• Indigenous peoples in Uganda

    Indigenous peoples in Uganda

    The indigenous peoples of Uganda include the Benet, the Batwa, the Ik, the Karamojong, and the Basongora, although they are not recognised specifically as indigenous peoples by the Government of Uganda.

The Indigenous World 2024: Uganda

Indigenous Peoples in Uganda include former hunter-gatherer communities such as the Benet and the Batwa. They also include minority groups such as the Ik, the Karamojong and Basongora pastoralists, who are not recognized specifically as Indigenous Peoples by the government.            

The Benet, who number slightly over 8,500, live in the north-eastern part of Uganda. The 6,700 or so Batwa live primarily in the south-western region and were dispossessed of their ancestral land when Bwindi and Mgahinga forests were gazetted as national parks in 1991.[1] The Ik number some 13,939 and live on the edge of the Karamoja/Turkana region along the Uganda/Kenya border.

The Karamojong people – whose economy is traditionally based on livestock – live in the north-east of the country (mainly drylands) and have an estimated population of 1,094,100[2] according to a mid-2018 estimate by the Uganda Bureau of Statistics. The Basongora number around 15,000 people and are a cattle-herding community living in the lowlands adjacent to Mt. Rwenzori in Western Uganda.

All these communities have a common experience of State-induced landlessness and historical injustices caused by the creation of conservation areas in Uganda, in addition to mining interests in the case of Karamoja. They have experienced various human rights violations, including continued forced evictions and/or exclusions from ancestral lands without community consultation, consent or adequate (if any) compensation. Other violations include violence and destruction of homes and property, including livestock and denial of their means of subsistence and of their cultural and religious life through their exclusion from ancestral lands and natural resources. All these violations have resulted in their continued impoverishment, social and political exploitation and marginalization.        

The 1995 Constitution offers no express protection for Indigenous Peoples but article 32 places a mandatory duty on the State to take affirmative action in favour of groups that have been historically disadvantaged and discriminated against. This provision, which was initially designed and envisaged to deal with the historical disadvantages of children, people with disabilities and women, is the basic legal source of affirmative action in favour of Indigenous Peoples in Uganda.[3] The Land Act of 1998 and the National Environment Statute of 1995 protect customary interests in land and traditional uses of forests. However, these laws also authorize the government to exclude human activities in any forest area by declaring it a protected area, thus nullifying the customary land rights of Indigenous Peoples.[4]

Uganda has never ratified ILO Convention No. 169, which guarantees the rights of Indigenous and tribal peoples in independent states, and it was absent from the voting on the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) in 2007.

Situation of the Benet people

The Mosopisyek Benet people, also referred to as Ndorobo, have inhabited Mount Elgon for over 500 years. Without any prior or informed consent, the area was declared a protected area[5] as far back as 1920, and the community has faced challenges ever since. Between October 2022 and November 2023, the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) carried out frequent raids on the community, destroying homes and farms and impounding animals, depriving the community of their means of livelihood. In that period, 96 houses were burnt down, 33 houses destroyed, 70 community members arrested, and 1,295 animals impounded.[6] In addition, more than eight acres of crops planted by community members were destroyed as well as granaries. This has exposed the community to food insecurity.

On 24 May 2023, the Office of the Prime Minister issued a directive ordering the UWA to cease evictions and raids on the community.[7] And yet despite this directive, UWA officers have continued to inflict severe pain and suffering on community members as punishment for lawsuits previously filed against the UWA. During the first week of June 2023, UWA agents arbitrarily arrested more than 30 community members, accusing them of having encroached onto the national park.

On 25 April 2023, UWA carried out the demolition of houses and destruction of crops in Kaptorokwo village, Ligil parish, Benet sub-county; in Kapnoibei village, Teriet parish, Kwoti sub-county, in Kapchorwa district; and in Kital village, Cheberen parish, Kaseko sub-county, Kween district.[8] All these areas were well within the boundaries of the land that had previously been agreed with the authorities for the community to live on but which the UWA are now disputing.[9] Women and children were disproportionately affected in this process since they were left without shelter during the rainy season.

The impounding of animals purportedly grazing in the protected area, the burning of houses and extortion of money from community members is ongoing. And those who advocate for the rights of the Mosopisyek Benet are harassed and risk being arbitrarily arrested. On 6 September 2023, three cows were shot by the UWA in Bukwo district. One of them died and the other two had to undergo treatment. This incident followed the herdsman having to flee from his ancestral home, leaving the cows unattended. Further, on 10 February 2023, a 45-year old man was shot dead by rangers who had found him collecting firewood in Mt Elgon forest.

Benet Mosop Community Association (BMCA) leaders have been targeted by the UWA for mobilizing the community against the brutality. Officials from the Ministry of Tourism, which is the parent ministry of the UWA, have requested that BMCA submit the minutes and attendance lists of past meetings. On 24 April 2023, one community leader received threats to his life from the UWA. On 12 July 2023, BMCA’s offices in Kween district were broken into and a desktop, a power stabilizer and some documents were stolen by persons unknown. The raid was reported to the police but the culprit has not been identified to date.

On 16 October 2023, three people (Toskin Fred, 52 years; Walter Kibet, 15 years; and Nicholus Kibet, 33 years) were shot by UWA agents in Kapsekek, Chekwasta sub-county, Bukwo district while grazing their herds, as reported by Uganda Broadcasting Corporation Radio.[10]

On 6 November 2023, Tiyoy Moses, a 34-year-old man from Kostoy village, Mengia parish, Benet sub-county, Kween district, was shot while grazing his herd on ancestral land by a UWA agent named Kiprotich Simon, attached to Piswa station.[11] The two other community members (Cheboyi Wycliffe and Boyi David) he was with were arrested and taken to Kween Central Police Station.

Finally, during 2023, the government floated the idea of resettling the Benet to Kyangwali and Nakivale refugee settlements, both in western Uganda, but the community vehemently refused to go since they were not ready to be refugees in their own country.

Overview of the future

If the events of late 2023 are anything to go by, the future of Benet land rights looks bleak. The authority has continued to impound livestock, charging a hefty USD 14 (approx. EUR 13) for any animal considered to have trespassed onto the protected territory. The year ended with the government being unclear as to the demarcation of boundaries. We say unclear because there have been so many “lines” denoting the demarcation, with all sorts of names, that the community no longer believes that the so-called “black line” now being pursued will solve the problem or otherwise bring consensus between the community and the UWA. We hope that the development organizations supporting the UWA will come to realize that they are supporting an organization involved in gross human rights violations and will call upon it to stop doing so.

We normally report on the situation not just of the Benet people but also of the Batwa people and the peoples living in the Karamoja region but we were not able to do so for this 2024 edition.



Benjamin Mutambukah was formerly the Coordinator of the Coalition of Pastoralist Civil Society Organizations in Uganda and Chair of the Eastern and Southern African Pastoralists Network (ESAPN). He is currently ESAPN Coordinator and continues to represent the network on the Global Steering Committee of the World Alliance of Mobile Indigenous Peoples (WAMIP). He is passionate about matters of human rights for marginalized communities. Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Chebet Mungech is the Coordinator of the Benet Lobby Group, a local Non-Governmental Organization that works with all Benet/Mosopishek, other Sabiny-speaking people and stakeholders to achieve a Benet community that is socially, politically and economically sustainable and empowered. Contact information: +256 779-233-078, Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Yesho Alex is the Chair of MEBIO. Contact information: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


This article is part of the 38th edition of The Indigenous World, a yearly overview produced by IWGIA that serves to document and report on the developments Indigenous Peoples have experienced. The photo above is of an Indigenous man harvesting quinoa in Sunimarka, Peru. This photo was taken by Pablo Lasansky, and is the cover of The Indigenous World 2024 where this article is featured. Find The Indigenous World 2024 in full here


Notes and references

[1] United Organization of Batwa Development in Uganda (UOBDU). Report about Batwa data. August 2004, p.3.

[2] Uganda Bureau of Statistics. 2018 Statistical Abstract. May 2019. https://www.ubos.org/wp-content/uploads/publications/05_2019STATISTICAL_ABSTRACT_2018.pdf

[3] Baker, Dr. Wairama G. “Uganda: The marginalization of Minorities.” Minority Rights Group International (MRG), 3 December 2001, p.9.  https://minorityrights.org/publications/uganda-the-marginalization-of-minorities-december-2001/

[4] Land Act, 1998, articles 2 and 32, http://faolex.fao.org/docs/pdf/uga19682.pdf; The National Environment Statute, 1995, article 46.

[5] OHCHR. AL UGA 5/2022. 20 October 2022. https://spcommreports.ohchr.org/TMResultsBase/DownLoadPublicCommunicationFile?gId=27587

[6] Benet Mosop Indigenous Community Association, Report on human rights violations against Mosopisyek of Benet by Uganda Wildlife Authority, November 2023.

[7] Parliament of Uganda, “Parliament halts evictions in Mt. Elgon National Park”. Posted 17 May 2023. https://www.parliament.go.ug/news/6714/parliament-halts-evictions-mt-elgon-national-park

[8] Ibid.

[9] NTVUganda. “Mt. Elgon national park boundary demarcation worries the Benet people”. 15 June 2017. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lBI47KSOS7U

[10] William, Cheptoek. “UWA Rangers Shoot One Inside MT. Elgon National Park”. Uganda Radio Network, 8 November 2023. https://ugandaradionetwork.net/story/uwa-rangers-shot-one-inside-mt-elgon-national-park

[11] Ibid.

Tags: Land rights, Human rights, Indigenous Peoples Human Rights Defenders, Conservation



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