By Ram Kikama
The conflict over land between farmers and the pastoralists in the Rwenzori Sub-region will drag on if development stakeholders’ views are not getting due attention and action through the relevant authorities.
“The conflict over land is mostly between farmers and the pastoralists specifically in the areas of Rwehingo, Kabukero, Ibuga, Bigando and some other areas”, Ali Kusemererwa a re-known regional analyst points out during an interview with this reporter.
Kusemererwa features at Uganda Broadcasting Corporation (UBC)-Ngeya FM Radio in Kasese and Rwenzori television but is also attached to the Umbrella for Journalists in Kasese.
He noted that after the Basongora pastoralists, one of the minority tribes, were flushed out of Virunga National Park in the Eastern parts of Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) several years back. They have put pressure on land for settlement in Kasese District as they seek refuge in Queen Elizabeth National park while a few others scattered into the neighboring Bunyangabu, Kamwenge and Rubirizi districts.
Kusemererwa notes that the issue of “the land question” is thus due big chunks of land in the District are reserved either as Mt Rwenzori National Game park and Queen Elizabeth National Park in the northern and southern areas respectively.
Accordingly, this has created pressure on land as people struggle to find land for farming, settlement and grazing, a situation that gets residents in unending conflict in the district.
The emergence of conflicts in the Rwenzori Sub-Region District of Kasese dates back to the early 1960s during the President Milton Obote regime. They have periodically emerged, a situation that has resulted into loss of dozens of lives and destruction of property while others have been left physically disabled. Nevertheless, the reason for the conflicts in the sub-region comprising of Kasese, Bundibugyo, Kyenjojo, Kabarole, Ntoroko, Bunyangabu, Rubirizi and Kamwenge has remained a debate.
Current estimates put the population of Kasese District at over one million from 750,000 people by the Uganda National Bureau of Statistics (UBOS) in the 2014 census report.
Records show there are several minority groups in the Rwenzori sub-region among them the Basongora, Banyabindi, Bakingwe, Bagabo in Kasese District and Venoma, Batwa-pigmies in Bundibugyo District and Bafuruki (Banyarwanda, Bafumbira) in Bunyangabo District.
Kusemererwa notes that years after, government then came up with a resettlement policy, which benefited the Basongora pastoralists and the Bakonzo who are mainly farmers. However, he argues that the 1:3-acre ratio of distribution sparked a conflict with farmers describing the distribution as unfair. He notes that the little available land for settlement has forced some inhabitants out of Kasese to search for land they can settle on in other districts like Kagadi, Kamwenge and Kiboga.
Among other mechanisms to sort the land in the region, Kusemererwa notes “Government should do what they call de-gazetting, where government gives out some of its gazette land to people in the densely populated areas including issuing out land tittles”.
He adds that government can buy land in the sparsely populated areas across the country where land is still plenty through the Land Fund managed by the Uganda Land Commission under the Ministry of Land and Housing.
‘’This money can be used to buy chucks of land in sparsely populated areas of Bunyoro, Kiboga and Mubende’’ Kusemererwa said and added that this could be a remedy to conflicts in the Rwenzori sub-region. Leader
On the other hand, while interacting with this reporter, the Banyabindi ethnic leader, Elisha Mugisha Ateenyi argues that Government offered land to other minority groups while others like the Banyabindi were not given any piece of land and have since remained landless among other unaddressed issues and has remained a conflict trigger that government should consider tackling.
“Unfulfilled general promises by government also force some people to conflict tendencies” according to the Banyabindi leader. He cited delays by government to among others, construct the Kasese Airfield, revamp the Kasese Airfield and the construction of the Katwe salt Mine”. He said adding that this has negatively impacted on the peoples’ livelihood and renders them vulnerable to be driven into what he termed as ‘bad deals’.
According to Kiwedde Geofrey, the Executive Director Centre for Hope and Life in and After Prison Initiative Uganda (CHALAPI-UG), “the issue of identity or ethnicity among the various communities in the region has also contributed a lot towards the occurrence of conflicts in the region because every tribe in the region wants to be recognized and this comes with several dynamics, that could drive the region into conflicts”.
Rwenzori region is comprised of many ethnicities including Banyabindi, Bagabo, Basongora (Kasese District) and the Batwa or pigmies in Bundibugyo District.
Geoffrey faults government for failure to handle the aftermath of these conflicts. He argues that there is still a gap in sensitization and empowerment of the residents in areas that have for several years been embroiled in conflicts. He stressed that this makes them vulnerable to being convinced to join subversive activities.
“The way government handles the aftermath of these conflicts is not the best, people need to be sensitized and most importantly being empowered with projects that can improve their livelihood so they might not easily be lured into bad acts’’ Kiwedde Geofrey noted.
He observed that the dominant mountainous area has greatly contributed towards the existence of the conflicts in the Rwenzori region; the Mt Rwenzori jungles cover large parts of Kasese, Bunyangabu and Bundibugyo District which harbor wrong elements as they find the area a hideout.
He urged government through its security agencies to intensify the protection of these areas to flush out any criminals improve security in Rwenzori region.
The Kasese District chairperson LC5 Eliphaz Muhindi has on several occasions agitated for peace and coexistence in the region saying this is key in ensuring peace in the region before encouraging intermarriages between different ethnicities arguing that this will also move along way to promote peace.
Kasese has for some time been affected by conflicts with various ethnicities each of them wants its interests to be addressed”, Muhindi said and added these issues can be sorted through different means including embracing unity and co-existence through intermarriages.
Muhindi notes that coexistence is an important aspect in addressing the challenges of conflicts in the region to support high production and development.
According to the Kasese District Action Plan on the mitigation of conflicts 2021-2022/2022-2026, the District intends to among others sensitize the community members on registration of land to address land-related conflicts.
The District intends to promote peaceful coexistence to deter the youths from joining armed combat while governance related conflicts would be addressed through affirmative action by creating more sub-counties and urban Centres in Nyakatonzi town council and Muhokya Town Council to increase representation, and open up more seed secondary schools among other measures.