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.
Complaint against unprofessional conduct of the DPC Kiryandongo district for aiding and abetting land grabbing in kiryandongo district.
Professional Standards Unit, Uganda Police-Kampala.
RE: COMPLAINT AGAINST UNPROFESSIONAL CONDUCT OF THE DPC KIRYANDONGO DISTRICT FOR AIDING AND ABETTING LAND GRABBING IN NYAMUTENDE KITWARA PARISH KIRYANDONGO DISTRICT AND CARRYING OUT ILLEGAL ARRESTS AND DETENTION OF INNOCENT RESIDENTS/ BIBANJA OWNERS FOR PROTESTING AGAINST THE ILLEGAL EVICTION FROM THEIR LAND.
We act for and behalf of the Lawful and bonafide occupants of Land described as LRV MAS 2 FOLIO 8 BLOCK 8 PLOT 22 (FORMERLY KNOWN AS RANCH 22).
Our Clients are residents of Nyamutende Village, Kitwara Parish in Kiryandongo District where they have lived for more than 30 years and sometime in 2017, they applied for a lease of the said Land to Kiryandongo District Land Board through the Directorate of Land Matters State House.
As they were still awaiting their Application to be processed, they were shocked to establish that the said land had been instead leased to and registered in the names of Isingoma Julius, Mwesige Simon, John Musokota William, Tumusiime Gerald, Wabwire Messener Gabriel, Ocema Richard and Wilson Shikhama, some of whom were not known to the Complainants. A copy of the Search is attached hereto
Our clients protested the above action and appealed to relevant offices, but were shocked to discover that the above persons had gone ahead and sold the same to a one Maseruka Robert.
Aggrieved by these actions, the Complainants appealed to the RDC who advised them to institute proceedings against the said persons, and assigned them a one Mbabazi Samuel to assist them to that effect. The said Mbabazi accordingly filed Civil Suit Noa 46 of 2019 against tne said registered proprietors at Masindi High Court challenging the illegal and fraudulent registration, sale and transfer of the subject land to Maseruka Robert.
While awaiting the progress of the case mentioned hereinabove, the Complainants were surprised to find that the said Mbabazi, instead of assisting them, he went into a consent settling the said suit on their behalf without their knowledge or consent. A copy of the Consent is attached hereto.
Among the terms of the said consent Judgment was that the residents would be compensated without specifying how much and would in return vacate the Land.
As if that was not enough, Maseruka Robert and Mbabazi Samuel are going ahead to execute the said Consent Judgment by forcefully evicting the occupants without compensation which has prompted the complainants to challenge the said Consent by applying for its review and setting aside at Masindi High Court which is coming up for hearing on the 29th March 2023. A copy of the Application is attached hereto.
Sensing the imminent threat of eviction, we also filed an application for interim stay of execution of the said consent to avoid rendering their application for review nugatory but unfortunately the same could not be heard on the date it was fixed for hearing (6th February 2023). A copy of the Application is attached hereto
On Thursday last week, three tractors being operated by 6 workers of a one Mbabazi Samuel [the very person who had been entrusted to represent our Clients to secure their Land through Civil Suit No.46 of 2019] encroached close to 50 acres of our Clients’ land and started ploughing it but our Client’s protested and chased them away.
We have however been shocked to receive information from our Clients that on Sunday at Mid night, 3 police patrols invaded the community in the night and arrested community members; Mulenje Jack, Steven Kagyenji, Mulekwa David, Ntambala Geoffrey, Tumukunde Isaac 15 years, Kanunu Innocent, Mukombozi Frank, Kuzara, Rwamunyankole Enock, and took them to Kiryandongo Police Station where they are currently detained.
We strongly protest the illegal arrests and detention of our Clients as this is a carefully orchestrated land grabbing scheme by Maseruka Robert and Mbabazi Samuel who are receiving support from the DPC Kiryandongo.
The purpose of this Letter therefore is to request your good office to investigate the misconduct, abuse of office and unprofessionalism of the said DPC Kiryandongo District and all his involvement in the land grabbing schemes on land formerly known as Ranch 22.
Looking forward to your urgent intervention,
C.C The Head Police Land Protection Unit Police Head Quarters Naguru
CC The RDC Kiryandongo District
CC The Chairman LCVKityadongo District
CC The Regional Police CommanderAlbertine Region
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.
Witness Radio Uganda wins the best CSO land rights defenders award at the National Land Forum Awards.
By Witness Radio Team
Uganda’s leading land and environmental rights watchdog, Witness Radio has been awarded the best CSO land rights defender award 2022 in the recently concluded National Land Forum Awards held last week at Mestil hotel in Kampala.
Witness Radio’s executive Director, Jeff Wokulira Ssebaggala attributed the award to the community land and environmental rights defenders who stand up against the intimidation and different forms of harassment from land grabbers (economically powerful and politically connected companies and individual investors).
“This is an award for defenders at a community level. They work in very deadly environments filled with harassment, torture, death threats, arrest, trumped-up charges, and kidnaps among others to advocate for community land and environment rights. This is happening at a spate where criminalization and silencing of community land rights defenders are at increase.” Jeff added.
The award has come at a time when hundreds of Ugandans in different parts of the country are accessing services provided by the organization ranging from legal service provisions, non-judicial mechanism engagements, empowerment to help them understand their rights, and using the same knowledge to use the same skills to push back against illegal and forced evictions
The chairman of the organizing committee of the second National Land Forum, Mr. Jimmy Ochom noted some progress on legislation in Uganda’s land Governance. He cited growing inequalities on land where the poor are more vulnerable.
During awards, the state minister for housing, Hon persis Namuganza revealed that the government approved the plan for 2018-2040 that maps the land use in the country.
According to the minister, the government had identified land for settlement, game reserves, wildlife, arable land for farming, and water bodies among others in the plan which she said was passed a few weeks ago.
The event was organized by Oxfam and partners and provided a platform for discussions by the different actors in the land sector on issues around land governance, including land rights, land administration, and land governance for improved collaboration, cooperation between the actors, and improved land service delivery for Ugandans under a theme “Taking stock of the National Land Policy in addressing Land inequality in addressing Land inequality in Uganda.”
Other categories of awards that were won by different organizations and individuals including Mr. Eddie Nsamba-Gayiiya for his contribution to research on land rights, Justice Centers Uganda for Promoting Access to Land Justice, and Mr. Henry Harrison Irumba for Championing Legal Reforms among others.
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