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Breaking Alert! A community fighting forced eviction during COVID-19 lockdown, Witness Radio-Uganda together with Accountability Counsel file a complaint before the World Bank’s Inspection Panel…

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In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Kawaala community of Kampala, Uganda, is facing eviction to pave the way for the construction of the World Bank-funded Lubigi drainage channel. Accompanied by armed soldiers, representatives of the Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA) turned up at shocked residents’ homes, placing a red “X” on many structures and explaining that they were earmarked for demolition – the first those families had heard of the KCCA’s plan to take their homes and land.

The construction of the Lubigi drainage channel will displace more than 100 families from their shelter and farmlands. These farms enable community members to feed their families and sell other produce, earning income that pays for their children to attend school. For some of the community members, family grave sites will be lost, as well as ancestral land intended for their children and grandchildren. Yet neither the KCCA nor the World Bank provided adequate information to the community about project plans, nor did they meaningfully consult them on the extent of displacement and any plans for compensation and resettlement, as required by World Bank policies, before issuing eviction notices.

After its glaring mismanagement of this project was highlighted by the Kawaala community and its local partners, including Witness Radio, KCCA and its agents have begun to push affected community members through a rushed and problematic resettlement process, prioritizing project timelines over the livelihoods and wellbeing of affected people and the accuracy and completeness of the process. Out of desperation, many community members have signed documents they do not understand.

The Kawaala community raised its concerns with the World Bank Uganda country office and asked them to closely monitor the project, but the World Bank refused – using restrictions associated with the COVID-19 pandemic as an excuse for their inaction – seemingly indifferent to the risks and impacts of forcibly displacing a vulnerable community during that same pandemic.

Given these failures, in the face of the severe threats to their wellbeing and livelihoods, the Kawaala community has filed a complaint about the project to the World Bank’s Inspection Panel seeking protection from the forced and unfair eviction processes, as well as meaningful consultation and participation in the design of a comprehensive and fair resettlement solution.

THE STORY: 

An attempted forced eviction, during a pandemic

A channel diversion constructed around 2014 now causes water to flow through
residents’ properties. The planned expansion will widen it to 70 meters across, causing
extensive forced eviction.

In December 2020, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, communities living in Kawaala Zone II, in Kasubi Parish, Rubaga Division, Kampala were awoken in the early morning hours to find excavators and armed guards destroying their property, without any prior consultation or plan for compensation and resettlement. The previous day, they had received eviction notices requiring them to vacate their lands within 28 days. The eviction notice was issued by the Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA). The KCCA, with support from the World Bank, is constructing the Lubigi drainage channel as part of a broader road and infrastructure project.

The Kawaala community has lived, built their homes, and earned their livelihoods through farming and livestock-keeping in the area since the 1960s. With a population of approximately 300, the community is composed mostly of elderly men and women. Given the high number of elderly persons in the community, most are illiterate. Their farms enable community members to feed their families and sell other produce, earning income that pays for their children to attend school.

On December 3, 2020, the Kawaala communities were shocked to find KCCA representatives in their village, accompanied by armed guards, distributing eviction notices and informing residents that they had 28 days to vacate their homes. KCCA representatives approached residents’ homes, placing a red “X” on many structures and explaining that they were earmarked for demolition.

The eviction notices included a claim that violations of health and safety code were the reason for the evictions. However, through active investigations, the community was able to confirm that the area was being cleared to make way for the expansion of the Lubigi drainage channel, part of the World Bank-funded Second Kampala Institutional and Infrastructure Development Project (KIIDP-2).

Over the following two days, in contravention of the 28-day notice period, the KCCA began attempting to evict residents. They brought excavators and destroyed some homes and gardens before community members were able to contact local leaders, who successfully intervened and persuaded the KCCA to halt the eviction process.

The Kawaala community, with the support of Witness Radio, was then able to challenge the eviction by filing a case at the High Court in Kampala. This prompted the KCCA to halt the eviction process. However, the court case remains undecided and the eviction notice still has not been withdrawn, leaving the community at risk of sudden eviction.

The World Bank’s involvement

The World Bank’s KIIDP-2 project funds the construction and rehabilitation of roads and associated infrastructure throughout Kampala via a USD 175 million loan. This project includes, among other works, the expansion and construction of the Lubigi Primary Drainage Channel, which forms part of the eight primary channels in Kampala and is 2.5 kilometers long. The project also involves institutional and systems development support to the KCCA, including for engineering and technical services.

KIIDP-2 follows the Kampala Institutional and Infrastructure Development Project (KIIDP-1), which had similar objectives. Around 2014, KIIDP-1 led to the construction of a channel diversion that ran through the land of many local residents and cut others off from easy access to schools and basic services. Residents report that this diversion was described to them as “temporary,” and they were therefore not offered resettlement compensation. Some received a small sum for temporary disturbance from project works, while other families affected by the diversion did not receive even this much and were thrown into a state of desperation or even homelessness following the original channel diversion. KIIDP-2 will expand on this diversion, widening it significantly and requiring forced eviction of residents across an area 70 meters wide and 2.5 km long. Many residents report that they never realized that the diversion would be made permanent until the forced eviction process began last December.

A general project fact sheet by the KCCA claims that all affected properties were registered years ago, and states that no new developments will be valued or compensated, but residents dispute this claim. The KCCA has since walked back from this assertion and begun a rushed and problematic resettlement process, based on a contested and non-consultative surveying process that residents believe does not accurately reflect their land rights.

The channel diversion that began construction nearly 10 years ago has separated community members’ homes from the shops and schools visible across the waterway. This bridge was built by community members as a temporary fix, but it is dangerous, especially when water levels rise. Community members fear the channel expansion will exacerbate these problems.

The devastating impacts of this project

The Lubigi drainage channel project will result in most affected families losing their homes and others losing their farmland, leaving very little for them to sustain themselves. In addition to that displacement, the construction of the drainage channel poses a series of other environmental and social concerns:

  • Loss and disruption of family remains: Some community members risk losing the remains of their loved ones that are buried in the land set aside for the project.
  • Food insecurity: This risk comes as a result of the destruction of crops, including those crops already destroyed in the attempted forced eviction in December 2020.
  • Loss of education: In case of any eviction or relocation without adequate compensation, community members fear that the children will be forced to drop out of school since the houses built and the crops grown on the land are their sole sources of income to cover their fees and tuition. Community members fear that this in turn will lead to increased marriage rates for young girls with limited options.
  • Safety risks: Following the construction of the channel to date, the local area has become unsafe for children to play outside due to a constant risk of drowning, which is especially heightened during rainy periods. There have been reported cases of people drowning.
  • Sexual exploitation: Some women in Kawaala have been compelled to engage in transactional sexual relationships to ensure that their children’s basic needs are met ever since the KCCA coerced them into abandoning their gardens to make way for the construction of the channel diversion under KIIDP-1. Residents fear that this pattern will be intensified if community members are not provided with fair and complete compensation to address the full extent of economic impacts from another forced resettlement.
  • Cumulative impacts of multiple infrastructure projects: The Kampala Northern Bypass Highway, funded by the European Union and the Government of Uganda, as well as the Lubigi Sewage Treatment Plant, funded by the European Union and the German Government, were also constructed in the community’s immediate vicinity in recent years, surrounding the Kawaala community on multiple sides by government-sponsored and internationally funded infrastructure projects.
  • Flooding: Far from improving the flooding problems that plague the area, community members have observed that flooding has actually increased in Kawaala Zone II, since the channel diversion and other multiple infrastructure projects began.
  • Other social impacts: Residents expect that eviction without adequate compensation will likely lead to a host of other foreseeable social issues, such as increased rates of domestic violence, child abandonment, or other family rifts.

Because of the totality of these impacts, the community deems it best to be compensated and resettled elsewhere in order to live with dignity.

Raising concerns with the World Bank Uganda country office

The KIIDP-2 project is proceeding in blatant contravention of a host of World Bank commitments designed to ensure meaningful consultation of communities and to avoid or mitigate environmental and social impacts, including resettlement. Although the KCCA has walked back from its initial assertions denying residents’ rights to compensation, in recent months it has undertaken a forced, rushed, and non-transparent survey process that some residents were unable to participate in. Residents are deeply skeptical that any compensation determined based on this incomplete survey will provide them with fair and accurate compensation assessments.

On March 4, 2021, community representatives raised their concerns regarding the project and the potential harm in a meeting with KCCA officials and the World Bank Uganda country office team. The World Bank team directed that the KCCA intensify citizen and stakeholder engagement and provide adequate project information to the community in Luganda rather than English. Further, the KCCA was asked to carry out proper identification of the project-affected persons and, through a consultative process, determine the amount and type of compensation needed. Lastly, the World Bank team directed that the KCCA re-constitutes a Grievance Redress Committee composed of representatives of all the stakeholders in the project.

The World Bank, however, refused the community’s demand that Bank staff visit the project site and engage in follow-up meetings with the community. The community feared that, without this supervision, the KCCA would continue to abuse the rights of affected community members.

Those fears have been realized. The KCCA has not followed the directions of the World Bank and is continuing to rely on its forced survey process, as well as failing to meaningfully consult community members on the details of any compensation.

A Kawaala resident was in the midst of constructing his home when he heard about the eviction notice. He hesitates to continue construction out of fear of imminent demolition.

Inspection Panel complaint

Through Witness Radio, community representatives reached out to Accountability Counsel to support the filing of a complaint. Because of the non-responsiveness of the KCCA and the World Bank to their concerns, the community wanted to escalate those concerns to the World Bank’s independent accountability mechanism, the Inspection Panel. After several consultations with different groups in the community to understand their concerns and goals of the complaint, Witness Radio and community representatives filed a complaint on June 17, 2021 with the following demands (in summary):

  • That the project should be investigated and evictions halted until affected people are properly informed about the project and consulted about its impacts and necessary mitigation measures, and are consulted on the formation of a resettlement action plan that addresses the concerns of local residents;
  • That the KCCA formally withdraws the eviction notice issued under the Public Health Act Cap. 281 against the residents and other similarly affected persons;
  • That the community be resettled and fairly compensated, given that the land is now uninhabitable;
  • That the compensation processes be aimed at ensuring that the entire family is included and able to share in the benefits, rather than being provided to the head of household only, which can contribute to intra-family and social conflicts and gender disparities. For example, the KCCA should encourage both spouses to sign compensation documents and attend related meetings, and it should provide compensation funds into jointly-owned bank accounts; and
  • That the affected people should be provided with resettlement assistance, including scholarships for their children at least until families have an opportunity to find an alternative livelihood. Any resettlement assistance should include social support programs such as stress management, anger management, and domestic violence sensitization programming to reduce common social problems that can accompany physical displacement.

The complaint is currently awaiting registration and an assessment of eligibility by the Inspection Panel.

Case Partners

Accountability Counsel is partnering on this case with Witness Radio, an advocacy and media organization focused on issues of rights in development in Uganda, cutting across sectors (including agribusiness, environment, mining, and extraction). They monitor, document, and report human rights violations using traditional and new media formats and, where possible or necessary, support communities to seek justice through judicial and non-judicial mechanisms.

THE CASE: 

  • Jun 2021

    Community representatives filed a complaint with the World Bank’s independent accountability mechanism, the Inspection Panel, on June 17.

  • Mar 2021

    Community representatives met with the World Bank Uganda country office and the Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA).

  • Dec 2020

    In spite of the 28-day notice period communicated on the previous day, on December 4 and 5, the KCCA began attempting to evict residents. They brought excavators and destroyed some homes and crops before community members were able to contact local leaders, who successfully intervened and persuaded the KCCA to halt the eviction process. Shortly after, the Kawaala community, with the support of Witness Radio, was then able to challenge the eviction by filing a case at the High Court in Kampala. This prompted the KCCA to halt the eviction process. However, the eviction notice still has not been withdrawn.

  • Dec 2020

    On December 3, the KCCA issued a notice to residents of Kawaala Zone II to vacate their land within 28 days.

    IMPACT:

    Through their local partner, Witness Radio, community representatives reached out to Accountability Counsel because their concerns were not being heard by the World Bank or its client, the Kampala Capital City Authority. As is too often the case, as soon as Accountability Counsel became involved, the World Bank became more responsive – although their actions continue to be woefully inadequate to prevent harm and comply with their own environmental and social safeguards.

    Given those failures on the part of the World Bank and its client, community members decided to elevate their concerns to the World Bank’s Inspection Panel. In April 2021, Accountability Counsel’s Africa Communities Associate, Robi Chacha Mosenda, traveled to Kampala to document the community’s concerns and goals in preparation for complaint filing.

    On June 17, 2021, Witness Radio filed an Inspection Panel complaint on behalf of the Kawaala Zone II community, seeking protection from the forced and unfair eviction processes, as well as meaningful consultation and participation in the design of a comprehensive and fair resettlement solution.

    In close partnership with Witness Radio, we will continue to support the Kawaala Zone II community to prepare for, understand, and navigate through each stage of the Inspection Panel’s process, demanding accountability and remedy from the World Bank for its oversight and lack of due diligence that has harmed these communities.

    CASE MEDIA: 

    Photos

    Family burial sites have experienced regular flooding ever since the initial channel diversion directed water through residents’ properties. These burial sites now in the path of the planned channel expansion (Credit Witness Radio).

    This channel diversion constructed around 2014 will be widened to 70 meters, requiring extensive evictions. (Credit: Witness Radio).

    A makeshift bridge connects Kawaala residents with schools and shops across the channel but creates a safety hazards, especially during frequent flood events.

    The channel diversion constructed in 2014 has led to increased flooding and safety hazards, including at least one drowning due to inadequate walkways around the channel. (Credit Witness Radio)

    A community kickboxing academy marked for demolition by KCCA.

    A homeowner hesitates to finish construction his home, as it is marked for demolition by the KCCA.

    Original Source: accountabilitycounsel.org

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Corporate Accountability

Advocates criticize AfDB for excluding CSOs and communities from participating in the Bank’s policy review process.

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Photo Credit: Coalition for Human Rights in Development.

Some of the activists staging a demo in Accra, Ghana

By Witness Radio Team

Witness Radio Uganda joins other civil society organizations across Africa and beyond to criticize the bank’s decision to exclude CSOs and communities from participating in the recently concluded African Development Bank (AfDB) 2022 annual meeting in Accra. The groups also called upon the bank to stop funding projects that exacerbate climate change and human rights violations. When member states signed an agreement on August 14, 1963, that consequently led to the establishment of the Bank, many touted it as one of the long-lasting solutions to African problems, however, that hope has dwindled.

The annual meetings held from the 23rd to 27th of May in Accra, Ghana presented an opportunity for the Bank to redeem itself from sustainable development mediocrity, and convince and commit to the world that it was willing to be metamorphosized from a sustainable development jester into a people-centered bank, instead, the AfDB opted to bury its head in the sand.

Key on its agenda; is the role the bank can play in the just energy transition and achieving climate resilience in Africa. However, communities most affected by climate change, and civil society groups supporting them were excluded. It was restricted to a clique of Governors, Senators, Bank Colleagues, investors, presidents, and other cherry-picked participants that were invited to discuss pressing issues affecting mankind.

As expected, the pertinent issues affecting the poor African communities, including those resulting from the adverse impacts of projects financed by AfDB, that is, the disintegration of families, lost livelihoods, and the continued affront to dignity was sacrificed at the altar of painting a Rosy picture about the Banks “gains and projections.”

In Uganda, the downtrodden have paid the biggest price for AfDB’s irresponsible banking. The Paten clan in the Pakwach district has experienced and continues to experience gross human rights violations arising from the Wadelai irrigation scheme implementation funded by the AfDB.

According to the communities, the project forcefully acquired more land for the Wadelai Irrigation Scheme project under The Farm Income Enhancement and Forestry Conservation Project-Phase 2 (FIEFOC-2). This was contrary to the earlier understanding with the community that the project would utilize 365 acres which the community had freely offered for the project. Instead, 365 hectares were forcefully acquired.

Information obtained from the Coalition for Development’s website and published on August 10, 2021, indicates, that sixteen members of the Paten Clan, a community in Pakwach District in northern Uganda, were shot at and wounded by local police and army officers for opposing the Wadelai irrigation project implementation.

“…Staff of the construction company in charge of implementing the project, together with representatives of the local authorities and the police, forcefully entered the community. When communities questioned and protested against the trespass, the local police and members of the Uganda People’s Defence Force (UPDF) started firing bullets and teargas to disperse them. 16 community members were injured.

After the shooting, the police refused to hand them the forms for documenting the injuries suffered, meaning they were unable to easily access healthcare in government health centers. The day after, UPDF officers arrested and beat up four women, including one pregnant woman, while they were on their way to fetch water…, according to victims.

A community in Kiyindi, Buikwe district was also evicted by the African Development Bank’s water project that allegedly aimed at benefiting them and given little compensation in 2020.

The area Councilor, Mr. Amir Kiggundu says the community now grapples with cases of hunger and poverty. “The government said we would benefit a lot if we accepted the project but people were paid as little as 2 million Uganda Shillings (Approximately 540 US Dollars) for their land. This was little money that could not afford to relocate them and buy the land elsewhere in Uganda. As a result, these people are now renting and work hand to mouth. Their children have since dropped out of school” the area Councilor said in an interview with Witness Radio.

Listed as one of the Development Bank’s principles, it has fallen short of inclusivity and participation of all stakeholders during the review process of the bank’s policies.

“Transparency and participation are among the greatest shortcomings in AfDB’s governance, and the 2022 Annual Meetings, unfortunately, demonstrate the failure to prioritize engagement with civil society and communities. We are so concerned that there is no space for civil society in the official program.” Aly Marie Sagne, Founder and Executive Director, Lumìere Synergie pour le Développement, Sénégal said.

Apart from including climate change, food security, and energy development on its agenda list, the Bank was equivocal on these issues. The speeches delivered by Dr. Akinwumi Adesina , the bank’s President and the ilk were carefully scripted and choreographed to paint a wrong picture, transparency as a key driver of sustainable development was not mentioned.

On food security, Dr. Akinwumi Adesina said there is no need for Africans begging food and that the bank has approved the $1.5 billion plan that will be used to support African countries to produce food rapidly to ensure sustained supply producing 38 million metric tons of food, including wheat, maize, rice, and soybeans.

About the increased climate crisis, Adesina said Africa suffers $7-15 billion per year in losses to climate change, and losses are projected to rise to $40 billion per year by 2030. “Africa has no choice but to adapt to climate change but African Development Bank has doubled its financing for the climate to $25 billion by 2025,” he said.

The Bank is also implementing the $20 billion Desert to Power initiative in the Sahel, to build 10,000 megawatts of solar power generation. This will provide electricity via solar for 250 million people and turn the Sahel into the largest solar zone in the world.

Whereas all these strategies mentioned are meant to uplift the project beneficiaries, there is no guarantee to ensure the realization of their commitments.

Witness Radio’s Executive director, Mr. Wokulira Ssebaggala added his voice to the 30 participants in 11 countries that held a separate meeting in Accra from 23-25 May to allude to his concerns over the absence of the project beneficiaries excluding their views in critical issues.

“Many development projects have proven harmful including those funded by this Bank. They have had issues with human rights violations and propelled many into excess poverty and hunger. Because the local people are the beneficiaries, their interests should be represented”. He spoke.

The AfDB funds hundreds of projects across the continent and it is one of the key economic players in Africa. Through its direct and indirect financing, it supports projects and policies across a wide range of sectors. However, in practice, the Bank is not different from the loan sharks operating in the streets of Kampala.

“Although the AfDB is supposed to serve the interests of African people, it lags behind its peer institutions in terms of transparent and participatory policies and implementation, and it is very difficult for civil society, local communities, indigenous Peoples, and all rights holders to hold the Bank accountable at all stages of its operations,” a statement from members of the #Dev4Africa campaign read.

This approach to development has led to negative impacts on communities from AfDB projects, including human rights, labor, and environmental violations. Additionally, it has led to contradictory approaches to challenges like the climate crisis, whereby the AfDB is supporting needed adaptation and mitigation projects on the one hand, and funding climate-harmful fossil fuel projects on the other hand.

“We don’t understand why the AfDB put such a risky project in our community.” Fatou Samba is a representative of a community whose livelihoods and environment have been affected by the AfDB-financed Sendou coal power project in Senegal said.

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Signs of harmful projects with financing from development institutions are spotted in Uganda…

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By Witness Radio Team.

The growth of a country is discerned by great leaders and innovators who see opportunities out of darkness and transform their areas from nothing to success. Those are great leaders whose interest is to see the developments in their countries and the well-being of their citizens.

Every single day, countries all over the world receive investors that acquire loans, grants, and donations to implement mega projects that are seemingly expected to develop host countries. countries and investors borrowing the money Often, countries and investors portray how these projects improve the livelihood of the browbeaten, au contraire, they have left many broken families, poor-dirty homesteads, and shattered dreams.

Uganda is one of those countries, whose citizens have paid a price for reckless or unsupervised and profit-led international investment. In a bid to implement its industrial policy, the country has welcomed both foreign and local investors with interests in the fields of extraction, industrial agriculture, carbon credit tree plantation, mining, infrastructural projects, and many others.

It has received billions of dollars from different financiers including commercial banks, Pension Funds, and International Development Finance Banks or institutions, among others. For instance, the World Bank has invested more than 20 Billion Dollars since 1963 and currently

Every project comes with its own chilling story. More often their stories are unheard by the World. Witness Radio – Uganda surveyed some projects in Uganda. This study revealed agony, illegal evictions, abject poverty, environmental degradation, and loss of life among others, as some of the consequences suffered by the would-be beneficiaries of these international funded projects across the country.

In the capital of Uganda, Kampala, over 1750 families were forcefully evicted from a city suburb, Naguru, for Naguru- Nakawa housing estates.  11 years down the road the project that was highly hyped is to take off on the grabbed land. Pleas from the victims of the eviction to regain their land have all fallen on deaf ears.

About 80km away from Kampala is the island district of Kalangala surrounded by the World’s second-largest lake, Victoria, and known for palm growing. When the palm-oil project was introduced to residents they were given the impression that it would improve their livelihoods and create job opportunities.  Instead, it has dumped thousands into poverty after their land was grabbed by BIDCO, a Wilmer international-funded project. People lost land and now work on plantations as casual laborers. The neighboring communities are accusing BIDCO workers of sexual and gender-based violence.

In the South-Western District of Kiryandongo, multinational companies including Agilis Partners Limited, Kiryandongo Sugar Limited, and Great Seasons SMC Limited with funding from The United States Agency for International Development (USAID), The Department for International Development (DFID) of the United Kingdom, and Common Fund for Commodities among other financiers are forcefully evicting more than 35,000 people. The eviction has been on since 2017.

Workers that worked on a World Bank Project in Soroti, in the far east of the country, are accused of sexually harassing minors. Several young girls were defiled and left pregnant. Despite the government being aware of this none of the pedophiles have been brought to book, the World Bank-funded project in the Eastern Town of Soroti left several underage girls defiled and impregnated.

In late 2020, residents of Kawaala zone II woke up to the hail of armed men and graders evicting and destroying their properties to implement a multimillion-dollar project funded by the World Bank. The project is being implemented by the Kampala Capital city Authority (KCCA) on behalf of the government of Uganda.

The above-listed and other projects, on the other hand, continue to perpetuate violence and judicial harassment against leaders of Project Affected Persons (PAPs) and community land and environmental rights defenders because of their work that resists illegal evictions and destruction of the environment among others.

Although project implementers such as government entities accuse local communities of occupying land targeted for projects illegally, in most cases victim communities have rights over these pieces of land because their settlement on the same land can be traced to have happened generations ago.

No matter how people are negatively impacted being by these harmful projects, financiers continue to release more money to the government and investors. The banks aim at profit margins other than the livelihoods of the people. In Bulebi village, Mbazi parish, Mpunge Sub County in Mukono district, Akon’s futuristic city is about to lead to the eviction of over 1000 residents whose entire lives have been built on their land.

In April last year, American rapper Aliaune Damala Badara well known for his stage name AKON visited Uganda in search of land for constructing the city. On the same business trip, he met President Museveni Yoweri Kaguta and expressed his interest in building a futuristic city with its currency. The president ordered the Ministry of Lands, housing, and urban development to look out for free land for his city.

However, on 7th Jan 2022, the Uganda Land Commission showed the Minister for Lands, Housing, and Urban Development “Hon Judith Nabakooba” land that was proposed for the Akon city. According to the Uganda land commission, the land is Freehold Volume 53 Folio 9 measuring I square mile.

This has sparked outrage amongst the affected as they were never consulted or consented to allow the project in their community. According to community members that Witness Radio interviewed, they said they heard the distressing news of Akon city through the Media.

The community said no official from the ministry has ever approached them about their land giveaway. “Our country is full of land evictions and evictors begin in that way. There has been no official coming on the ground to officially inform us about the project and neither have we heard any official communication of compensation.” Obori said.

Residing in the attractive village surrounded by freshwaters, the community asserts this has been the source of livelihood and advised the government to get alternative land for the City.

Controversies surrounding the land giveaway and ownership of the area still exist. A section of residents have protested and vowed not to surrender their land for the City. They claim to have acquired freehold titles from the Mukono lands board.

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Breaking: over 350,000 acres of land were grabbed during Witness Radio – Uganda’s seven months ban.

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By Witness Radio Team.

As the onslaught on civil society heightens, its space continues to shrink which has bearing on the services they render to the communities. Witness Radio, was among the 54 organizations suspended by Uganda’s National Bureau for Nongovernmental Organizations on August 20th, 2021. The actions are amongst the recent forms of attack on civil societies in Uganda. Other numerous attacks include arrests of rights activists, harassment, tortures, and office- break-ins at night by security operatives who move away with valuables.

The effects of this suspension were felt by communities facing land grabs across the country. For seven months while the organization was suspended, over 300,000 people were evicted from their land and couldn’t access specialized and prompt legal assistance.

Witness Radio Uganda, globally known for its campaign against community land-grabs couldn’t assist these victims of land grab since it risked facing further sanctions from the Bureau in case it intervened. However, last week, there was some relief, when Uganda’s National Bureau for NGOs lifted suspension and certified its operation.

According to Mrs. Bulyerali Joan, the Head Legal at Witness Radio – Uganda, the organization conducted a review of the evictions that happened during the suspension. With information and assistance from some lawyers, local journalists, and community land and environmental rights defenders across the country, the evictions watchdog was able to document cases of hundreds of thousands of Ugandans that were either forcefully evicted or received threats of evictions while in its limbo.

The ban imposed on Witness Radio coupled with the disruptive impacts of COVID- 19 resulted in the surge of eviction cases, especially in areas where the organization had a presence. Throughout the ban, without access to swift and prompt legal support, the communities resorted to sharing with the world their ordeal.

She further noted that the evictions were conducted in disregard of the law on evictions. “I was shocked to see powerful people and companies take advantage of our suspension to escalate the evictions of vulnerable communities that received our assistance. The evictions did not comply with the land eviction practice directives. None of them was preceded by legal court orders.”  She noted.

According to the Land Eviction directives, issued by the former Chief Justice of Uganda, Bart Katureebe, evictions shall be preceded by valid court order, properly identifying the persons taking part in the eviction, and upon presentation of formal authorizations. The police and local authority of the area shall be notified and shall be present to witness the evictions, among others.

Based on the data gathered by the team, various communities across the country were left dispossessed by land grabbers without any form of assistance. Others have received threatening messages with intentions of dispossessing them off their land.

During the period under review, over 300,000 people across the country are believed to have been threatened with evictions, while 350,000 acres of land were either grabbed or on verge of being grabbed.

“However much, we gathered this information, we expect the cases to be higher because some evictions go unreported either due to the remoteness of the areas or other related factors.” One of the collaborators observed.

The evictions were extremely violent.  They were characterized by kidnaps, arrests and detentions, torture that often-caused unexpected grief to the communities.

Among the most affected districts include Kyankwanzi, Mubende, Kassanda, Hoima, Buikwe, Wakiso, Kikuube, and Bulambuli districts.

In some of the mentioned districts, the Lands, Housing, and Urban Development Minister toured and halted the evictions but the evictors continued unabated.

Mr. Kimazi Experito, a journalist based in Mubende, attributed the rise of evictions to the organization’s suspension which denied the evictions-affected communities access to specialized legal assistance.

He said Witness Radio has offered support to over 20 land-grab-affected communities in Mubende with legal support. “Witness radio is a game-changer that brought back lives of evicted communities to normal,” he lauded.

“Mubende is one of the fastest-growing areas because of gold and other minerals as well as factors related to fertile soils. Currently, it is one of the hotspots of evictions. Opportunists used this chance to grab land from people with full attention. Without the defenders, it’s often hard for people to get justice since local people are not much informed about land laws.” Kimazi explained.

Engineered by powerful people in public offices, multinational companies, and politicians using state machinery including the army and national police, forced evictions to continue to affect food sovereignty and threaten the role of indigenous communities to protect the environment.

During the same period, President Yoweri Museveni stopped any eviction without the approval of the Resident District Commissioners. However, legal experts warned that the move is to usurp the powers of the Judiciary. In a statement signed by Pheona Nabasa Wall, the Uganda Law Society President noted that the directive undermined the role and independence of courts in handling eviction matters.

That notwithstanding, “Occasionally, the residents are not given any opportunity to negotiate with the landlords. Even when the government obliges to pay landowners, neither does the government nor the evictor compensate for the damaged property. During evictions, properties that were made for their life end up being destroyed in seconds which causes lifetime misery.” Paul Kasoozi, a community land rights defender stated.

With different tactics aimed at alienating the poor from their land, it has been established that the police and the army continued to play a huge role in the largest forms of violent evictions through torture, arbitrary arrests, and detention and instilling fear and pressurizing the local communities to vacate their land on orders of the evictors.

Many of those community members who oppose land evictions end up being kidnapped, tortured, or arrested and detained to silence the community. It takes support from an organization defending communities’ land rights to intervene for such communities to get justice.

Days before the lifting of the suspension imposed on Witness Radio, communities neighboring the Katta Barracks in Bulambuli district, were violently evicted by the Uganda People’s Defense Forces under the alleged command of Lieutenant Colonel Mukiibi Julius without offering alternative resettlement.

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