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Bamba-Babwisi Communities Drag Gov't to Court Over Semuliki National Park Land

More than 3,000 households have now sued Uganda Wildlife Authority-UWA and Attorney General demanding to be compensated or their land be returned to them.
MPs and researcher visit the Semuliki national park

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Members of the Bamba-Babwisi tribes in Bundibugyo District have dragged the government to court over compensation of their ancestral land from which they were evicted. The land in question was part of Matongo Forest-present-day Semuliki National Park.

The Bamba-Babwisi people occupied about 125 square kilometres of land covering areas near the Saara stream to River Semuliki through River Lamia to the borders of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Some of them settled in areas within Bwamba county within Bundibugyo district.

They were first evicted in 1920 by the colonial government following an outbreak of sleeping sickness in the area. The purpose was to mainly safeguard the population against the outbreak of the epidemic. The land was years later gazetted as a forest reserve.

A second eviction occurred in 1983 by the government of Uganda, then led by Dr. Apollo Milton Obote. As a result, some of the Bamba-Babwisi people settled in the DRC, areas around Tokwe Sub-county, and parts of Tooro, while others have gone to Hoima and Kasese district among others.

More than 3,000 households have now sued Uganda Wildlife Authority-UWA and Attorney General demanding to be compensated or their land be returned to them.

The Chairperson MLLRFG, Cornelius Bakecura, on Saturday said that the displaced families have since grown in numbers and that they are living as squatters on the land that was given to them by friends when they were evicted.  

He adds that the communities that have been hosting them are threatening to evict them because of the scarcity of land. Bakecura says that they have petitioned the government since 2010 but have not received any response.

"Our families are longer having land to grow food yet we originally had a place we called home, so our demand is that government gets us land elsewhere to be resettled,” Bakecura said.

According to records, Fort Portal High Court has set September 30, as the date when the case will be heard.

The Bwamba County Member of Parliament Richard Gafabusa says that for a long time the affected persons have asked the government to either de-gazette the park or let them resettle on their ancestral land, in vain.

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 Gorge Ngilesi, aged 98 years, one of the Matongo land claimants, says the remains of his relatives remain in Semuliki National park. 

“If they can’t allow us to go back to our ancestral land let them allow us to go back and exhume remains of our relatives and get us where to rebury them”, Ngilesi said

Bashir Hangi, the Public Relations Officer, UWA, said he cannot comment on the matter that has already been taken to court.  

The clans claiming land include the; Bahanda, Bahombi, Babomboli, Batogho, and Babandi.

The others are the Bandikiteganwa, Bandikulya, Babukulu, Mandimagwara (Babandi sub-clans) and Bandimugumo, a sub-clan of Banyangule.

In 2020, the group petitioned Parliament seeking compensation, relocation to their ancestral land in parts of the current national park, or relocation to a place where they can live. They argued that the eviction that led to their displacement contradicts international and national laws that govern the people in their rights and freedom of resettlement and belonging.

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