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Different Researchers, Same Findings: How Land Grabs Take Place in Uganda?

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By witnessradio.org team

Faking of land titles, invading public and idle land, colluding with public officials, faking court orders, selling one piece of land to several buyers, are the key tricks land grabbers use to fleece the indigenous poor of their land, two reports by different researchers have established.

Both the witnessradio.org report and the Human Rights and Peace Centre (HURIPEC) report, reveal that the perpetrators are influential figures or private corporate entities who grab the land being used by the communities for subsistence farming to carryout commercial farming.

How much land has been grabbed?

No one really knows. A lot of reported deals are done secretly.  In its inaugural report, witnessradio.org says that over 2 Million hectares of land have been grabbed in the greater Mubende region in the year 2017 alone, affecting more than 190,000 families.

Who’s doing the grabbing?

According to the two reports, economically-powerful and politically connected individuals and private corporate entities are involved in grabbing land from the natives.

“It is clear that a cartel of economically powerful and politically-connected individuals are assisted by public institutions like police, Uganda People Defense Forces, office of the Mubende District Resident Commissioner (RDC), Mubende District Land Board to grab people’s land,” witnessradio.org report reads in part.

“There is an evident pattern of highly placed individual actors precipitating land conflicts across the regions studied. The shared characteristic amongst such individuals is that they possess both political backing and sufficient funds to pursue their illicit agendas,” HURIPEC observed in its report.

The HURIPEC report that was nationwide, named individuals like Abdallah Kitatta, the NRM chairperson for Rubaga division and leader of Bodaboda 2010 who has close links with police and the state and Moses Karangwa, the NRM chairperson for Kayunga district who was accused of harassing, intimidating and evicting bonafide occupants before evicting them from hundreds of acres of land in Bbaale sub-county in Mubende district.

The same Moses Karangwa was highlighted in witnessradio.org report for grabbing 642.65 hectares of land from Charles Lwanga Masengere whom he kidnapped, tortured, resulting into his arrest on trumped-up charges of aggravated robbery.

Karangwa, is alleged to have burnt Masengere’s properties worth Shs 500M including cars, houses, among others.

Both reports highlighted that Karangwa extensively used the police to intimidate, harass and physically accosted bonafide occupants in his mission to force them to vacate the disputed land.

“It is quite clear that those involved in land-related criminality are not only highly-connected, public officials and significantly-placed non-state actors, their actions of large-scale evictions, land office forgery and various acts of bribery and coercion can only be curtailed through a vigorous process of prosecution,” HURIPEC observed in its report.

Collusion with public offices to commit human rights violations

“Public institutions like police, Uganda People’s Defence Forces (UPDF), office of the Resident District Commissioner (RDC), Mubende District Land Board, Prosecutors and courts mandated to protect indigenous communities and their properties have been caught red-handed protecting workers of businessmen to commit gross human rights abuses ranging from gang-rape, torture, participating in illegal arrests and detentions, oversee the use of ungazatted detention centers to imprison community leaders ,organizing communities to oppose illegal land evictions and malicious prosecutions, among others,” witnessradio.org report found.

On its part, HURIPEC noted “an intricate involvement of the army and the police in the occurrence and exacerbation of land conflicts in all the studied regions of the country.”

In fact, its findings demonstrated that “armed security agents have been used as ready tools in the forceful eviction of persons from their land. As already mentioned, Moses Karangwa has been consistent in his use of the police to intimidate, assault and arrest bonafide occupants on land whose ownership is highly disputed in Kayunga.”

Recommendations

HURIPEC TO GOVERNMENT:

Ad-hoc and illegal institutions that have assumed a mandate over land governance such as the police, office of the president and state house should be immediately disbanded, or subordinated to the overall supervision of a revamped and reconstituted Uganda Land Commission. Only legitimate institutions fully-mandated by law to govern land matters should have control over land matters.

Government should adhere to the laws on compulsory acquisition vis-à-vis the prompt and prior payment of adequate compensation to persons who lose their interests in land due to legitimate exercise of the power of eminent domain

Private firms and investors must be urged and even compelled to adopt and adhere to minimum requirements of corporate responsibility with regard to their interactions with the victims of land problem, particularly evictions

Witnessradio.org TO GOVERNMENT:

Government should review the existing legal frameworks to protect land rights of indigenous communities and also empower the relevant institutions such as the land commission and the office of the Inspectorate of government to enhance the fight against corruption within the respective land divisions that are promoting forgeries of land titles

 

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

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

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By Witness Radio Team.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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farm news

Floods leave gardens bare in eastern region

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Flooding of River Manafwa has destroyed many crops in Manafwa District, leaving farmers devastated.

Mr Bosco Natsambwa, a farmer in Manafwa District, left his home on Friday morning to go to his garden only to find his crops washed away after River Manafwa burst its banks.

“This has been my hope because the crops I had earlier planted in the first season were also washed away,” Mr Natsambwa, a resident of Bunawuwenge Village in Wesswa Sub-county, said last week.

Mr Moses Wanda, another farmer, said the yields from his gardens have been declining over the years.

“We used to harvest enough but today, it is a different story. Although we plant much, we harvest little,” he said.

Mr Sulayi Wakalanga, the district environment officer, attributed the low yields to extreme weather conditions which have made it difficult for farmers to harvest better yields.

“When it rains, the farmers experience extreme floods and when it does not, there are extended periods of drought. This is not favourable for crop production,” Mr Wakalanga said.

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He added that there is fear of famine due to climate change effects.

“This is because of low crop yields each passing year unless all catchment areas are preserved,” he said.

Mr Samuel Mafabi, the speaker of Sironko District, appealed to government to address the economic, social and environmental effects of climate change.

“Unstable weather conditions have affected agricultural production and increased levels of food insecurity, this needs to be addressed,” Mr Mafabi said.

He said intermittent water sources such as rivers Manafwa, Sironko and Komorototo in Butebo District experience water decline to their worst levels during dry spells.

“The water levels in these rivers reduce drastically and this is partly due to increasing human activities, including farming and settlement on river banks,” Mr Mafabi said.

Mr Ibrahim Okurut, a resident of Akoboi Village in Butebo Sub-county, said River Komorototo used to harbour different fish species but they no longer exist.

“We used to get cat and lung fish from this river five years ago because then, it was still a river but now it has become a stream,” Mr Okurut said.

Komorototo is a trans-border wetland that covers Butebo, Pallisa Kibuku, Bukedea, and Kumi, among other districts.
Mr Johnson Aluburu, the Komorototo parish chief, said if Komorototo is not protected and conserved, it will disappear within five years.

Mr Deo Kabaalu, senior wetlands officer for eastern region at the Ministry of Water and Environment, blamed the worsening climate change effects on environmental degradation.

“But as government, we are on track to restore rivers and wetlands to mitigate the effects of climate change,” Mr Kabaalu said.

He said they have already started planting pillars to demarcate Komorototo wetland. Other wetlands to be restored include Mazuba-Mpologoma and Ivukula-Namakoke wetland in Namutumba District, Tirinyi –Mpologoma  and Kitantalo-Mpologoma wetland (Kibuku) , and Lumbuye wetland in Budomero (Kaliro).

The restoration project is funded by the Green Climate Fund (GCF) and United Nations Development Programme. In Tororo District, River Malaba always bursts its banks whenever  it rains, thus washing away crops and submerges houses.

The  district National Environmental Management Authority (Nema) officer, Ms Mary Evelyn Aol, said they have started planting trees on the river banks.
Ms Aol also said they have started sensitising a communities and opening boundaries for all wetlands.

However, Mr Micheal Nantulya , the Butebo District vice chairperson, advised government to create alternative sources of livelihood for the affected farmers.

“The locals are willing to vacate the wetlands but the government should provide alternative sources of livelihood because they have been depending on the swamps,” he said.

Mr Joseph Malinga, a communication specialist in the Ministry of Water and Environment, said the affected locals will be given alternative sources of livelihood such as poultry, and fish farming, among others.

He said they have already trained about 96 trainers under the GCF project to help the wetland users to adapt to other sources of livelihood.

“The locals will also be trained on various income-generating activities to embark on within their communities,”  Mr Malinga said.

Wetland cover 
Uganda’s wetland coverage has dropped from 17.5 per cent in the early 1990s to 8.5 per cent while forest coverage has dropped from 24 per cent to 12.4 per cent due to human activities, according to the Ministry of Water and Environment.

Original Source: Daily Monitor

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