Locals, Wildlife Authority
Battle for Mt Elgon Forest
New Vision (Kampala)
10 March 2008
FOR 32-year-old Andrew Namasoko, staring death in the face is an
everyday experience. A chill goes down his spine whenever he
recalls that fateful day in October last year, when Uganda
Wildlife Authority (UWA) guards confronted three of them for
allegedly killing two young antelopes in Kapchorwa-Bugimotwa
village of Mt. Elgon forest.
That morning, two armed guards got them unaware at the forest's
extreme end, shot and instantly killed two of his friends; Alan
Wofuba, 26, and Peter Nandila as they tried to flee from the scene
of crime armed with one gun and two bows and arrows.
"We were hunting and had got our biggest catch for the week when
we were confronted by two guards. We struggled to escape, but
unfortunately the guards caught up with us and opened fire,
killing two of my trusted friends and shot me in the leg and arm.
This made me crippled," he says, with tears welling up in his eyes.
Namasoko fell in the bush with his friends and he was left for
dead. With the guards away from the scene, he could neither walk
nor stand up. He crawled towards the nearest footpath in the dense
forest, where he was rescued by another poacher, who rushed him to
the hospital. An amputation was recommended for his badly injured
foot and arm. He now uses crutches to walk and his hunting life is
The recent eviction of the Bennet from part of Mt.Elgon's
was the climax of the many clashes between the locals and UWA.
Namasoko, Wofuba and Nandila's lives are a representation of
hundreds of poachers forced to hunt wildlife in Mt. Elgon to
survive the biting poverty, hunger and disease - but poaching is
like shaking death by the hand in the forest.
Forest guards roam the forest protecting it from illegal poachers,
loggers and those engaged in cutting down trees for firewood and
They target poachers because they believe they are destroying
wildlife and confronting them is the only way to scare them.
Pushed to the wall by poverty, ignorance, and marginalisation, the
poachers cannot afford basic needs like clothing and good shelter.
That is why many people in the area have turned to poaching.
However, many people feel that UWA guards are heavy handed in
dealing with the poor people. "UWA is so cruel. This is the only
area for survival and livelihood, for our community. The forest is
ours and we have depended on it for years without destruction from
organisations like UWA."
"We have used it for hunting wild animals, collecting fuel wood
and building materials. Why kill the people? We are hurt because
UWA is using illegal ways to handle a simple problem. This is
massacre and if nothing is done, the major conflict brewing
between us will result into a fight for our forest, against the
people who want to prevent us from using our resources," says
Felix Beswa, a community leader of the area.
The poachers confess that going into the wilderness to hunt is
dangerous but they cannot stop. "I only feel safe once am back
home. But I cannot stop poaching because it will mean sleeping
hungry. I would rather die while looking for food to survive than
starve," adds Beswa.
Like Namasoko, other poachers like Martin Gambwa have not been
that lucky. In 2006, Gambwa was shot in the right arm by UWA
guards when he was caught red-handed felling a tree for timber.
In the scuffle which involved one guard, Gambwa wrestled him, but
ended up sustaining a bullet wound when the guard pulled the
trigger. Luckily enough, it was minor and he managed to flee for
"I was almost killed but my strength helped me," he says. In
Bugimotwa, some 20 kilometres away from Gambwa's home, the
community is campaigning against the killings by UWA.
The community argues that UWA should arrest the culprits and the
court be brought in to solve the situation, rather than shoot the
suspects on sight.
According to Rev. Nathan Manana: "This is not the right method of
protecting a forest which people use for their benefit. UWA needs
to take the culprits to court and the due process followed,
otherwise this is unethical and the community will fight to the
The Reverend advises that what UWA needs to do is to sensitise the
forest community about the benefits of the forest.
Part of the problem is that UWA has excluded the people from the
management of the forest. The community does not receive any
benefits from the forest with UWA in charge and therefore feel
"We are very disappointed by UWA. We know this is our forest and
we also know that we are entitled to the benefits from it.
Unfortunately, since UWA started managing the forest in 1993, when
it was gazetted into a forest reserve, cutting of trees for timber
by rich people has accelerated, but UWA has not even constructed a
simple hospital, road or even a mere borehole.
These are double standards. We are tired of this routine and soon
we shall mobilise the population to bring our forest into local
management," says Moses Wodi, the LC1 chairman of the area. But
UWA denies the claims.
According to the chief warden Johnson Masereka these allegations
are totally untrue and malicious. "Our guards are well-trained in
handling civilians. UWA has never taken the law into its own hands.
We shall never shoot anyone unless that person is armed and
dangerous to our guards. We have a code of conduct and if there is
a guard breaking the code, the law will apply to him or her."
Masereka adds that in fact there is maximum co-operation between
the guards and the local people and that the local people are
getting employment in UWA.
"We have employed their sons and daughters as forest guards, field
officers and as a matter of accuracy, UWA involves itself in
community projects like provision of water through improvement of
wells, uplifting rural roads by providing a token to the areas we
operate in at a local level. Therefore, it is totally untrue that
we are doing nothing to help the population," adds Masereka.
According to James Woliba, a UWA guard and the son of the area: "The
people who have been killed so far are bandits who trek from their
homes to Kenya and steal cattle from there and end up exploiting
forest resources in various ways like cutting down timber for wood.
In most cases these are armed people who retaliate when we try to
Woliba adds that the stakes are high in Mt. Elgon and the
conflicting activities in the forest are on the increase.
In the Bennet area for example, people have defied UWA and
continue to occupy the disputed 6,000 hectares of forest land and
the environmental effects have increased, according to Masereka.
The Ndorobo people have occupied a very big portion of the forest
and efforts to remove them have hit a snag with the government
allowing them to settle there until a court battle between them
and UWA is cleared," says Masereka. "But the forest is reducing in
size and its resources are fast dwindling through
agriculture-slash and burn." But even in the midst of all this,
there is hope.
According to Masereka in 2006, the poaching went down from 20% to
5%, mainly due to UWA efforts.
Woliba adds that the clergy and the community leaders have taken
steps in encouraging environmental protection through planting of
trees and encouraging agro-forestry.