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Colonization and Monoculture Plantations: Histories of Large-Scale ‘Grabbings’

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Forest colonization in Thailand.

The control of land was vital to colonisers. It meant wealth, territorial influence, access to ‘resources’ and cheap (and often enslaved) labour. The separation of indigenous inhabitants from their territories was a crucial component that persists until today. The effect of this history continues to influence the management of and conflicts over land.

Forest and agricultural policies the world over tend to regard land as just that: land. When it is perceived in this way, as simply a physical entity, ‘land’ can be easily mapped or divided up or rented out to others to use or regarded as a resource. This view of land emerged out of many decades of land enclosure and dispossession processes that were invariably carried out with force and accompanied by violence. The main purpose was to control land.

Most of the world’s land is today subject to some type of concession regime (be it private or public) in order to regulate its access, control and/or ownership. Concessions have been one of the main ways of organising land, forests and ‘resources’ since colonial times up until modern-day capitalism, granting select actors legal use or control over specific pieces of land while marginalising others. Together with the Bible, colonisers imposed a worldview in which ‘land’ was separate from the rest of ‘nature’, including its inhabitants.

As a result, most resistances against the history of imposed concessions, have also resisted the imposition of this euro-centric understanding of ‘land’, which is in line with the interests of the elites.

This view of ‘land’ has also distorted and undermined other concepts and understandings of life space. In the highlands of Sulawesi, Indonesia, for example, there is no word for ‘land’ in the peoples’ language. There is a word for ‘soil’ and several expressions for forests which express people’s relationship to it. There is no abstract category like ‘land.’ (1) And the concept of ‘land’ is not alone. During a meeting with an Indigenous Wixárika community in Jalisco, Mexico, in 2016, researcher and activist Silvia Ribeiro realised that people were using the Spanish language to refer to concepts such as ‘plant’ and ‘animal’. One community member explained to her: “We do not have a word for all animals that does not include us, or all plants without us, as if everything were one and we were not included.” Each animal, plant and living thing, just like every mountain, river, road—and even rock—has a name; because they are all subjects, part of the same continuum of beings that make up a territory’s community. (2)

Concessions by Dispossession: Controlling Land for Profits

The control of lands and ‘resources’ was vital to the colonisers; it was a strategy for accumulating more wealth, territorial influence, strategic access to ‘resources’ and cheap (and frequently enslaved) labour that allowed empires to flourish. They forcefully displaced, used and/or eradicated indigenous populations in order to have access to their lands. This separation of Indigenous Peoples from their territories and/or of their autonomy over their territories was a crucial component of colonisation, and one that persists in contemporary conservation strategies and forest carbon offset initiatives such as REDD+.

The ways in which colonisers imposed their control over land differed from one colony to another, or differed by the type of resource they were interested in, according to the geography of the colony. They also often changed throughout the colonial period. (3) In the wake of this colonial land grab, companies and wealthy settlers associated with the colonisers appropriated enormous tracts of land and established their business operations. (4)

In Southeast Asia, for example, large-scale plantation concessions were first established across the region by European colonisers for expanding and solidifying territorial control. This included the pacification of civil unrest in rural areas by imposing new estates of control, and the creation of new sources of capital accumulation, via rubber, coffee, tea, sugarcane and coconut plantations. The colonial governments of the region supported the development of rubber plantations by granting loans to private developers, such as Malaysia’s ‘Loan to Planters Scheme’ of 1904, and by granting lands at very cheap prices. In Peninsular Malaysia, areas considered ‘wastelands’ -although occupied and used by indigenous inhabitants– were provided to rubber investors. In French Indochina, where the rubber industry emerged in the 1920s, concessions were practically handed out to investors, which led to expansive land acquisitions that clashed with Indigenous Peoples (5).

The Agrarian Land Law that the Dutch colonial government promulgated in 1870 for what is now known as Indonesia, allowed foreign businesses and elites to occupy massive tracts of land. This Law contains the provision that “all land not held under proven ownership, shall be deemed the domain of the State”. Consequently, the Dutch colonisers claimed ownership of most of the land in their colony while weakening Indigenous Peoples’ control of their ancestral lands. This led to a surge of not only Dutch but also British, North American and Franco-Belgian investments, among others. Some companies had rubber holdings in the area totalling up to 100,000 hectares. This violently confined indigenous inhabitants into smaller and smaller areas of land. The effect of this history can still be seen today, as it continues to influence the character of land tenure in most parts of Indonesia: the State’s disproportionate control over land is still a blight on Indonesia’s politics and economy. (6)

British colonisers established a similar framework in Malaysia, focusing mainly on plantation-based economies that served long-term colonial interests. As researcher Amrita Malhi argues, “‘a regime of property’ replaced ‘customary modes of regulation’ and established the colonial State as the sole and centralised arbiter of land and its distribution”. (7)

However, British colonisers not only sought to consolidate their power through land control, but also to relocate the dispossessed population into more confined spaces. These new concessions of occupation -whether in terms of forest reserves established to study tree species and other productive ‘resources’, monoculture plantation estates or newly created villages for the displaced– divided Malaysia’s ‘nature’ and ‘social’ environments, allowing to generate more profits from the land. (8) In 1902, a Scottish capitalist, William Sime, and an English banker, Henry Darby, founded a trading firm in Malacca, with the participation of local Chinese businesspeople: Sime-Darby, the company which introduced the palm oil tree to Peninsular Malaysia in 1910 (9). Today, this corporation controls more than 620,000 hectares of oil palm plantations in Malaysia and Indonesia.

Another example is how the plantation system was utilised by British colonisation in the Americas as an instrument of land control and political power. The land on which plantations were established in North America and the Caribbean territories was stolen from Indigenous Peoples through cancelled, disregarded and fraudulent treaties, or outright violence. The monoculture plantation system of cash crops represented the early capitalist endeavours of the colonisers, who forcibly brought and sold millions of Africans as slaves to work on these plantations.

As these examples show, category of land concessions must be understood together with the rooted histories of colonisation, dispossession, conflicts and power.

These historical events led to dramatic transformations of forests and their inhabitants – transformations that are and will continue to have long-lasting devastating effects. The colonial framing that was imposed on how to perceive, understand and utilise ‘land’ continues to dominate Western knowledge systems. In a way, concessions, particularly those related to industrial plantations, today still represent spaces where land, livelihoods, law, and government are monopolised by, colonised by, and incorporated into the dominant colonial plantation system (10)

Concessions in Africa: violence, co-optation and racism

In Africa, European colonisers also granted vast land concessions to private companies. In fact, all major colonial powers on the continent used that strategy in order to expand their territorial control. By the mid-1870s, European colonisers had made claims to most parts of Africa. The most notorious case was arguably Belgian King Leopold II’s rule of the ‘Congo Free State’, which was his private colony for more than a decade (1895-1908).

Within Africa, concessions existed in French, British, Belgian, German, and Portuguese colonies (including what is known today as Angola, Botswana, Central African Republic, Cameroon, Chad, DRC, Gabon, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Nigeria, Republic of Congo, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe). While the form of concessions varied widely, a common element was the primary purpose of concession owners to extract ‘resources’ in the cheapest way possible. They were assigned powers that are typically associated with governments–such as a monopoly over violence and the ability to tax. Some colonies were completely run as concessions. For example, all of Rhodesia (present-day Zimbabwe) was granted as a concession to the British South Africa Company. Additionally, the concessions were often granted in ‘resource’ rich areas. (11)

Extreme labour exploitation, together with coercion and violence, was a primary condition for these companies to accomplish exorbitant profits with the concessions.

In sub-Saharan Africa, concessions to private companies were characterised by co-opting local institutions, replacing uncooperative leaders with compliant ones, and creating ruling lineages. With these tactics, concessions instituted a series of local strongmen who often continue to dominate village politics today. This is especially the case where concessions for monoculture plantations were established. Non-compliant leaders or rebellious chiefs were usually held captive, replaced, shamelessly degraded or murdered. Compliance with the rule of co-opted leaders was then achieved through extreme violence (12). As the European presence was mostly confined to the respective capitals and coastal cities, their ruling via co-opted chiefs and institutions characterised most of the continent.

While destroying local institutions, leadership and the social fabric, Europeans employed a variety of strategies to oppress the many resistance struggles and rebellions. These included forced-labour systems, extortion-level taxation on peasants, subjugation, and mass massacres. All of these conveyed deep consequences on today’s politics and organisations.

In Sierra Leone, for example, paramount chiefs, subordinate chiefs, and headmen ruled the country’s interior throughout the colonial era and were accountable solely to the colonial administration in the capital Freetown. The chiefs’ power endured and even strengthened after independence. Paramount chiefs became part of the state administration, which often brought them into conflict with their role as Chiefs in the traditional governing systems. Throughout the post-independence period, such chiefs controlled land, settled disputes, taxed production, provided some public goods, and allocated votes to their preferred candidates in national elections.  (13)

Many newly independent nations in Africa, largely still embedded within the colonial frameworks, decided to nationalise their land, thus appropriating the rights to its use so that they could allocate vast tracts to be used for major agribusiness projects by public or private companies, and even individuals. Millions of hectares were thus legally confiscated (again) from local populations.

In this regard, social and environmental activist and human rights defender Nasako Besingi, explained in a 2018 interview with WRM that “it is wrong for any government to claim ownership over land, discarding communities’ land rights. As a matter of fact, the problem with Africa’s land ordinances is that they were drawn up with the help of colonial masters, who, without the consent of the population, handed over the territory to the presidents, who were not elected by the population but most often handpicked by the colonisers to serve their long-term interests.” (14)

The phrase ‘all land belongs to the State’, he continued, does not imply that land is owned by the government, but rather by the entire population living within the territory of a State. A government is best described as an agency to which the will of the State is formulated, expressed, and carried out, and through which common policies are determined and regulated in terms of political, economical and social development. Fulfilling those tasks does not translate into governmental ownership rights on land and natural resources of the State.

“Since I have been involved in community land rights’ movements and organisations in Cameroon and other countries”, said Besingi, “no single community I met accepted the idea that land is owned by the government. They say affirmatively that the land belongs to their communities and is an ancestral heritage. None of the communities I have worked with agrees with the presence of multinational corporations on their land, claiming that the companies were established through the use of coercive force.”

Categorising land and ‘resources’ as concessions is what has allowed the capitalist system to expand: Concessions for fossil fuel extraction, monoculture plantations, mining operations, large-scale corporate infrastructure, etc. Even the concessions under the ‘public realm’, such as those set aside for ‘conservation’, are entering the same capitalist logic of accumulation and taking control away from local populations.

The establishment of concessions, in fact, has been an attempt to erase the powerful resistance and survival of those who lived on those lands and forests before their imposition. When a concession is granted to a company or NGO, the histories, memories and the web of life that existed or continues to exist on that ‘land’ is made invisible. Concessions make people believe that the legitimate owners or users are not those who originally occupied, protected and worked on those territories. But as a Gitksan Elder remarked in a meeting with Canadian government officials over their claim to ownership of Gitksan territory: “If this is your land, where are your stories?” (15)

As Besingi remarked, a key aspect of communities’ resistance struggles in Africa is “to conquer the fear and ignorance deliberately instilled in the population by colonial and post-colonial administrations… Considering that long-lasting movements are those which are built from the base up and not from the outside, strong resistance can only occur when bonded with community concerns.”

Conflicts over land and resistance to the imposition of concessions today are thus embedded in much deeper historical struggles around opposite understandings of what ‘land’ and ‘nature’ mean. Communities’ reclaiming their autonomy and control over their land and lives are part of this re-occupation.

WRM International Secretariat

 

(1) Edge Effects, What is Land? A conversation with Tania Murray Li, Rafael Marquese, & Monica White, 2019.
(2) WRM Bulletin, December 2016, From Biodiversity Offsets to Ecosystem Engineering: New Threats to Communities and Territories.
(3) Nancy Lee Peluso & Christian Lund (2011) New frontiers of land control: Introduction, Journal of Peasant Studies, 38:4, 667-681.
(4) Roudart, Laurence and Marcel Mazoyer (2015) “Large-Scale Land Acquisitions: A Historical Perspective” in Large-Scale Land Acquisitions: Focus on South-East Asia, International Development Policy,
(5) Miles Kenney-Lazar and Noboru Ishikawa, Mega-Plantations in Southeast Asia: Landscapes of Displacement, 2019.
(6) Inside Indonesia, A 150-year old obstacle to land rights, 2020.
(7) Amrita Malhi (2011): Making spaces, making subjects: land, enclosure and Islam in colonial Malaya, Journal of Peasant Studies, 38:4, 727-746.
(8) David Baillargeon, Spaces of occupation: Colonial enclosure and confinement in British Malaya, 2021.
(9) Robert Fitzgerald, The Rise of the Global Company. Multinationals and the Making of the Modern World, 2016, Cambridge University Press
(10) Edge Effects, What is Land? A conversation with Tania Murray Li, Rafael Marquese, & Monica White, 2019.
(11) Sara Lowes and Eduardo Montero, Concessions, Violence, and Indirect Rule: Evidence from the Congo Free State, 2020.
(12) Idem (11)
(13) VoxDev, Historical legacies and African development, 2019.
(14) WRM Bulletin, December 2018, A Reflection from Africa: Conquer the Fear for Building Stronger Movements.
(15) J. Edward Chamberlin, If This Is Your Land, Where Are Your Stories?, Penguin Random House Canada.

Original Source:   World Rainforest Movement

Defending Land And Environmental Rights

Leaders adamant on ending charcoal trade

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The authorities of Paibona Sub-county in Gulu District have blamed political leaders for promoting massive tree cutting for commercial charcoal production.

 Mr Joseph Otim, the National Forestry Authority (NFA) sector manager, in an interview on Friday, said local leaders at sub-county and district levels connive with charcoal dealers in the guise of raising revenue.

“One of the biggest challenges in forest governance in this country is that the people who should be taking action are relaxed. The ones in office, the foresters, and the leaders at all levels view charcoal trade as a lucrative business. So everyone looks at what goes into their pockets, at the expense of conservations,” Mr Otim said.

He said some of the forest officials have been targeted and threatened by such leaders, especially whenever they impound forest products.

 “Another challenge is the people who are highly placed and connected in the security organs who issue threats,” Mr Otim added.

During a field assessment by the district authorities to map deforestation in the area last week, heaps of cut trees being burnt for charcoal were found but no dealers found on site.

 But in Akor and Ayweri villages that have chunks of deforested land, there are 193 registered commercial charcoal dealers. Some of these dealers were found on site and have been asked to abandon the trade. For fear of prosecution, some of the dealers withheld their identities. They, however, told Daily Monitor that they cannot abandon charcoal business because it is their only source of livelihood.

Mr Jackson Ayoli, the chairperson of Paibona Sub-county, however, said leaders cannot fight commercial charcoal burning because it is a major source of revenue.

He noted that the sub-county collected Shs3 million in the Financial year 2021/2021 from taxing charcoal and other forest products. From the September to November 2022 quarter, Mr Ayoli said the sub-county collected Shs3.1 million from forest-related products.

“Forest products are one of the major sources of local revenue in this sub county and without it, paying the allowances of the sub-county councillors and other staff would be a huge challenge,” Mr Ayoli said.

 The Sub-county Chief, Mr David Kercan, said Paibona projected to collect Shs 16 million in local revenue in the last Financial Year (2021/2022). Local revenue sources include local service tax, trading licenses, and operations from Non-Governmental Organisations. “However, we realised only 67 percent of local revenue projections, translating to Shs 10,720,000 out of Shs16 million,” he said.

Ms Betty Aol Ocan, the Gulu City Woman Member of Parliament, said local governments should be innovative and find other sources of revenues.

The Global Forest Watch says  Gulu District lost 988 hectares to illegal logging and charcoal burning in 2021—an equivalent to 440,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions.

It is also estimated that between 2001 and 2021, Gulu lost 38,700 hectares of tree cover.

Source: Daily Monitor

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Environment And Renewable Energy

EACOP Partners With Surveyors Body as Pipeline Land Acquisition Nears Completion.

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The East African Crude Oil pipeline Company (EACOP) Ltd on Wednesday entered a partnership with the Institute of Surveyors of Uganda (ISU) which will see them work together to among others bolster local capacities ahead of the construction of the regional oil pipeline.

Through this arrangement, USU undertook to conduct training of EACOP staff and offering internship programs for university students from universities of Makerere, Ndejje and Kyambogo.
The initiative will provide a three-months training and internship placement for selected participating university students twice a year during the breaks between semesters.

The Institute of surveyors of Uganda (ISU) has over 2200 members that brings together land surveying, quantity, surveying, valuation surveying, mining, and hydrological surveying professionals whose mandate is to promote professional surveying practices that can enhance the quality of services under the various surveying disciplines in Uganda.

Speaking during the MOU signing ceremony held in Kampala today, EACOP Managing Director Martin Tiffen said while they are currently employing several surveyors registered with ISU, they needed a platform for a stronger collaboration.

The partnership is hoped local content and capacity building in the oil sector in Uganda

“We have been consumers of services of different kinds of surveyors…but this agreement is a way for some of our staff to improve on their professional qualifications” he said“It also gives us a mechanism to receive students who need (internship) positioning into our organization.”

On his part, Dr. Nathan Kabwami, the President Institute of Surveyors echoed the significance of commitment of EACOP to the partnership with the Institute of Surveyors of Uganda to facilitate the delivery of quality training to future surveyors that will work on this incredible project.

“I thank EACOP for this commendable skilling initiative and urge all University students who meet the criteria for this program and are interested in being part of the transformation of Uganda’s oil and gas industry to embrace it.” He said.
Land Acquisition.

Meanwhile, Mr Tiffen revealed that EACOP is progressing well with the process of acquiring land for the pipeline.
Since February last year when the oil Final Investment Decision was signed, Tiffen says over three quarters of project affected persons (PAPs) have been paid off.

There is a total of 3648 PAPs spread across 170 villages where the oil pipeline will pass through inside Uganda.
The EACOP MD also revealed that so far, construction of new houses for people for displaced families is nearly complete and that all 180 houses will be handed over to the owners early this year.

Source: ugnews24.info

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Environment And Renewable Energy

Ugandan communities battle to benefit from mining on their land

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Communities in Karamoja face an uphill task organising to beat international capital and authoritarian politics.

Rupa, Uganda – A handful of artisanal miners stand shirtless in an open pit, breaking boulders that glint white in the sun. Nearby, soldiers stand sullenly at the gate of the Sunbelt Marble Mine and Factory, owned by Chinese businessmen who have sunk $13m into the project.

These are the two faces of the mining rush in the Karamoja region of northeast Uganda: small-scale freelance miners, toiling with basic equipment for scant reward, and a mix of wealthy foreign and local investors protected by the state.

Here in Rupa, a sub-county of Moroto district, the locals have seen companies come and go, buying up land and dividing communities. So in 2017, when they got wind that a Chinese company was coming, they were determined to do things differently: this time, they were going to organise.

It was a pioneering attempt to ensure that local people benefitted from mining, building on customary ownership and exploiting little-used provisions of Ugandan land law.

But the story of how it worked – and how it did not – shows just how hard it is for communities to organise in the face of international capital and authoritarian politics.

Mining rush

Many of the 1.2 million people in Karamoja are cattle-keepers, driving their herds across grasslands managed by clan and custom. The rains are fickle, so negotiating access to pasture involves an element of give-and-take.

But the mining companies that are exploring the region want something solid and immovable: the minerals that lie beneath the soil, including marble, limestone, copper and gold.

In the early 2000s, the army forcefully disarmed the gun-wielding cattle-raiders who once roamed the plains, and speculators rushed in during the ensuing peace.

“The first businesspeople who came were taking over the land,” says Simon Nangiro, chairman of the Karamoja Miners Association, which represents small-scale miners in the region. “Companies come with military accompaniments … [They’re] negotiating behind the scenes with people who are vulnerable.”

According to the mining cadastre, the government has granted full mining leases in Karamoja to four companies – Sunbelt, Tororo Cement, DAO Marble and Mechanized Agro – across 79 square km (31 square miles) of land.

It has also issued licences for exploration to dozens of other local and foreign companies on roughly 4,000 square km (1,544 square miles) and is considering applications on nearly 5,000 square km (1,931 square miles) more.

Documents like leases, licences and land titles are how the modern state speaks – but it is a language foreign to Karamoja, where ownership is rarely written down and only a quarter of people can read.

“Here in Karamoja we have a customary land tenure system,” explains John Bosco Logwee, an elder in Rupa and one of the leaders of organising efforts there. “As a result, people [from outside] looked at the land and thought it does not belong to anybody.”

In Uganda as a whole, an estimated 80 percent of the land is held customarily although exact figures are hard to come by. The problem of proving who owns what worries everyone from activists, who warn of land grabs, to the World Bank, which wants to spur rural property markets.

Under the 1998 Land Act, communities can create “communal land associations” (CLAs) to defend their collective land rights. More than 600 have been incorporated nationwide, often with World Bank support.

Some of the first to be established were in Karamoja, where 52 were set up in 2012-2013 by a non-governmental organisation, the Uganda Land Alliance. According to Edmond Owor, its former executive director, the CLAs had some early successes in fending off fraudulent investors. But in 2016, the Alliance itself collapsed due to internal governance problems, leaving the fledgling CLAs on their own.

“The creation of a CLA is a very easy process, and that’s where the easy work ends,” says Simon Longoli, executive director of the Karamoja Development Forum (KDF), a civil society group based in Moroto. “We find it very difficult to trust a piece of paper to ensure the rights of the community over a piece of land.”

What people really needed, he thought, was organising and capacity building to assert the rights they had on paper. In short, they needed power.

A makeshift nursery school for children at a small-scale mining site in Rupa sub-county, Moroto district, Uganda, on 24 November 2021
A makeshift nursery school for children at a small-scale mining site in Rupa sub-county, Moroto district, Uganda, on 24 November 2021.

Community organising

Communities in Rupa had been at the forefront of Karamoja’s mining rush. A 2014 report by Human Rights Watch described how two foreign-owned companies had come to the area and started exploration without the consent of the locals.

“International capital has come into Karamoja, it has allied itself with powerful political and military elites at the centre, facilitated by influence peddlers,” says David Pulkol, a Rupa indigene who formerly served as a member of parliament, government minister and head of Uganda’s external intelligence agency. “Those three are in the same bed, dispossessing the ordinary people of their livelihoods.”

So in 2017, the three clans of Rupa sub-county joined their CLAs together to form the Rupa Community Development Trust (RUCODET), taking out the formal title to the land on behalf of 35,000 people.

Longoli and his KDF colleagues arranged training for the trust’s leaders in negotiation and other skills. No other community in Karamoja had organised on such a scale to take on mining companies.

The arrival of the Sunbelt mine would give RUCODET its first major test. Under Ugandan law, all minerals belong to the government. But landowners have “surface rights” to the land itself, which have often been trampled by mining companies.

Now, thanks to RUCODET, the Chinese investors would have to negotiate with the community. “It was tough,” says Logwee, the elder. “We had no experience before of that kind of thing.”

Sunbelt had strong backing from Operation Wealth Creation, a sprawling Ugandan military programme that started out giving seeds to farmers and was now helping build fruit factories, disburse credit and develop the minerals sector.

The programme is led by Salim Saleh, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni’s ubiquitous brother, whom many consider the second-most powerful man in the country. He is a feared general with extensive business interests, who has been accused by UN experts of grabbing resources during the 1998-2003 Congo war – an allegation he has always denied.

As part of the negotiations, a team from RUCODET travelled 400km to Kapeeka, where a Chinese-owned industrial park has been constructed close to Saleh’s personal residence. Longoli of KDF says that some leaders in RUCODET and in local government were taking calls from Saleh himself to get an agreement signed.

Major Kiconco Tabaro, a spokesman for Operation Wealth Creation, claims that it was not directly involved in the negotiations but has “a strategic working relationship with all ministries, departments and agencies of government” to “help bring about socioeconomic transformation”.

It was hard to say no to a man like Saleh, and the leaders of RUCODET did not. In 2018, they signed away surface rights to 3.3 square km of land to Sunbelt for 21 years, receiving compensation of 1.8 billion shillings ($500,000), they say.

By one yardstick, that was a lot of money. Small-scale miners in Rupa say they get just 100,000 shillings ($28) from traders for filling a 7-tonne truck with stone, a task which takes four people at least a week.

But Sunbelt expects gross revenues of $30m a year, according to the 2021 manifesto of the ruling National Resistance Movement – making the payout to RUCODET equivalent to one week’s turnover. A spokesman for Sunbelt declined an interview request for this story.

The leaders of RUCODET used 100 million shillings ($28,000) to set up 94 educational scholarships for schoolchildren and university students. Some of the rest was handed out as cash to community members.

But there was protest from those who felt left out and mutterings that money was misused or even stolen – allegations which Logwee dismisses as “speculation”. Three people familiar with the matter told Al Jazeera that the lawyer who advised RUCODET charged 400 million shillings ($110,000) for his services, which included the cost of surveying and titling the land.

Then tragedy struck. The leader of RUCODET was a man called Marjory Dan Apollo Loyomo, a brother of the former spy chief Pulkol. “He was very strong, he was very charismatic, he was very committed,” recalls Longoli. He was also the elected chairman of Rupa sub-county, which meant he had to represent his people in disputes.

In 2019, after a decade of peace, the armed cattle-raiders started to make a comeback. Loyomo had disagreed with aspects of the army’s handling of the issue.

On December 17 that year, according to the UN Human Rights office, the army called him to a military detach in Rupa. It had impounded cattle after a raid; local people were angry. Loyomo, as sub-county chairman, tried to deliberate with the officers. A soldier shot him dead.

The regional army commander was transferred soon afterwards. His successor, Brigadier General Joseph Balikudembe, says that he cannot comment on the incident due to ongoing proceedings against the soldiers involved.

Nobody that Al Jazeera spoke to wanted to speculate on the reasons for Loyomo’s killing, but everyone agreed that it was a devastating setback.

“The loss of a torchbearer, the founder chairman, has been a very big loss for RUCODET,” says Logwee, who has succeeded him to the role.

“He was fighting really for his people,” argues Joyce Nayor, an activist and Rupa resident who is critical of the trust’s current leadership. “Since he died, RUCODET has also died a natural death.”

Hardly any local people got jobs in the Sunbelt mine, Al Jazeera heard on two visits to the area with local activists. Some small-scale miners have been allowed to remain in a corner of the land that was allocated to the company, where they break boulders for sale.

They complain that Sunbelt tried to push them into an ever-smaller area and take away the traders who would buy their stone – and that RUCODET has done little to help.

“RUCODET is there in name only,” says Isaiah Aleu, a miner.

John Bosco Logwee (second right) and other leaders of RUCODET outside their offices in Rupa sub-county, Moroto district, Uganda, on 29 November 2021
John Bosco Logwee (second right) and other leaders of RUCODET outside their offices in Rupa sub-county, Moroto district, Uganda, on 29 November 2021 

Choppy waters

Land trusts and CLAs are promising tools for communities to defend their rights, say land campaigners. But there is no consensus about how they should navigate turbulent political waters.

Pulkol is now helping build RUCODET’s capacity through the Africa Leadership Institute, a non-governmental organisation he leads. He thinks the best hope for Karamoja is to work with investors and government for shared benefits, rather than to block them altogether.

Longoli, the activist, is not so sure. Often when it comes to minerals, “the best deal is just no deal”, he says. “RUCODET, because of pressure from above or pressure from within the institution, was in a hurry to close deals.”

Yet he remains hopeful that organisations like RUCODET can be the basis for something better. “These are not perfect but they give a bridge somewhere,” he says.

The next test is coming soon.

In Loyoro sub-county of Kaabong district, 100km (62 miles) to the north, a new company called Moroto Ateker Cement is exploring for limestone. Pulkol, representing the local government of Moroto, sits on its board.

The state-owned Uganda Development Corporation has a 45 percent stake in the project. The seven clans of Loyoro have started the process of forming a trust, after the RUCODET model.

Meanwhile, in the bush, surrounded by soldiers and tsetse flies, exploratory drilling machines bore down into their land.

Source: Al Jazeera

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