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More Than a Year Later, Bagungu Farmers Seek Justice over Elephant Destruction :: Uganda Radionetwork

More Than a Year Later, Bagungu Farmers Seek Justice over Elephant Destruction

Kamanyire says she went through the processes of reporting and filing her claim to the authorities through the local councils, the district agriculture office, the government valuer, up to the Uganda Wildlife Office at Paraa Town in Nwoya District north of the lake.
Ms Kamanyire cries for compensation for her crops destroyed by elephants last year

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Serina Kamanyire has been waiting for justice since her crops were destroyed by elephants suspected to have strayed from Bugungu Wildlife Reserve in Murchison Falls National Park in late 2022. She was one of the hundreds of farmers who lost their crops to the marauding animals when her one acre of mangoes and about three acres of cassava and beans were destroyed as the herd defied all attempts by residents to chase them away.

A call to the rangers for help was not helpful as they claimed they did not have fuel for their motorcycles, according to the residents of the Bugana, Kicoke, and Nganzi villages in Buliisa sub-county

In a few minutes, the beasts had nothing to eat and walked away. Kamanyire says she went through the processes of reporting and filing her claim to the authorities through the local councils, the district agriculture office, the government valuer, up to the Uganda Wildlife Office at Paraa Town in Nwoya District north of the lake. 

Unfortunately, nothing has come out of her struggles, and she blames this for her failure to return her children to school since the year began, while, she says many of them have even disappeared from her home. Ms. Kamanyire says her fields wouldn't have been destroyed if the nearby park rangers had responded immediately, instead of sanding for transport means which she didn't have at the time.

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On that night, many more farmers also lost acres of maize, potatoes, sorghum, and banana plantations among others. However, despite the reports filed, the farmers are yet to get any redress of any kind, nor do they get any communication from the responsible authorities. She wonders how the government is always quick to rush to disasters in other countries like Turkey but cannot do the same for a taxpaying national. 

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The residents say the elephant threat is not only real regarding crops but also human life, with three people reported killed in Buliisa Subcounty since last year. In some places, the residents are afraid of sending their children to schools because of safety concerns on the road. In some places, they lock themselves in their houses as early as sunset because that is when the elephants start moving around, according to Frederick Eddie Watum, a resident of Buliisa Subcounty and chairperson Buliisa Paralegals Association. 

He says women are at a greater risk because it is hard for them to camouflage or even run, as it is advised never to get into a 250-metre radius of an elephant which covers 60 kilometres in an hour. Watum attacked the conditions for qualifying for compensation as too stringent, saying they usually a complainants to file completed forms within 72 hours, yet they have to be endorsed by various offices. 

On what they think has caused the problem of stray elephants, Watum says the problem started three years back and could be because of the effects of the oil and gas activities like strong lights, noise, and roads interfering with their paths.

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In response to earlier claims of oil activities interfering with the habitat of the elephants, Harriet Kyakyo, the Biodiversity Field Officer at TotalEnergies EP Uganda, attributed the situation to the increasing human settlements near the conservation area. She, however, added that they are collaborating with the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) to ensure minimal or no incidents.

Bashir Hangi, the head of communications at UWA said the sustainable solutions include the fencing off of the protected areas, an activity that is progressing. On the delayed compensation, Hangi told Uganda Radio Network that if anyone filed their complaints well verified, they would be compensated, but that compensation takes time to mature.  Before Kamanyire and others had their fields attacked late last year, 

More than 1000 residents in Buliisa and Ngwedo Subcounties have already complained to UWA about the elephants but we're yet to get redress.  The residents and their leaders are worried that education will collapse as parents fear sending their children to school. Kambagambe Kamanda, the Buliisa Subcounty Council Chairperson said since last year at least three people have been killed and several injured, including children.

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He adds that insecurity in his Subcounty is a real threat as the issue of elephant attacks as well as the return of communal conflicts between invading pastoralists and the local cultivators is making matters worse. 

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Social and human rights organizations categorize the Bagungu as a minority community. In a population of 45 million Ugandans, they are estimated at between 45,000 and 100,000, with the 2014 census putting the figure at 83,896. Occupying the Bugungu area, basically Buliisa County on the shores of Lake Albert in Western Uganda, they are officially considered part of the wider Bunyoro subregion and part of the traditional Bunyoro Kingdom.

Buliisa County was separated from Masindi District and made a district in 2006, with one directly elected MP (Buliisa County Constituency) and a District Woman MP, making it one of the least represented districts. This despite speaking a distinct dialect called Rugungu, is a result of interactions between Runyoro, Alur, and Lendu dialects. They pride themselves on being a fishing community, feeding Hoima, Masindi, Kibale, and the northern Uganda districts across the Nile River as well as the Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) across Albert. 

However, a big part of the population are also cultivators of cassava, cotton, and beans and other livestock farmers. Billy Rwothungeyo, Africa Media Officer at Minority Rights Group International said smaller communities like the Bagungu are usually neglected by governments, yet, it is mandated to provide them with all the social amenities, including security, as is with the rest of the communities in the country.

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