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Bunyoro’s displaced in throes of despair



Esther Turyahebwa enters her hut in Kijayo IDP camp, Kikuube District. PHOTO BY FRANCIS JJINGO 
By Francis Jjingo

It is around 4pm when my cameraman and I arrive at Kijayo internally displaced peoples’ camp in Kikuube District, Bunyoro sub-region.
The children in the camp appear haggard and emaciated. They have not had a meal since morning and many are lying on empty and rumbling stomachs as they attempt to suppress the hunger pangs. Their families no longer have land to grow food after evictions started in 2012.
This is after Hoima Sugar Ltd, owned by Kenyan investors, purchased the contested nine square miles of land from Bunyoro Prince Herbert Kimera Rwakiswaza in 2011 to plant sugarcane in the new district of Kikuube, recently carved out of Hoima District.
The project has since left thousands of residents in the villages of Kijayo, Ikoba, Muziranduuru, Kyabataka, Kadiki, Kyakasoro and Kabango displaced and scores dead after the violent eviction on February 20, 2015.
Among those who died from their injuries were Augustine Karamira, Evylene Turyagumanawe, George Bangirana, and Francis Matovu. Matovu’s wife and three children were hacked to death using machetes. Others are Matia Mulumba, Aidah Kyarukunda, Wilson Singwire, Nakyanzi Akankunda wife to Erias Muganyizi, Hakim Sudayisi, Kiggundhu Adibayo son to Hamad Mwongerwa and Powerson Mugarura.

The chairperson of the project-affected persons, Mr Asaba Muhereza, says in total, 26 people died, largely as a result of wounds they suffered after the attack.
The affected families now live in squalor in mud and wattle structures and others have constructed shacks adjacent to the area where they evicted. The piece of land was offered by the Local Council chairperson, Mr Edward Kasigwa, for free.
“I do not understand the way this government works; they provide all the necessary social services to refugees but we Ugandans are not catered for yet we vote them. They cannot even provide burial grounds for them that I have to bury them on my land,” reveals Mr Kasigwa.
Ms Joy Nerimasi is at pains to reveal that the graves of her husband and children were destroyed by the sugar company.
“My husband, including seven children, died but now all their graves cannot be traced; the company has planted sugarcane on them,” says Ms Nerimasi.
She lives here with her granddaughter and cannot afford to feed, clothe and take her to school. They lack adequate shelter when torrential rains pound.
Ms Nerimasi and others were forcibly evicted as police, using teargas and batons, set their homes ablaze.
She wants to return to Kijayo where she was born.

Living in shacks
Ms Gorret Kushemereire is another victim who reveals that her husband and children were killed during the eviction.
“I came from Fort Portal many years ago and we bought land here. During the forceful eviction, my husband and some of my children died while others disappeared. I cannot trace them now,” says Ms Kushemereire.
“We now sleep in shacks and my only son who would be helping me out cannot be traced,” she adds.
Ms Kushemereire says government has not been of help. “Our children cannot go to school and pregnant mothers have challenges of accessing health facilities. I continue to wonder whether I am a Ugandan or a foreigner. Why would government care about refugees and give them land instead of us nationals?”
There is barely any government presence here. Authorities from the Ministry of Disaster Preparedness in the Office of the Prime Minister or Hoima District have not come to the people’s aid to provide them with clean water, food and tarpaulin. Ms Esther Turyahebwa also sleeps in a shack with her husband and seven children. “As a woman, I need privacy with my husband but this is impossible and as we talk now, my neighbours who went to dig to get food have not returned and all the children are very hungry, they have not had anything to eat,” says Ms Turyahebwa.
Many children have dropped out of school because they have to trek long distances to study. Hoima District Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) Nathan Lujumwa told Daily Monitor that they have not acted because the matter is in court.
“Our hands are tied,” he said.
Mr Lujumwa, however, said the investor has compensated some of the claimants.
“We shall continue to push the investor to ensure that they compensate these people,” he added.
It is not yet clear why the district could not provide humanitarian aid to end the plight of the displaced as they await the court verdict.
As a result of pent-up frustration, Ms Harriet Kokwera, 78, has petitioned the President, protesting her eviction.
In April, the Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Local Government compelled Mr Lujumwa, to follow up Ms Kokwera’s complaint. The CAO responded in his July 11 letter, saying attempts by the Hoima RDC to intervene have not yielded tangible results. “When I approached the investors of Hoima Sugar Ltd, they seemed not to know about Harriet Kokwera. After a couple of weeks, they responded to me in a letter, saying Kokwera was not a genuine claimant,” Mr Lujumwa’s letter reads in part.
Her eviction has sucked in State House, which isolates her concern from scores also affected by the eviction.
Daily Monitor has obtained a copy of an August 8 letter signed by Ms Flora Kiconco on behalf of the Principal Private Secretary to the President, Ms Molly Kamukama. The letter directs the Hoima RDC to investigate Ms Kokwera’s complaint and ascertain whether she owned a piece of land and whether she was compensated before her eviction.
In September 2017, the manager in-charge of land acquisition at Hoima Sugar Ltd, Mr Ramadus Raja Khasharan, appeared before the Commission of Inquiry into Land Matters chaired by Justice Catherine Bamugemereire.
Mr Khasharan dismissed allegations that the company evicted residents from the land.
He claimed that some of the residents settled on the land after the company had purchased it from Prince Kimera. “We have not evicted anyone,” he said.
However, the Commission established that some residents who agreed to receive compensation were paid as low as Shs30,000 for half an acre.
Though some families at Kijayo were not affected by the eviction, they continue to live in misery, earning a pittance for their toil at the sugar plantations.
In 2012, the High Court in Masindi issued a temporary injunction, halting the eviction of the locals until the main suit is disposed off. However, the investor flagrantly rejected the orders to evict these families. Though the hearing of the main suit ended in 2016, judgment is yet to be delivered. Judge Simon Byabakama, who presided over the case, has since then been appointed chairperson of the Electoral Commission.

Company accused
Buhaguzi County MP Daniel Muhairwe said the sugar company used corruption and impunity to force people off their land.
Sources revealed to Daily Monitor that some officials in Hoima Sugar Ltd have close ties with power brokers in State House.
Daily Monitor has also established that the Bamugemereire-led commission is seeking mediation between the investor and the claimants.
Hoima District Land Board has distanced themselves from the Kijayo land allocation to the investors. Mr Yostus Ireba, the chairperson of the district land board, says: “I have never reached that place because of the nature of our work. Our board has no transport to investigate such cases.”
He adds that the district land board is not responsible for the conflict because the land belonged to a private person who decided to sell it to investors.
However, Mr Ireba is concerned about the conditions in which these landless Ugandans are living in. “Those are our people; why should they be displaced?” he said.
Bunyoro Kingdom prime minister Andrew Kirungi Byakutaaga says there has been a scramble for land since the discovery of oil and gas. He says many of the kingdom subjects have been arbitrarily evicted.
“We have been asking government to mitigate the challenges that arise as a result of such evictions,” he says.
Bunyoro’s historical land problems have spilled over after the discovery of oil, throwing the locals into the throes of despair.

Original Source: Daily Monitor


Breaking: Witness Radio and Partners to Launch Human Rights Monitoring, Documentation, and Advocacy Project Tomorrow.



By Witness Radio Team.

Witness Radio, in collaboration with Dan Church Aid (DCA) and the National Coalition for Human Rights Defenders (NCHRD), is set to launch the Monitoring, Documentation, and Advocacy for Human Rights in Uganda (MDA-HRU) project tomorrow, 22nd February 2024, at Kabalega Resort Hotel in Hoima District.

The project, funded by the European Union, aims to promote the protection and respect for human rights, and enable access to remedy where violations occur especially in the Mid-Western and Karamoja sub-regions where private sector actors are increasingly involved in land-based investments (LBIs) through improved documentation, and evidence-based advocacy.

The three-year project, which commenced in October 2023, focuses its activities in the Mid-Western sub-region, covering Bulisa, Hoima, Masindi, Kiryandongo, Kikuube, Kagadi, Kibale, and Mubende districts, and Karamoja sub-region, covering Moroto, Napak, Nakapiripirit, Amudat, Nabilatuk, Abim, Kaabong, Kotido, and Karenga districts.

The project targets individuals and groups at high risk of human rights violations, including Human Rights Defenders (HRDs) and Land and Environmental Defenders (LEDs). It also engages government duty bearers such as policymakers and implementers in relevant ministries and local governments, recognizing their crucial role in securing land and environmental rights. Additionally, the project involves officials from institutional duty bearers including the Uganda Human Rights Commission (UHRC), Equal Opportunities Commission, and courts, among others.

Representatives from the international community, faith leaders, and business actors are also included in the project’s scope, particularly those involved in land-based investments (LBIs) impacting the environment.

The project was initially launched in Moroto for the Karamoja region on the 19th of this month with the leadership of the National Coalition for Human Rights Defenders (NCHRD).

According to the project implementors,  the action is organized into four activity packages aimed at; enhancing the capacity and skills of Human Rights Defenders (HRDs) and Land and Environmental Defenders (LEDs) in monitoring, documentation, reporting (MDR), and protection, establishing and reinforcing reporting and documentation mechanisms for advocacy and demand for corporate and government accountability;  providing response and support to HRDs and marginalized communities; and lastly facilitating collaboration and multi-stakeholder engagements that link local and national issues to national and international frameworks and spaces.

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Kiryandongo leadership agree to partner with Witness Radio Uganda to end rampant forced land evictions in the district.



By Witness Radio team.

Kiryandongo district leaders have embraced Witness Radio’s collaboration with the Kiryandongo district aimed at ending the rampant violent and illegal land evictions that have significantly harmed the livelihoods of the local communities in the area.

The warm welcome was made at the dialogue organized by Witness Radio Uganda, Uganda’s leading land and environmental rights watchdog at the Kiryandongo district headquarters, intended to reflect on the plight of land and environmental rights defenders, local and indigenous communities and the role of responsible land-based investments in protecting people and the planet.

Speaking at the high-level dialogue, that was participated in by technical officers, policy implementers, religious leaders, leaders of project affected persons (PAPs), politicians, media, Civil Society Organizations (CSOs), and development partners that support land and environment rights as well as the Land Based Investments (LBIs) Companies in the Kiryandongo district, the leaders led by the District Local Council 5 Chairperson, Ms. Edith Aliguma Adyeri appreciated the efforts taken by Witness Radio organization to organize the dialogue meeting aimed at bringing together stakeholders to safeguard community land and environmental rights in order address the escalating vice of land grabbing in the area.

During the dialogue, participants shared harrowing accounts of the impacts of land evictions and environmental degradation, including tragic deaths, families torn asunder, young girls forced into marriage, a surge in teenage pregnancies, limited access to education, and significant environmental damage which have profoundly affected the lives of the local population in Kiryandongo.

Participants attending the dialogue.

In recent years, Kiryandongo district has been embroiled in violent land evictions orchestrated to accommodate multinational large-scale agriculture plantations and wealthy individuals leaving the poor marginalized.

According to various reports, including findings from Witness Radio’s 2020 research Land Grabs at a Gun Point, the forceful land acquisitions in Kiryandongo have significantly impacted the livelihoods of local communities. It is estimated that nearly 40,000 individuals have been displaced from their land to make room for land-based investments in the Kiryandongo district. However, leaders in the district also revealed in the dialogue that women and children are affected most.

The Kiryandongo Deputy Resident District Commissioner, Mr. Jonathan Akweteireho, emphasized that all offices within the Kiryandongo district are actively involved in addressing the prevalent land conflicts. He also extended a welcome to Witness Radio, acknowledging their collaborative efforts in tackling and resolving land and environmental issues in the district.

“Ladies and gentlemen, we all know that the land rights together with environmental rights have been violated in our district, but because we don’t know what our rights are, because we have not directly done what we could to safeguard our rights and now this is the time that Witness Radio has brought us together to safeguard our rights. I want to welcome you in Kiryandongo and be rest assured that we shall give you all the necessary support to help us manage these rampant cases,” Ms. Adyeri said in her remarks during the dialogue meeting.

The team leader at Witness Radio Uganda, Mr. Geoffrey Wokulira Ssebaggala expressed gratitude to the participants for their active involvement in the dialogue and revealed that Witness Radio’s objective is to find a holistic solution to the escalating land disputes in Kiryandongo district serving as an example to other districts.

“We are here to assist Kiryandongo district in attaining peace and stability because it stands as a hotspot for land grabbers in Uganda. Mismanagement of land conflicts in Uganda could potentially lead to a significant internal conflict. Everywhere you turn, voices are lamenting the loss of their land and property. Kiryandongo, abundant with ranches, suffers from a lack of a structured framework, which amplifies these land conflicts. The influx of wealthy investors further complicates the situation,” Mr. Ssebaggala disclosed.

Within the dialogue, Mr. Ssebaggala emphasized the need for the Kiryandongo district council to pass a by-law aimed at curbing land evictions as an initial step in addressing the prevalent land injustices.

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Kiryandongo authorities decry rising cases of land disputes



The LC5 chairperson of Kiryandongo, Ms Edith Aliguma Adyeri, has saidnland dispute has impacted on people’s lives, dignity and children’s education in the district.

Just like other parts of Uganda, conflicts over land in Kiryandongo arise when individuals – who often are blood relatives – compete for use of the same parcel of land or when members of the community lay claim over ownership of unutilised government land.

Ms Adyeri further said land and environmental rights affect people both directly and indirectly, “and we are not hearing it from afar. It is already together with us [here], it has already affected us!”

She was speaking at a meeting which sought to discuss alternative remedies to salvage the appalling land and environmental rights situation in Kiryandongo at the district headquarters on Thursday.

The one-day dialogue was aimed at reflecting on the plight of land and environmental rights defenders, local and indigenous communities and the role of responsible land-based investments in protecting people and the planet.

It was attended by private companies, members of civil society and local government officials and organised by Witness Radio – an advocate for land and environmental rights in Uganda – in partnership with Oxfam, and Kiryandongo District leadership.

“Some people have even died, families are broken up, and brothers are not seeing eye-to-eye because of land rights. Access to justice is equally becoming very difficult because when you hire one lawyer that
lawyer will talk to learned friends, and they agree. They leave you in suspense,” Ms Adyeri said.

According to her, some children have not accessed education because of land and environmental rights.

Mr Jonathan Akweteireho, the deputy Resident District Commissioner of Kiryandongo, said enlightened people especially should be sensitive to the historical injustice of this area.

“We can never handle the Bonyoro land question without thinking about that history. It will be an injustice to the incomers, to the government and to the leaders who don’t understand,” he said.

“We had 38 ranches here which on the guidance of these international organisations, especially the World Bank, the government restructured them, allowing people to settle there, they were never given titles and up to today, there are big problems in all those ranches,” he added.

Mr Jeff Wokulira Ssebaggala, the executive director of Witness Radio, said that a well-functional land sector supports land users or holders and investors, reduces inefficiencies and provides mechanisms to resolve land disputes.

Mr David Kyategeka, the secretary to the Kiryandongo District Land Board, said the issue of land rights is very clear but the major challenge has been sensitising the locals to know what rights he or she expects to enjoy out of this very important resource.


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