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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.

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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Corporate Accountability

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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Corporate Accountability

Small-scale farmers and Indigenous groups say big ag offers only false and self-interested solutions

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A member of a farming cooperative working in a field near Divo, Ivory Coast. Most of the world’s food is still raised by small farmers

Hundreds of civil society groups, academics and social movements are boycotting the first UN global food summit amid growing anger that the agenda has been hijacked by an opaque web of corporate interests.

Called the people’s summit by UN organisers, groups representing thousands of small-scale farmers and Indigenous communities, which produce 70% of the world’s food through sustainable agriculture, are among those to withdraw from Thursday’s event saying their knowledge and experience has been ignored.

The declaration, signed by about 600 groups and individuals, states: “[We] reject the ongoing corporate colonization of food systems and food governance under the facade of the United Nations Food Systems Summit … The struggle for sustainable, just and healthy food systems cannot be unhooked from the realities of the peoples whose rights, knowledge and livelihoods have gone unrecognized and disrespected.”

Some have criticized the prominence of corporations, such as Nestlé, Tyson and Bayer, in the summit’s efforts to identify food system solutions.

About 90 world leaders are expected to attend the summit in New York, with at least 130 countries making pledges on issues like free school meals, reducing food waste, healthy eating, biodata and carbon capture.

The summit, which has taken two years and millions of dollars to organise, was convened ostensibly to garner political commitment to help deliver the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) amid growing public criticism of the food industry’s contribution to hunger, malnutrition and obesity, as well as environmental destruction, biodiversity loss and climate chaos.

It was billed as a landmark initiative in which the UN would act as the broker gathering views from a wide range of experts – academics, NGOs, philanthropic donors, farmers, community and Indigenous groups, corporations and business associations – to generate sustainable and equitable solutions.

Yet critics say the role and responsibility of transnational corporations – which dominate every part of the food system, from seeds and pesticides to slaughterhouses, breweries and supermarkets – has not been adequately addressed. Nor have human rights or the pandemic, despite the fact it led to a huge rise in global food insecurity and exposed severe vulnerabilities in the global supply chain.

The Covid-19 pandemic led to a shortage of essential foods in Sri Lanka. People formed long lines to buy food at a state-run store in Colombo.
The Covid-19 pandemic led to a shortage of essential foods in Sri Lanka. People formed long lines to buy food at a state-run store in Colombo. Photograph: Chamila Karunarathne/EPA

“The audacity of the UN to keep calling this a people’s summit even as it continues to lose support is arrogant, [as is] pointing to my participation without listening to any of the substantive things I’ve said,” said Michael Fakhri, the UN special rapporteur on the right to food and adviser to the summit.

Fakhri and those boycotting the summit say the UN has given the private sector a dominant role in almost every part of the summit, which will lead to transnational corporations and their allies in the non-profit and philanthropy sectors having greater scope to direct food policies, financing and governance.

As a result, they say solutions will be market-led, piecemeal, voluntary and heavily weighted towards increasing food production through capital investments, big data and proprietary technologies. Critics say that this approach will enable a handful of corporations and individuals to expand control over the global food system to the further detriment of the vast majority of people and the planet.

“The UN has provided a cover of legitimacy for corporations to capture the narrative and deflate public pressure – it has not been an honest broker,” said Sofia Monsalve, secretary general of the Food First Information and Action Network (FIAN), a research and advocacy organization based in Germany.

“The refusal to discuss major issues like concentration in every part of the food system, corporate land grabs, taxation and accountability for human rights means the summit will fail,” Monsalve added.

According to the special rapporteur Fakhri, it took months to persuade organizers to include human rights in discussions, and even then the right to food appears only in the margins. “We see the same corporate players who have caused irreparable damage to our health, climate and environment trying to create a new game, gain more influence and carve out new economic opportunities.”

Agnes Kalibata, special envoy to the summit, vehemently rejected the criticisms. She told the Guardian that farmers, youth groups and academics have been represented in unprecedented numbers, and that those boycotting the event spoke for issues not people. “The summit is not about corporates [sic], it’s about working together to transform the food system and deliver on the SDGs, which are built on human rights … every country has engaged, people were invited and listened to,” she said. “If Michael Fakhri really disagreed, why did he stay?”

But a new analysis published on the eve of the summit suggests non-corporate participants have been sidelined in favour of big corporations represented by and allied with business associations, non-profits and philanthropy groups.

For instance, the summit is broken down into five areas known as action tracks. Those tasked with coming up with solutions to “boost nature positive production”(action track 3) include a single Indigenous group but 26 private sector corporations such as Nestlé, Tyson, Bayer and the International Fertilizer Association, according to the research commissioned by a global grassroots campaign opposing the corporate focus.

Yet about 80% of the planet’s remaining biodiversity is located on the territories on Indigenous peoples, who have practised sustainable agriculture for millennia and who along with small-scale farmers are at the forefront in developing agroecology – sustainable modern farming practices that work with nature and communities rather than exploiting them.

Nettie Wiebe from La Via Campesina, a global peasant movement representing small farmers, rural workers and Indigenous farmers, said her organisation withdrew and started organising against the summit because it was “deeply undemocratic, unaccountable and dismissive of those without wealth and power”.

“The big ag solutions being promoted undermine what the vast majority of the world’s food producers are trying to do to protect the environment and cool down the climate so that there is hope for the future.”

The analysis also found that influential business associations, thinktanks and philanthropies which represent, finance and promote corporate interests in sectors like agriculture, retail and finance, were given important leadership roles.

The World Economic Forum, a corporate-funded transnational organization of business, political, intellectual and civil society leaders (popularly known as Davos), has played a driving role in the summit while working to unlock $90tn in new investments and infrastructure. So has the World Business Council on Sustainable Development – an international CEO-led coalition promoting the idea that corporations and wealthy elites can solve climate change and environmental degradation caused by extractivism.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, a strong advocate of biotech-based solutions for food insecurity, is linked to several summit participants with corporate ties. It co-founded and helps fund the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (Agra), which promotes the spread of industrialized agriculture in the continent. The president of Agra, which has close ties to the agrochemical industry, is the summit’s special envoy, Kalibata.

“This corporate juggernaut must be stopped, or we risk deepening environmental injustice and human rights violations,” said Kirtana Chandrasekaran, co-author of the report and food sovereignty programme coordinator at Friends of the Earth International. “Hiding behind their associations and business platforms, powerful corporate actors are directing policymaking, financing, narratives and science in the summit … agribusiness, fossil fuel and tech giants are promoting market-led false solutions that are designed to increase profits and tighten their stranglehold on food systems.”

Kalibata denied that grassroots groups and poor countries have struggled to be heard and said the private sector was vital to solving the crises in the food system. “I want them to fix the problems they are causing – we need their help with solutions.”

Original source: THEGUARDIAN.   

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