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After 15 years of anguish, NFC evictees reunite to rent land to fight food insecurity



By Witness Radio – Uganda.

Thousands of poor smallholder farmers that lost their livelihood to a forced eviction carried out by the New Forest Company (NFC) have decided to pick up the broken pieces and embark on a new journey to rebuild their lost glory. Armed with high hopes, the evictees are determined to acquire a three-year lease for 500 acres of land.

Purposely, the land is for agriculture, which was their sole source of income before being forcefully evicted by NFC which benefits from carbon credit financing. The chairperson of the evicted community said they have so far accessed 205 acres of land on a gentleman’s agreement from ‘good landlords’ whose lease fees will be partly paid after seasons’ harvests. The land is being occupied by 130 NFC victims. Evictee leaders’ target is that all NFC evictees get land to live on like they hitherto lived.

The chairperson of the evictees further confirmed that after a brutal eviction, many of the affected families were scattered in neighboring districts like Kassanda, Mubende, Hoima, Kakumiro, Kyegegwa, Rakai, Kibaale, Kagadi, and Kamwenge among others looking for survival.

“After over 15 years of suffering. A few of us resolved to start looking for our colleagues and get re-united to start advancing our original dreams. When people find something to do like finding land to grow food, everyone will be able to contribute some money to our causes and look for another piece of land to rent or buy so that we can live and feed our families. When we traveled and met them. We informed them about the proposal, and they accepted. It is now three months ever since we started farming on this land,” A leader of the NFC evictees said.

A glance at a village, where NFC evictees camped, you will see makeshifts littered everywhere and covered with blue tarpaulins. The residents have embarked on tilling their land preparing for the reason. They vowed to channel their eviction-related anger towards farming.

To many of them, this is not just a land lease, but a new lease of life to them.  The heydays of the 2000s are creeping back. They wake up earlier to till their gardens.

“Our life is back. We are not used to that life of calling for support from the government. If we have land we can support our families,” a joyful 45-year-old Munguzi Asanansi not a real name due to fear of retaliation from the company told Witness Radio-Uganda. His family lives in a rental unit provided to him by a friend in the Kyegegwa district.

Between 2006 and 2010, more than 900 families in 7 villages in Mubende were evicted to make a way for the UK- based New Forests Company (NFC). The villages included; Kyamukasa, Kanamire, Kyato, Kisita, Mpologoma, Kigumbya and Kicucula.

NFC was founded in 2004 with the “vision” of producing “sustainable” timber in East Africa amidst rampant deforestation. It was funded by Agri-Vie Agribusiness Fund, a private equity investment fund, and UK-bank HSBC Private Equity.

NFC is currently also benefiting from a new project supported by the Dutch Fund for Climate and Development (DFCD); 160 million euros (more than 185 million dollars) from the Dutch government fund that aims to mobilize private sector finance into carbon projects. The DFCD is managed by investment manager Climate Fund Managers (CFM), NGO Worldwide Fund for Nature Netherlands (WWF-NL), and NGO SNV, and it is led by the Dutch Development Bank, FMO. (1)

In August 2020, DFCD approved a 279,001 euros (around 327,000 dollars) grant and WWF technical assistance package for The New Forests Company (NFC), intending to develop the final business investment proposal for carbon certification in Uganda, for sustainable smallholder growth and timber market diversification.

This in reality would translate into generating carbon finance to support expanding their monoculture plantations and land grabbing.

In 2005, the tree plantations company signed a deal with Uganda’s National Forestry Authority (NFA) to develop 20,000 hectares of tree plantations in the Namwasa and Luwunga forest reserves under the carbon trading program, a market-based approach to privatize the carbon dioxide stored in trees for selling it as carbon credits to polluters.

Namwasa residents felt betrayed by their government which fronted profit-making ahead of their livelihood. “Some residents were not compensated. Even those that the Company claimed it compensated, are still struggling, and wallowing in poverty. We were duped and cannot trust the government again,” revealed a resident who preferred anonymity

A 59-year-old Nguzoba Stephie, not his real name due to fear of retaliation from the company still recounts the misery caused by the eviction. He said on a fateful day, he lost his garden of 35 acres in Kicucula village, houses were destroyed and livestock was looted. His property was not an inheritance but the fruit of hard work.

“I received no compensation after the eviction not even being resettled and now my family of 14 lives a miserable life. We currently live on my brother’s acre of land in the Rakai district. My children have nothing to eat. They don’t go to school. I also don’t have money to foot their medical bills when they fell sick,” he added.

Namugera Harriet (not real name), a former resident of Mpologoma is also among those that were evicted. Her family of 10 stays in Kampindu where residents were resettled. She says the harvests in Kampindu are poor due to barren rocky soils. She has never benefited from the Kampindu land. Her family too is struggling and children often starve due to scarcity of food.

“When I had this opportunity, I rushed to take it because the fact is Kampindu land is not land. Our harvests are always poor yet the family is bigger. In the end, it is difficult to support it. What some of us could do was to labor in people’s plantations to get what to feed the family,” she said.

The trio Nguzoba, Namukisa and Munguzi are beneficiaries of the land lease project. They are among the 130 families, who have so far gotten land. They said with this land, they shall be able to support their families and try to cope with better lives and probably wipe away the tears of 15 years of misery.

“We have suffered a lot. We have lost our dear ones just because, we have no money to pay hospital bills. Our children are married off at a tender age because we can’t afford education bills and many other related situations,” Mr. Patricia Kabuye not real name, another beneficially said.

Residents lauded their leaders for this achievement. However, the prayers and efforts of their leaders are to secure enough land for all residents who were evicted.

“Once we secure land for all people that will be a good move. We expect more than 500 acres on the same land for the families,” Mr. Ndagize told Witness Radio-Uganda.

He added that the communities were allowed to buy that same land once they have enough money.

The evictee leader further says 34 of the evictees have died due to eviction-related injuries and illnesses.

A leader of a village which is hosting evictees said, they welcomed the developments in the community and are looking forward to supporting them.

“That land has been free for many years. We are happy that people shall be settling and utilizing it,” he added.

When we spoke to the NFC about the poor lives people are living in and its failed attempts to secure them enough land, their Corporate Social Responsibility Programme Manager, Mr. Kyabawampi Alex, in emailed documents said four hundred and fifty-three households were carefully selected by the Resettlement Committee and were resettled on the land, now known as the Kampindu Settlement and priority was given to those in most need.

“Residents were encouraged to form a Cooperative. They named it Bukakikama Cooperative Society Limited representing the affected communities. 600 Million Uganda shillings (about 168,921 dollars) were wired on its account was able to purchase 576 acres of productive land in the Mubende district and priority was given to households most in need as the Cooperative was not able to purchase enough land to resettle every member,” the documents read.

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Mityana district police rounded up and arbitrarily arrested over 50 Kikuube PAPs to block them from meeting Uganda’s Prime Minister.



By Witness Radio team

Two (2) community land rights defenders and 68 projects-affected persons from Kikuube district including children have been rounded up and arrested by Mityana district Police, Witness Radio has learned.

The community group led by Fred Mbambali and Ahumuza Busingye, were arrested from City Healing Church in Mityana Municipality, Mityana district. They were arrested on the orders of Mityana District Police Commander, Mr. Hasunira Ahmed, without being informed of the reasons for the arrest.

To seek justice and reclaim their grabbed land, the community decided to journey from the Kikuube district on Saturday, 2nd March 2024. Their objective was to petition Uganda’s Prime Minister, Rt. Hon. Robinah Nabanja, to intervene in grievances concerning forced evictions from their land and their unsuccessful attempts to regain ownership of their land that was grabbed by the officials of the Prime minister’s office for Kyangwali resettlement camp.

“On Friday, we departed from Kikuube district to Kakumiro intending to meet the Prime Minister. We aimed to convey the challenges we are facing following the unlawful seizure of our land. We sought her intervention to help us regain ownership, especially since many offices that were approached have not helped end our misery. Unfortunately, upon our arrival, we discovered she was in preparations to leave her residence. Instead, she instructed her private security team to escort us to her party’s offices (National Resistance Movement, NRM) in the Kakumiro district, assuring us that she would meet with us there. But she did not come back.” Mr. Mbambali Fred, one of the group leaders told Witness Radio.

Little did the affected community members know that their stay at the offices would be short-lived. Initially, they were welcomed by the security officers at the party offices, but their situation took a turn when the District security committee of Kakumiro led by the Resident District Commissioner (RDC), Mr. Matovu David and the District Police Commander (DPC) in the area Mr. Niyonzima Morris visited and questioned them about the reasons for their visit.

Subsequently, PAPs explained that they had been directed to wait at the offices by the Prime Minister. Despite their explanation, the Committee was skeptical and held an emergency meeting to resolve that Kikuube PAPs should leave the premises. The committee stated that the issue raised was not within the mandate of the Kakumiro district and thereafter, were asked to relocate to a different location, not within Kakumiro.

The stern Kakumiro district leaders directed the group to depart and proceed to the Office of the Prime Minister in Kampala for their meeting with her.

Shortly after being chased, they proceeded to Kampala via Mityana road, but PAPs sought to rest at one of the churches in the Mityana district. As soon as they occupied the church, Mityana district raided the premises, arrested all of them, and took them to Mityana Central Police Station, claiming that PAPs were posing a threat to the community.

“We were rounded up and arrested without being given any opportunity to explain ourselves. They didn’t even inform us of the reason for our arrest. We were kept at the police for nearly 12 hours without food. Both children and elders were starving, and the children even reached the point of crying because we were not allowed to move. It’s a double punishment to us because we haven’t committed any offense,” Ahumuza Busingye, another defender, told Witness Radio.

They were cautioned and later released without charges.

The Mityana District Police Commander, Mr. Hasunira Ahmed confirmed the arrest, stating that people neighboring the church had lodged complaints with the police about unknown individuals with a large amount of luggage occupying their premises. This led the police to arrest them.

“We received complaints about these individuals occupying a particular church, which posed a potential threat because they hadn’t obtained permission to stay there and didn’t possess a letter authorizing their movement to their destination. That’s why we intervened with an arrest, as many of them looked like rebels,” stated the Mityana District Police Commander.

PAPs arrested are part of the larger group of over 90,000 people evicted between 2013 and 2019 in 29 villagers by the office of the Prime minister (OPM) to give their land to the refugees in Katikala and Bukinda in Kyangwali district.

The community was evicted by officials led by Charles Bafaki from the Office of the Prime Minister, accompanied by the police and Uganda People Defence Forces (UPDF), from their land measuring 36 square kilometers located in various villages, including Bukinda A and B, Bukinda 2, Kavule, Bwizibwera A and B, Kyeya A and B, Nyaruhanga, Kabirizi, Nyamigisa A and B, and Katoma, all in Kyangwali sub-county for the Kyangwali refugee resettlement camp.

Despite receiving various directives, including two from the President, instructing the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM) officials to facilitate the return of the residents to their land, they have chosen to turn a deaf ear and disregard the implementation of these directives.

In 2016 and 2018, President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni issued directives to resettle PAPs back to their ancestral land, but unfortunately, these directives remained unimplemented.

In 2021, Prime Minister Robinah Nabbanja visited the victims and promised action, which, as of the time of writing this article, it’s yet to be realized.

On March 1, 2022, Minister of Relief, Disaster Preparedness, and Refugees, Mr. Hilary Onek, accused the victims of encroaching on government land. He also criticized local leaders and officials for potential involvement in stage-managed evictions.

In 2022, approximately 1,000 of the evictees camped at the office of the Kikuube Resident District Commissioner, Amlan Tumusiime, demanding his intervention to help them return to their land. Unfortunately, this intervention did not materialize. Some of the evictees sought shelter in temporary shelters provided by Florence Natumanya, the Kikuube Woman MP, and Francis Kazini, the Buhaguzi Member of Parliament, while others continued to search for livelihoods in other parts of the country.

“People are suffering immensely, and we are witnessing deaths without having a proper place to bury our loved ones. No one is coming to our rescue, and it’s heartbreaking to see our children deprived of education, as they are the future of tomorrow,” expressed the community members in an interview with Witness Radio.

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Breaking: A community land rights defender in the Kiryandongo district is charged with assault and released on a cash bail.



By Witness Radio team.

Magistrate Court sitting in Kiryandongo district has released a community land rights defender on a cash bail. He was arbitrarily arrested, and detained Thursday, February 29th, 2024, for attempting to open a criminal case against Great Seasons SMC Limited workers for erasing his 3 acres of land with ready-to-harvest cash crops.

Mwawula Fred’s release came after spending five (5) days in detention. Mr. Mwawula is a community land rights defender based in Kisalanda village, Mutunda parish, Kiryandongo district help to mobilize communities to resist forced land grabbing by multinational companies in Kiryandongo district.

The prosecution alleges that Mwawula assaulted workers of the Great Seasons SMC Company Limited who were in his garden.

The Penal Code Act, Cap 120, states that any person who commits an assault occasioning actual bodily harm commits a misdemeanor and is liable to imprisonment for five years on conviction.

On February 22nd, 2024, Witness Radio ran an article about four Great Seasons SMC Limited Company workers with a numberless tractor who had invaded and erased Mwawula’s garden with crops ready for harvest such as maize, green pepper, and tomatoes in Kisalanda village.

When he (Mwawula) went to Kiryandongo Central Police Station to open up criminal cases against the company, he was instead arbitrarily arrested, detained by local police, and preferred an assault charge before appearing before the court.

While granting the defender bail, Her Worship Amweno Hellen released Mr. Mwawula on a cash bail of 700,000 Ugx (Equivalent to 178.47 USD) while the sureties conditioned a non-cash bail.

The defender will report back to Court on the 13th/March/ 2024.

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Breaking: A community land rights defender in Kiryandongo, who was arrested for attempting to open a case against company workers at Kiryandongo Central police for erasing his garden, is facing assault charges.



By Witness Radio team.

Kiryandongo Central police have preferred an assault charge against a community land rights defender who was arbitrarily arrested and detained Thursday, February 29th, 2024, for attempting to open a criminal charge against workers of Great Seasons SMC Limited.

On February 22nd, 2024, four Great Seasons SMC Limited Company workers with a tractor invaded and erased Mr. Mwawula Fred’s garden with crops ready for harvest such as maize, green pepper, and tomatoes. The workers used a numberless company tractor to destroy the defender’s 3 acres of crops.

According to the police charge sheet, Mwawula allegedly assaulted workers of the Great Seasons SMC Company Limited who were in his garden.

Defender’s lawyers said Mwawula bravely tried to intervene to stop the destruction of his crops by company workers, but they (workers) callously persisted with their destructive actions, disregarding the defender’s pleas.

The lawyers also stated that company workers made off with sacks full of maize belonging to their client.

The Penal Code Act, Cap 120, states that any person who commits an assault occasioning actual bodily harm commits a misdemeanor and is liable to imprisonment for five years on conviction.

Mwawula, on several occasions, has been in and out of prison on several charges over eight times for mobilizing local communities to resist land grabbing and forceful evictions by multinational companies in the Kiryandongo district. However, the court has dismissed all of them for want of prosecution.

Frequently, the gardens belonging to smallholder farmers, activists, and defenders have been targeted and vandalized by Great Seasons SMC Company Limited, demanding that the local community should vacate what the company asserts as its land. In a distressing incident last December 2023, many defenders’ gardens were set ablaze by workers of the company, resulting in a prolonged famine within projected affected families.

The defender is yet to be produced in court to answer to assault charges.

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