The Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, situated in the Kigezi region in southwest Uganda, represents one of the oldest most complex and biologically rich system on earth. Designated as a natural park in 1991 and a UNESCO World Heritage Sites in 1995, the park represents one of the most important bio-spot reserves in Africa. The designation of the area under national park came mostly under pressure from a donor agency, resulting in the introduction of stringent policing and the exclusion of the people from the park [8,10,11]. Use or extraction of any forest resources by community members was henceforth illegal and subject to high fines or imprisonment . The loss of access to resources and land has let to intense conflicts between the authorities and the rural communities since its inception. The park has been instituted mostly as a project to protect the population of the endangered mountain gorilla whose population estimates to be about 700.
The stringent conservation policies enacted in the park have drastically affected the communities living in the area, mostly the Batwa people (pygmies), a group that had mostly dependent on the forest for their survival [1,5,6,15]. Indeed, one of the first protests against the National Park was in 1991, when the local pygmies had set afire the forest areas after being evicted from their land . Indeed, while the non-Batwa farmers who had destroyed the forest to make farms received recognition of their land rights, and compensation, the Batwa, "who had lived for generations before, only received compensation if they had acted like farmers, and destroyed part of the forest to make fields." .
Besides being evicted from their land and having restricted access to forest resources, local people have also occurred loss from wildlife, damaging their crops essential for their livelihood [13,7] Since the park became a national park in 1990 there has been an explicit eco-tourism project supported by international organizations and based on spotting the gorillas. According to different studies, this project was supposed to bring direct benefit to communities living in the area [8,11, 2]. Tourism revenue was supposed to facilitate the development of the communities as well as provides essential funding for the same national park. However, a cost-side effect of the same tourism activities arose soon.
The gorillas trained to be less aggressive were now less afraid of entering human spaces, increasing human-wildlife conflict and creating more poverty and misery to the same communities who were supposed to be the beneficiaries. Mountain gorillas cause damage mostly to banana plantation, a major local cash crop, but also to coffee, maize, and eucalyptus, threatening the already precarious local livelihood . Moreover, despite the huge protest by the locals' opposition protesting for the crop-raiding incidents, the Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA), one of the main organization working for the conservation of the gorillas, continue to endorse a non-compensation policy that prohibits the provision of compensation when locals crops have been destroyed .
In response to these incidents, several conservation organizations have started to design their own program of conflict mitigation, such as the UWA which in the already 1990 started to implement what is now called the Human Gorilla (HuGo) conflict resolution team, or simply the HuGo project [2,5, 12]. This is based on a program of monitoring and chasing the gorilla away. However, this methodology has been highly criticized first of all because of the high time consuming and because of its inefficiency .
With the acute level of conflict in 1993, UWA in collaboration with CARE International and supported by the Uganda government started to implement a pilot project based on a “collaborative management” approach to re-established and renegotiate the user rights of the local people within the Park area [3,10]. Although this has been a good attempt by the government and the conservationist organizations, many studies [13,12] have pointed out the limits of this programs, and the inability of the UWA and other conservationist NGOs to really include the communities, as no decentralization of power got really recognized. This approach has been also supported by international organizations such as Africa Wildlife Foundation (AWF) and World Conservation Union (IUCN), remain unwell to really involve the locals in a genuine partnership, leaving them just in a position of stakeholders, but not of decision-makers [13,12]. Indeed the local people, continue to not be able to access their resources as they should, leaving them in a continuing state of poverty, the measures found by the government such as changing of crops around buffer areas to not attract the gorillas, is not really helping the community to develop their livelihood [12,1,7]. The villages in Nteko area, the closest to the park, do continue facing harassment by the forest guards whenever they get into the park to gather herbs so crucial for their health [1,7].
Indeed as documented by MinorityRights others Batwa people, who were evicted to pave the way to the National Park in 1990, never got any compensation by the government and they never got any alternative land [1,14,15]
They now work as bonded labourers on small sugar cane or banana plantations [1,14]. One of the worst affected Batwa communities resides in a slum on the outskirts of the town of Kisoro, which lies beneath the fertile slopes of the volcano straddling the borders of Rwanda, DRC and Uganda. The injustice they face is made starker by their location directly in front of the town’s courthouse. Here some 140 people live in shacks of ripped plastic bags and rotten cardboard, covered in black dust from the tires they burn to keep warm at night. Most, including children who have left school by the age of eight, make a living from begging on the streets of Kisoro. Domestic violence and malnutrition are rife [1,15].
Moreover, some Batwa are working for the project called Batwa Trail, a program set up in 2006 by the UWA, the local government of Kisoro, and the United Organization for Batwa Development in Uganda, and with the help of USAID. They sing and dance for tourists, as they used to do for themselves when they lived in the forest, but only earn around US$4 per day each. The rest of their earnings are split between the three parties [5,16].
Such a constriction of rights has led many locals, including one villager in Ruhija, to question their own worth: ‘‘Is one gorilla life equal to 10 human lives?’’ .
Another Batwa evicted in the ’90 says ‘Life was a lot simpler than, the hardest thing is not having access to all our sacred places, like particular trees and rocks. Those were our places of worship.’.