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Accountable Development To Communities

Corporates count profits from palm oil plantations grown on a grabbed land, as former landowners reduced to a poverty-stricken community…

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Ssalongo Jjuko and his family in front of their wooden house in Kalangala district.

By witnessradio.org Team

Kalangala – Uganda – Sometime in 2011, the crows of cocks and the sweet sound of the Great Blue Turaco that once reminded the residents of Kyabwima village, Mugoye Sub County in Kalangala district of their calling-agriculture, were unusually adulterated.  They initially ignored it, but on stepping their feet out of the households, it dawned on them that it was not something they would wish away like the frightening Bogeyman story that was passed down to hundreds of generations by their ancestors to assist them in making a good choice.

Little did they know, that violent eviction was the common global trait the UN’s International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) backed oil-palm projects announced their arrival.  “From the Soil to the Pan” is the catchy philosophy for Bidco-Uganda, a beneficiary of the cut-throat financing by the IFAD Oil Palm Plantations.

Whereas the financiers, IFAD, are fronting food security as the “ideal” they intend to achieve, the “targeted beneficiaries” are wallowing in poverty.  The evictees who lost acres of land to a multi-national in an inhumane eviction, hold a different view. To them, the project is a Trojan horse for the primitive accumulation of capital – that has left them landless, hungry, and homeless. The eviction is still fresh in their minds.

“We woke up in the morning seeing graders putting down every structure, all our plantations and we were told to vacate the place. We had nowhere to go and neither were we compensated.” Ssalongo Jjuuko recounts.

This would be the ideal time for Ssalongo and Nalongo Jjuuko to attend to their farm which they had cultivated for more than 10 years.  On the flip side, the former smallholder farmer and the rest of the family are now spectators in the second season of their traditional agricultural calendar. The past month, “Kasumbula” (July) which means to clear the land, is a month in Buganda’s agricultural calendar, has gone to waste.

They cannot come to terms with the fact that they being landless is the reason why they didn’t clear any gardens in preparation for new planting. The family of 8 (eight) that owned 20 acres of farmland and thrived on farming are now caretakers of a 100×100 Ft (A hundred by a hundred feet) offered to them by a good Samaritan in Kasenyi village, a fishing community, as shelter.

The glorious days are now gone but the good memories still linger. The 20 acres piece of land was a gold mine. It comes with certainty but above all food security. Before the eviction. The family grew a variety of food crops. The harvests blessed them with maize, cassava, beans, bananas, and avocados for consumption, and even the luxury to sell.

It should be remembered that following an agreement signed between the Government of Uganda and BIDCO, to increase palm oil production in the country leading to the birth of Oil Palm Uganda Limited (OPUL) was launched in 2002.

Bidco Uganda is a joint venture formed between Wilmar International, Josovina Commodities, and Bidco Oil Refineries, a Kenya-based company. The project is financed by both the government of Uganda and the IFAD. According to the available information, the project also received $12 million in financing from the Government of Uganda and $20 million from IFAD

In 2011, OPUL acquired land leases from a Ugandan businessman, Amos Ssempa, intending to expand its plantations. About 7,500 hectares (18,500 acres) of oil palm have been planted since 2002. OPUL describes the project as part of an initiative to increase vegetable oil production in the country.

According to the residents, their Land Lord Mr. Amos Sempa leased land without their consent. They claim he had a hand in their eviction which allegations he denies. “Yes they were evicted but they have to deal with the company (Bidco- Africa) not me,” he said in an interview with Witness Radio – Uganda research team.

In 2015, the company begrudgingly offered peanuts as compensation. “Just imagine for 20 acres I owned, the company was paying me Uganda Shillings three (3) millions (USD 883), my fellow villagers and I refused to take the little money,” he narrates.

However, when they piled more pressure on it, the multinational adopted the carrot and stick approach. It promised to compensate but set unfair conditions.  They had to vacate their land before the compensation and had to either accept peanuts offered or forget everything about it.  Some of them stormed their offices to convey their dissatisfaction.

A meeting was called, and in the meeting, the company undertook to re-compensate them in three months but all in vain. “They told us to only wait for three months that the amounts would be raised and deposited back on our accounts but up to now I have never seen any,” he painfully recounts.

Since 2011 when they were evicted, his family has never been compensated and its state is worrying. On the other end, and in all its efforts to justify this as a magic bullet to food sovereignty, the renegade to food sovereignty, IFAD, uses glowing language to justify its blind-financing of agri-business.

“We are working to increase the incomes of rural households living in poverty, along with improving their food security and reducing their vulnerability.” Reads part of its statement on an oil-palm project.

On the contrary, the family is starving, and cannot afford what to eat, children do not attend school, medication is also a problem, and provision of all other necessities is a distant dream.

“We eat once in a day, and it is hard to get it, we have no work to do,” Nalongo Jjuuko opens up on their ordeal.

Salongo and Nalongo JJuko who earned more than 3 Million Uganda Shillings (834 US Dollars) from their produce in one season now resorted to collecting palm leaves, crumbs of the IFAD project, which they dry and turn into brooms.

These palm leaves whose broom costs one thousand Uganda shillings do not come on a silver platter. There is a price to pay for them. They have to be on guard against possible arrests.  “You have to time when the workers in the plantations are not there because when they find you, they arrest you and then make money out of you. So you can spend a whole day on a lookout to see if no one is there. On a good day you can earn yourself 2000 to 5000 shillings, about 0.55 to 1.37 dollars,” a struggling Nalongo Jjuuko revealed.

The story of Ssalongo Jjuuko is not different from that of over 100 similar families, similar in Kyabwima village Kalangala district that were evicted to pave way for the palm growing project but failed to move on with the new life.

The families that could feed their families, educate their children and provide all other necessary needs now cannot sustain themselves.

Residents add that they have not received any benefit, which is worth celebrating, from the project. Instead, they are living miserable lives and grappling with malnutrition diseases due to scarcity of food.

“Most of us have failed to secure alternative land for settlement and food production, those that got where to stay, have nowhere to practice farming,” Nalongo Nakirya Dorothy a mother of 7 (seven) paints a picture of the far-reaching effects of the project.

The former RDC of Kalangala district, Mr. Daniel Kikoola, says that the available information proves that residents in his area have not benefited from the project

“People who had enough food and even could sell off some have been reduced to beggars in their own country yet the oil palm giants are making profits, this is wrong and the government must stop it,” Mr. Kikoola explains with a crestfallen tone.

The scarcity of food has also spiked food-related theft on the island. The Local Council One, Vice-Chairman Kasenyi village, Mrs. Namutebi Vicky, says that food theft in her area has increased. “About 8-10 cases in a month are reported to us,” she shares.

When the Bidco community liaison officer, Mr. Kizito Ssentongo, was contacted he insisted that they paid for everyone’s land. “Their land was valued and paid, those who refused the money should wait.”

That waiting has continued to bite. No one knows, including IFAD, when the poor farmers like Salongo Jjuko will be adequately compensated, and yet everyone, including IFAD, is certain that nothing will stop the “godfather of modern agri-business” (IFAD) from sinking more money because the profitability of these loans is more appealing.

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Accountable Development To Communities

Thousands of smallholder farmers in Uganda have forcefully lost their land in exchange for carbon offset projects.

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By Witness Radio Team.

For over a decade now, a forest regulator, National Forests Authority (NFA) has donated tracts of land for indigenous and local communities to commercial tree growers/investors with funding from International Financial Institutions (IFIs) to offset carbon emissions in the global north.

With a lot of money for carbon offsets, individuals in NFA officials sacrificed the lives of poor communities. The land for the community is lost without following due process by NFA and its agents and investors. In all areas visited by Witness Radio – Uganda, non of the carbon offset projects have expressed views from victim communities, were never consulted, never sensitized, compensated, or offered alternative resettlement before forced eviction.

Since the early 2000s, NFA land giveaways are characterized by violence that has left hundreds of farmers tortured, arbitrarily arrested, and illegally imprisoned as others have lost lives. Evictions have been carried out by government soldiers, police, and security guards from private firms in the name of accommodating investors.

As a result of NFA land giveaways, hundreds of children have dropped out of schools and gotten into early marriage, evictees have to hire out land to bury their loved ones, some have been forced into refugee camps, and others have been reduced to laborers from landlords.

The latest victim of the NFA land giveaway is the 158 hectares of farmland belonging to over 1000 smallholder farmers which were given out to local investors for planting trees in the Llera ‘forest reserve’.

According to Odongo Martin, the Llera community chairperson said NFA violent forced evictions started in 2008 despite being resisted by the local communities.

“Our forefathers lawfully occupied and cultivated this land since 1930 but no one was informed about the existence of a forest reserve in the area until around 2008 when some unscrupulous people started saying that this is a forest reserve. Where was the government for all those 89 years?” Mr. Odongo Martin asked.

Before the Llera eviction, NFA since 2015 has violently evicted over 700 families off their 1174 hectares of land which was their source of food, shelter, and survival. The grabbed land by NFA is located in Yandwe village, Butuntumula Sub-County in Luweero district.

NFA said the evictees were encroaching the Mbale forest reserve. Some evictees told Witness Radio that their relatives lived on the land since 1915. The evictees remain dumped in destituteness, and their former land is turned into a eucalyptus forest belonging to some officials in NFA.

Around 2014, over 10,000 villagers were forcefully evicted by the NFA off their 500 hectares of land in 13 villages occupying the Bukaleba forest reserve in the Mayuge district. The NFA leased the land to the Norwegian Forest group, Green Resources. The evictees had occupied the land for over 30 years.

In the central region of Uganda, Namwasa and Luwunga ‘forest reserves’ in Mubende and Kiboga districts, close to 20,000 smallholder farmers got evicted by NFA. They allocated their land to New Forests Company, a UK-based company planting pine and eucalyptus trees. The evicted communities struggle to make ends meet up-to-date.

Section 5 of the NFA Act states that the Minister may, on the advice of the Board, after consultation with the local council and the local community in whose area the proposed forest reserve is to be located; and with the approval of Parliament signified by its resolution by statutory order, declare an area to be a central forest reserve. However, while gazetting communities’ lands, no consultations are carried out to seek landowners’ consent before land giveaways.

 

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Accountable Development To Communities

Breaking: Ministries, gov’t departments, and security organs in syndicate forced eviction of an urban-poor community to give way for an infrastructural project.

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By Witness Radio Team

Barely twenty-one (21) months after a team of lawyers foiled a forced eviction of urban poor families to give way for a drainage channel construction, ministries, government departments, and security organs are again up in arms carrying out forced evictions.

This second forced eviction is another attempt by the government to run away from the free, prior, and informed consent and provide a fair and timely compensation responsibility to a community affected by an infrastructural project. Now National Environment Management Authority (NEMA) is disguising as ‘evicting wetland encroachers’ a move targeting the urban-poor families’ land.

In December 2020, amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, the Kawaala Zone II community in Kampala district received an eviction notice of 28 days without any explanation from the government. Accompanied by armed soldiers, representatives of the Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA) turned up at Kawaala village and started placing a red “X” on many structures and explaining that they were earmarked for demolition.

The first foiled forced eviction by KCCA was hiding under the Public Health Act Cap 281 which states that in the event of contravention of any of the public health rules related to the erection of buildings, the local authority, without prejudice has the right to take proceedings for a fine in respect of the contravention and may by notice require the owner either to pull down or remove the works.

Upon Witness Radio – Uganda’s investigation of the intended eviction, it was discovered that KCCA was to use the targeted land for Lubigi drainage construction using the World Bank funds under the second phase of the Kampala Institutional and Infrastructural Development Project (KIIDP-2). In reality, without consultation and compensation, individuals within the authority were grabbing land from the urban poor to amass wealth.

On 23rd August 2022, NEMA and other government departments and ministries under the protection of the military and anti-riot police descended on gardens for families in Kawaala Zone II, a victim community of KIIDP 2, and cut down food crops and demolished houses belonging to over 100 families.

As hundreds pondered their next move, Mrs. Nabuduwa Lucia was weeping to recount the memories of her well-established home and garden that had been demolished by the NEMA officials. She said she had been given 4 hours to vacate the premises but she had lost where to take her family of 5.

Nabuduwa, 54, heard one of the officials communicating to his fellow evictor, “don’t waste your time demolishing that house, just burn it, and won’t take seconds to be destroyed” She was terrified.

She added that “I came from Mbale and settled on this land which was bought for me by one of my children with his hard-earned money. I have been living here for many years and have been able to feed my grandchildren. My house, sugarcanes, yams, banana plantation, eucalyptus trees, and mangoes were all destroyed.” she cried aloud.

Nabuduwa is not the only one. Mr. Ssemulyo Richard had seated next to his wife and children. He also lost everything during the evictions.

“I am here and my family of 10. I don’t have where to take them. I don’t have food or land. I also don’t have money to relocate to other places. Here is the place I have called home and lived for most of my years,” he said.

The community being evicted claimed that they were waiting for compensation from KIIDP-2 for the lost properties and land for drainage construction.

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Accountable Development To Communities

Breaking: Court dismisses a criminal case against a community land rights defender for want of prosecution.

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By Witness Radio Team.

Kiryandongo. A criminal trespass case against a community land rights defender has been dismissed over the prosecution’s failure to adduce evidence before the Chief Magistrate Court that pinned the community defender on the alleged charges.

On 27th October 2021, Kiryandongo Chief Magistrate Court charged Otyaluk David with criminal trespass and remanded him to Masindi prison. He was later granted court bail and since then, he has been traveling 48 kilometers to and from court every fortnight.

Before he was presented before a court, Otyaluk was kidnapped and illegally detained in Kiryandongo Central Police Station (CPS) cells for five (5) days for trespassing on a piece of land he (Otyaluk) had lived and cultivated since he was born.

In the afternoon of 21st October, two (2) armed men cladding Uganda People Defense Forces (UPDF) uniform and police personnel raided Otyaluk’s home and got him kidnapped to an unknown destination. UPDF soldiers guard Kiryandongo Sugar Limited plantations.

“On the day of his kidnap, Otyaluk was found praying in his house. In a blink of an eye, the defender was rounded up and bundled onto a vehicle owned by Kiryandongo Sugar Limited, forcefully evicting us off our land. We later learned that he was taken into evictor’s facilities where he was kept for some time before being transferred to Kiryandongo CPS” A family member remembers.

A family member further added that before the kidnap, Otyaluk’s family had lost about 12 acres of land to Kiryandongo Sugar Limited.

“Company workers under the protection of soldiers brought a tractor and plowed acres of semi-mature maize, beans, sorghum, and sim-sim. We were only left with a small piece of land where our house sits and we are currently trapped in the middle of a sugarcane plantation” a family member added.

Since the trial period was announced, the prosecution failed to bring witnesses to pin Otyaluk for trespassing on his land. It was only on the 19th of July, 2022 during a court session, one Adamuru Peter, allegedly to be a company manager turned up as a company representative but not as a witness.

In her ruling last week, a magistrate at Kiryandongo Magistrate court discontinued the trial of Otyaluk and dismissed the case.

Otyaluk is one of the luckiest among hundreds of community land and environmental rights defenders currently under persecution to have his case dismissed. It’s an order of the day for the community land and environmental rights defenders to be kidnapped, arbitrarily arrested, and tortured on orders of investors for their work of mobilizing the communities to desist land grabs.

Kiryandongo Sugar Limited is among multinationals forcefully evicting over 35000 local and indigenous people off their land to give way to large-scale agribusinesses.

Kiryandongo Sugar Limited is one of the many companies owned by the Rai Group of Mauritius. The dynasty owns several other companies in DR Congo, Kenya and Malawi, and Uganda. A dynasty owns companies such as West Kenya Sugar (which owns Kabras Sugar), Timsales Limited, Menengai Oil Refineries, Rai Ply, and Webuye Panpaper.

In Uganda, the Rai Group of Mauritius owns Nile Ply limited, Kinyara Sugar Limited, and Masindi Sugar Limited among others. One of its directors is a shareholder of a British Virgin Islands company, listed in the Panama Papers database recently.

The same company has fraudulently gotten a license to replace part of Bungoma natural forest with a sugarcane plantation.

“Court has shown today that the company is maliciously arresting us to keep us in jails. To weaken our hearts, wasting our time and resources. They intentionally do this because we refused to surrender the land we have lived on for years. It is shaming that the government has failed to protect the rights of the poor people.” The defender noticed.

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