More than 35 years ago, the Benet people of Eastern Uganda were driven out of their motherland by the government claiming they had encroached on Mt. Elgon National park. Many families were evicted from their ancestral land leaving them homeless and landless. Over the years the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) has relentlessly terrorized this community burning homes, beating and killing people while several others have been arrested for nothing other than defending their land.
The government has made no effort to protect the Benet throughout the years until now. The government has ordered the Uganda Wildlife Authority to surrender over 8000 hectares to the Benet. The community is triumphant but this victory has not come easy. They have been consistent in their struggle and demand for their land for over three decades. Not even the killing of their people could stop them. They have persistently waged nonviolently through protests and other actions. In 2007, the community gathered to beat drums and scream from the mountaintop, “Our children are dying!” for eight continuous hours. Their actions displayed their pain and commitment to the struggle.
“The struggle has not been easy but we are happy with the government’s decision. It is a starting point for us and we shall continue fighting”- Mande, Benet Lobby Group
Land is a very central part of rural communities in Uganda as it is a source of their livelihood yet numerous societies continue to suffer ruthless land grabs with very little protection from the government. Many times, land injustices are perpetuated by the government, multinational investors, and development agencies. These claim to be conserving wildlife or developing the underdeveloped areas of the country. Important to note is that most large scale land grabs have happened in areas were land is customary owned with no legal documentation to prove ownership in courts of law. Land grabbers often ride on this to take away the land. Such cases have been witnessed in the Benet land struggle in Eastern Uganda, the Apaa land case, and Awei community in Northern Uganda amongst others.
The process of eviction is often very traumatizing and many people especially women and children find it difficult to recover. Other than the economic effects land grabbing has had on these communities, there are deeper catastrophes it has caused. Several families that have been displaced lose their traditional cultural connection and decent living environments, families breakdown, children drop out of school and many others are forced into early marriages.
Together with communities from across the country we officially launched the National Land Defense League (NLDL) in 2018, a movement that exists to resist land grabs and land grabbers – businesses, politicians, and military men from home or abroad who steal land from the Ugandan people. Under the NLDL, communities from across the country continue to wage nonviolently against land grabbing as they stand in solidarity with each other under this umbrella.
We have mentored and trained several communities across the country to wage nonviolently against such oppression and seeing such victories, as a result, is worth celebrating. As some communities desperately give up under intimidation and threats from the state and security agencies (UPDF and Police), others like the Benet carry on relentlessly.
Together, we shall overcome Land grabbers!
Related story http://solidarityuganda.org/injustice-at-mount-elgon/