The Benet people in Uganda continue to suffer from gross human rights violations
By Shua Wilmot
The Benet people in Uganda continue to suffer from gross human rights violations at the hands of the Uganda Wildlife Authority. IWGIA is deeply concerned about the situation, and has continued to monitor it. These on-going violations are also documented in IWGIA’s yearbook “The Indigenous World 2021” – read more:
President Museveni declared the Benet moorlands restored to their indigenous caretakers, yet the Uganda Wildlife Authority continues terrorizing the Benet people.
A Benet restaurant and homes at Mt. Elgon. Photo: Shua Wilmot
Benet, Uganda - For several decades the indigenous Benet people have formally petitioned for the return of their ancestral land atop Mt. Elgon. The Benet have occupied what is now Mt. Elgon National Park for time immemorial, but were evicted by Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) in 1983 after the area was declared a national park. In October 2020 the Benet people achieved a landmark victory when the Ugandan government issued a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) which granted the Benet people regulated access to various resources within the park, including cultural sites and cattle grazing areas.
Unfortunately for the Benet, UWA rangers have not honored the MoU. Instead, they have continued assaulting indigenous people who enter the park, refusing access to cultural sites, and detaining cattle grazing in the park’s moorlands. UWA officials charge the owners of arrested cattle large sums for the return of their livestock. Furthermore, on April 19, 2021, the UWA Executive Director of Kween District stamped a notice attempting to nullify the 2020 MoU.
The MoU states that it may only be terminated for “a good cause” with six month’s written notice. This means that if UWA rangers continue to brutalize grazers during the next six months, they will be acting against the MoU in addition to acting unjustly. Historically—and even in recent months—UWA rangers have arrested, raped, shot, and beaten into comas many members of the Benet community for “trespassing” on their ancestral lands.
The MoU had been followed up by a directive from Ugandan president Yoweri Museveni - delivered by NRM (the ruling party) Eastern Uganda Chairman Hon. Mike Mukula at Kworsir Girls Secondary School on December 26, 2020 - affirming that the Benet are now free to graze their cattle in the moorlands without UWA interference. The Benet expect such a formal directive to be honored, but clearly it has not been.
As of April 30, President Museveni has agreed to meet with Benet elders in the very near future to hear their case against UWA’s recent notice. The elders hope to officially and legally validate the terms of the 2020 MoU so the Benet have their land rights restored, and to demand and receive restitution for the many victims of UWA’s human rights abuses.
Victims of UWA’s murder, rape, and other violent human rights abuses include Cherotich Dison, who was 8 y.o. when shot in the chest on New Year’s Day, Muzee Moris Kangara, Scovia Dismas, Kokop Erukana, Cheshap Chenom, Kibet Silas, Satya Patrick, Cheptibin Bureto, Kiprotich Ben, Kibeti Aggrey, Chekwanerr Moses Maikut, Chelangat Benson, Denis Chemurot, Yeko Erimia, Aramis Chelee, Nyausi Mutuingi, Muzee Saisi, Mwenge Kapkeyey, Paul Arapyokana, Muzee Bro, Makabai Samuel, Sorowen Alex, Kiplangat Martin Supol, Twintay Kapushe, Wogunya Augustine, Moses Cheptinde, Rev. Netto Augustine, Boyi Alfred Cheratta, Cherop Sam, Chebet Dan, Chelangat Moses, Kamakete Moses, Chelimo Fred, Kwenoi Clinton, Cherotwo Albert, Arap Kosom Alfred, Betty Miyay, Chesaki Henry (hospitalized at 7 y.o. after being assaulted by an UWA ranger in October 2020), Janet Sumbule, Chebet Janet, Cheruto Viola, Kusuro Stephen, Kurong Gilbert, and Moses Kuwanuka, among others.
The Benet people have organized themselves and the Benet Lobby Group is in its 50th year of representing the Benet community as a voice for land rights advocacy and access to social services. The marginalized Benet have no access to social services, including public schools or accessible health centres, and they labor to maintain their impassable roads for which the Ugandan government is responsible to upkeep.
For further information please read Anna Dirkse’s 2017 case study: https://scholarworks.uvm.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1018&context=rsmpp
Shua Wilmot has a Master's in Higher Education from Messiah University and currently serves as a Residence Director at Greenville University in Illinois. In 2018 he had the privilege to live in Uganda and support the work of Solidarity Uganda. In that connection he travelled to the Benet region of Eastern Uganda, where he listened to the stories of community members and became part of their strategic action committee, with which he continues to communicate regularly.