She is a South Sudanese refugee residing at Pagirinya Refugee Settlement Camp in Adjumani District. The widow and mother of four fled the mayhem in her home country in November 2016.
Ms Anyang, a resident of Block B10, together with four other women, are carrying their bundles of firewood back ‘home’.
While Ms Anyang cuts the trees from the nearby woodlands for firewood, others are cutting it for building. This is how Ms Anyang has been surviving at the camp after she and thousands of other refugees were forced to flee to Uganda in 2016 following an outbreak of war in South Sudan.
Both refugees and the host communities in the area use firewood for everyday cooking needs and making shelters, which activities have taken a toll on the environment and thus brewing tension over natural resources in the district.
Today, deforestation in the district has reached its highest rate in a decade, according to data at the district’s forest office, due to increased energy demands precipitated by the influx of refugees to the district. This has led to protests by host communities.
Mr Tonny Okot, a resident of Block E32 at Pagirinya Refugee Settlement Camp, says refugees cut trees in large quantities every day and the demand keeps increasing.
“Some organisations tried to train us on using eco-friendly alternatives like charcoal briquettes or stoves but it took only a few months before the raw materials for making them got used up due to high population and demand here,” Mr Okot says.
This is the same story at Maji Refugee Settlement Camp, also in Adjumani District. The environment, that formerly boasted of thick shrubs and tree cover, has changed to almost bare land surface after the refugees cut down most of the trees.
Adjumani District officials have petitioned the government and other development partners to intervene and create alternative energy sources for the refugees.
“The refugees have become a big challenge to us in regards to the environment in communities surrounding these settlements. Trees are indiscriminately cut down whereas no replacement is being done,” Mr James Leku, the Adjumani District chairperson, says.
Adjumani District provided 3,128Sqkm of land on which 17 refugee settlement facilities are established to host a total of 202,433 refugees, according to the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR).
However, 93 per cent of these refugees rely on the environment around for their energy demands, a scenario shared by the rest of the districts across the West Nile region.
But efforts towards afforestation in these refugee communities, for example in Pagirinya, have equally been frustrated as distributed tree seedlings are not planted but left to dry on the verandas or under trees.
Mr Mark Dulu, the Adjumani East MP, in whose constituency a number of refugees camps are located, says the refugees do not only cut down trees but also steal food from gardens of the host communities.
“We are sensitising these refugees to let them understand that they have a role in ensuring that we escape the tough impacts of environmental degradation like global warming, drought and soil erosion,” Mr Dulu reveals.
Recently, UNHCR urged countries hosting large numbers of refugees to plant more trees as deforestation could trigger more conflict.
The refugee humanitarian body stated that tree planting was paramount since four out of five people who flee their homes rely on firewood for cooking and heating, which is a major cause of deforestation in most refugee settlements across the world.
But Mr Leku accuses humanitarian agencies operating in the district of not taking the reforestation initiative seriously and that refugees themselves have a negative attitude towards planting trees where they did not own land.
“Unfortunately, refugees’ attitude towards tree planting has been too bad that they do not want to plant seedlings given to them, as they claim they have nothing to benefit from planting the trees since they hope to return to their home countries anytime,” Mr Leku says.
Uganda has one of the most favourable refugee protection environments in the world; providing for freedom of movement, access to land for agriculture and settlement in line with the Refugee Act 2006.
UNHCR speaks out
Ms Duniya Khan, the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) spokesperson, told this newspaper in an interview recently that deforestation by refugees who largely rely on natural resources to meet their basic needs, has had a significant impact on the environment in the recent past, not only in Adjumani but across all the districts in West Nile region.
“UNHCR, the Office of the Prime Minister and the district are engaged in various activities to remedy the situation. For example, they are training communities on alternative energy use such as the use of biogas and energy-saving stoves,” Ms Khan said.
She said UNHCR has partnered with NGOs in refugee settlements and host communities in West Nile to plant 588 hectares of trees through “cash for work” programmes, support operations for 20 tree nurseries, as well as supporting 58 refugee groups by giving them briquette-making machines and providing training.
“UNHCR is supporting 14,620 households to access fuel-efficient stoves and 1,100 households with heat-retaining cooking bags, produce and distribute 122 tones of cooking briquettes to refugee communities and we believe it will relieve the pressure on the environment,” she said.
At least 400,000 trees out of a target of 700,000 trees for this year had already been planted by the beginning of July in Adjumani District, according to Ms Khan.
Today, UNHCR-funded partners have reported planting more than two million trees in the South Sudanese refugee and host communities (primarily in the West Nile) this year.
In October last year, a joint United Nations and World Bank report warned on the competition for available resources such as trees and land for cultivation, among other factors, as a possible cause of tension between the refugees and host communities.
Land grabs: Officials in Mubende district are colluding with economically powerful and politically connected people to grab local communities’ land.
By Witness Radio Team
Justine Nakachwa (not her real name) had never thought of losing land she and her family had happily lived on for decades. Her dream of owning farmland had come true.
The land passed down to generations of descendants from the late 1970s was now being claimed by a renowned businessman. She got staggered.
“I was shocked by this news because I have spent most of my life here. Am wondering how he could acquire the land without the knowledge of the whole village.” She painfully revealed this while speaking to a Witness Radio-Uganda reporter.
The sixty-year-old is one of the community members of over 800 smallholder farmers in the three villages; Biwaalwe, Kabaale, and Kyagaranyi in Kanyogoga parish, Butologo sub-county in Mubende district currently facing eviction by Tubikaku Uganda Limited, a company owned by City businessman Desh Kananura.
The smallholder farmers have been practicing subsistence farming on this land to earn a living since the 1970s.
Intending to secure ownership and legalize it, they conducted a search and due diligence, which revealed that the land had no encumbrances. In 2012, they applied for a lease. Sadly, the Mubende District Land Board declined to grant their request and instead awarded the lease of 906.4 hectares to a ghost company Tubikaku Uganda Limited.
The economically powerful and politically connected to grabbing the downtrodden land with the assistance of land board officials is rapidly growing in Uganda. With the aid of district land boards, cartels are increasingly disposing of smallholder farmers. This practice is now predominant in many districts in the country, especially Mubende district.
It is alleged that the District Land Board has previously leased people’s land to tycoons without following proper legal land acquisition procedures.
Seven years ago, a community’s land in Lwebigajji village in Mubende district of 226.5 hectares were grabbed by a local investor with the help of district land board officials. The community had lived on their land for over 30 years.
When the community showed interest in acquiring a leasehold on the land, the district land board of Mubende hurriedly offered the title to one Deo Semwogerere Mutyaba, a local businessman, who does not even own a decimal on the land.
Consequently, over 2000 families were affected. “In 2014, we requested the Mubende district lands board for a lease on this land, got surveyed using our efforts and resources, however upon returning the leasehold title in 2015, it had Semwogerere’s names as the owner of the land.” Grace Nantubiro, one of the community leaders said.
Samuel Wambi Mamali, a local businessman was also helped by the Mubende district land board officials to allegedly steal local community’s land covering three villages. These include Kyamukoona, Kijojolo, and Kalagala in Mubende District that have been occupied by locals for decades. The villages accommodate over 800 families.
The villagers indicated that Maamali fraudulently acquired a lease title he never applied for, did not consult community members on the land, nor at parish, or sub-county land committees that should have advised and guided on whether the land was lawfully being occupied and cultivated.
The few listed cases above are among several cases of grabbed land by wealthy and politically connected people in the Mubende district. The trend of district land boards facilitating land grabs has left many local and indigenous communities landless.
A community of over 300 smallholder farmers conned as their land is sold to a local investor without their consent.
By Witness Radio Team
As foreign agribusinesses take over Kiryandongo communities’ fertile land, other local investors are also eyeing the remaining land occupied by the poor families in the southwestern district of Uganda to grab their land.
A community of over 300 smallholder farmers in Ranch 22, Nyamuntende village in Kiryandongo district is being evicted by a local businessman Maseruka Robert who claims ownership of the land some have lived on for decades. Mr. Maseruka connived with some leaders in the community to grab land from the poor.
The evictions that started in August this year have caused the displacement of over 50 households so far on land measuring over 2000 acres without consultations or being fairly compensated. Crops belonging to residents, and houses were razed.
When evictions by multinationals soared in Uganda, the community acted swiftly to protect the interest on the land and avert a land grab. And in 2015, they applied for a lease of 49 years on the land from the Kiryandongo district land board which was granted to them.
However, unbeknownst to them, schemers would take advantage of this opportunity to grab their land. Earlier, the residents whose land is located on Ranch 22 Block 8 Bunyoro Ranching Scheme entrusted Wilson Sikhama, Ochema Richard, and a few other community members as their leaders in 2016 during the requisition of the land.
According to the residents, initially, the application processes unfolded as they had planned, however, Sikhama and Ochema allegedly connived with other people not known to the community to drop the names of some of the community members whom they had entrusted and replaced them with Julius Isingoma, Gerald Tumusiime, Messanger Gabriel Wabwire, Musokota William John and Simon Mwesige.
Residents further added that the land was titled in the names of the seven people who excluded the villagers. In 2019, when the community expected the location forms of the land per person, they understood that the land they had acquired was sold to one Maseruka Robert without their notification by Sikhama and the group.
In the same year 2019, the community ran to court seeking its intervention to regain the ownership of their land. The community was led by one of their own Mbabazi Samuel. In a blink of an eye, Mbabazi allegedly reached an agreement with the aforementioned group. On the 22nd of October 2020, he allegedly sold the said land to a group of people (Mr. Sikhama’s group) at One Hundred Million Shillings (100,000,000 equivalent to USD 26,483.79) without the approval of the community he represented.
After completion of the sale, the group of schemers sold the land to Maseruka who is now evicting the community.
In our interview with Maseruka, he failed to explain how he acquired the land but, insisted that he wanted the community to leave his land. “These people should leave my land because I want to use it, this is my land.” He maintained.
Some of the evictees whose houses were destroyed had relocated to their neighbors’ homes for fear of what would befall them. A 42-year-old widow and a mother of 10 said Maseruka’s accomplices destroyed her house leaving her destitute.
“These people wanted to give me 700,000/= (185.39) for the 15 acres of my land. When I resisted, they began destroying what they found including my house. They told me the money they were giving me was enough for me to vacate.” She explained.
The chairperson of the affected community, Mushija Caleb said his people are being forcefully evicted because they refused the peanuts given to them as compensation. He reiterated that his people don’t want to leave their land.
“They should not think of compensation irrespective of the amounts they are willing to offer because people are not interested in surrendering their land,” he added.
A self-claimed landlord who caused the imprisonment of six community land rights defenders on false charges was aligned before the court and charged with 28 counts.
By Witness Radio Team
A magistrate court at Mubende has charged a self-claimed landlord with 28 counts plus murder. Naava Milly Namutebi caused the arrest of six community land rights defenders, falsely accused them of murder, and got imprisoned for three years without trial.
Naava’s appearance before the court followed shortly after the Director of Public Prosecution (DPP) dropped murder charges against six community land rights defenders. These include; Tumusiime Benjamin, Bagirana Innocent, Habana Domoro, Miyingo Gerald, Byangaramani Charles, and Byekwaso Fred.
Naava was charged along with Bulasio Musoke, Richard Mugagga, Henry Kaaya, among others. They were not allowed to answer any charges as the court had no power to make legal decisions and judgments on charges read to them.
The prosecution alleges that Naava and others still at large, committed offenses in areas of Mubende and Kampala districts between 2006 and 2021.
From 2012 to date, Naava got help from the senior army, police, and other public officers in Mubende orchestrated violence and committed human rights violations/abuses while forcefully evicting over 4,000 people off their land.
The land being targeted measures 3.5 square miles covering villages including Kirwanyi central, Kirwanyi East, Kirwanyi West, Nakasagazi, Kituule A, Kituule B, Kibalagazi A, Kibalagazi B, Kakkanembe, Bukyambuzi A, Bukyambuzi B, Kisende, Mulanda, Kituule central, Kirwanyi A, and Butayunja in Kirwanyi and Kituule parishes in Butoloogo Sub County in Mubende district.
Naava and others accused were remanded to Kaweeri prison until 19th/July/2022.
Witness Radio Milestones2 weeks ago
Witness Radio Uganda wins the best CSO land rights defenders award at the National Land Forum Awards.
Witness Radio Milestones1 week ago
The Executive Director of Witness Radio Uganda talks about the role played by Witness Radio in protecting communities affected by large-scale agribusinesses in Kiryandongo district in an interview with the ILC.