Date of Award
Boundaries are inherently political creations. Boundaries of national parks and other protected conservation areas are one such instance. Social boundary lines are also drawn within communities to determine who is legitimate and who is allowed to access resources as a community member. Boundary lines are also present in the stories people tell about themselves and their environment; the portrayal of their roles as land stewards may leave out certain details. The effects of environmental issues such as deforestation and soil erosion transcend such constructed boundaries.
Historically, the Benet, as indigenous peoples of eastern Uganda, had derived their livelihood and cultural identity from land-based activities within the forest of Mount Elgon before being resettled by the Ugandan government in 1983. When Mount Elgon National Park was created in 1993, the government discovered that more land had been distributed than the intended 6,000 hectares. Officially, that surplus land is within the bounds of Mount Elgon National Park, but people continue to reside and make their living there and the High Court of Uganda has put forth a consent judgment that the Benet have a right to this land.
Most members of the community currently derive their livelihood from subsistence farming and grazing in this area. Small, fragmented land holdings and population pressures, as well as the movement of others from outside the Benet community into this land area, contribute to members of the community continuing to access resources within the national park boundaries illegally. This illegal access use (notably, firewood gathering and grazing of livestock) creates conflict between the community and the authorities controlling the national park and leads to perceptions by government officials that the Benet community is responsible for environmental degradation.
I consider, through the analysis of documents, and of interviews and observations undertaken in May and June of 2014, how the resettlement process (and subsequent lack of resettlement for the Yatui, a sub-group of the Benet) is connected to resource use within the national park. What I deem “the land problem” is the combination of a lack of resettlement (or adequate resettlement) and a lack of access to resources necessary for a subsistence livelihood. Using examples from my interviews and analysis, I identify the connections and relationships that resettlement and resource use have to one another and assess possible responses to the land problem.
Dirkse, Anna, "Master's Project: A Case Study of the "Benet Land Problem" in Eastern Uganda" (2017). Rubenstein School Masters Project Publications. 14.