting in the park only to face eviction, at times at high cost to their property and health, at a later stage.

Some politicians are alleged to have led a campaign to destroy boundary markers and fence posts erected at high cost by the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA), and investigations are underway to establish the facts in the ongoing battle for land around Mt. Elgon National Park.

Visitor numbers, which had reduced considerably after the widely-reported landslides, remain below expectations and forecasts, partly because the tourism fraternity is also still concerned over the safety of tourists, which may be caught in the cross fire should violence break out over the intrusions between UWA rangers and squatters. Yet, the unique mountain ecosystem, shared with neighboring Kenya, holds special attractions for visitors and communities nearby and should help to attract tourists to the park, from which they could benefit in many ways, instead of creation conflict scenarios which keep foreign visitors and their money away.