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Trauma and Land Loss: New Study Focuses on Mental Health of Evicted Indigenous People

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Kenyan security forces evict Ogiek people from the Mau Forest Complex in the  Rift Valley Region.

NAIROBI – At the foot of Kenya’s Mount Elgon on the border of Kenya and Uganda, the little-known indigenous community of Ogiek is living scattered in recently-built thatched huts and timber houses that belie not only their poverty but also the impermanence that followed their eviction by the government a year ago from their native lands on the mountain.

From a life in the forest, this community of just over 50,000 people can no longer access their land to hunt small game, gather wild fruits and medicinal herbs or practice beekeeping, as their forefathers did.

They have instead been forced to eke out a living through subsistence farming and keeping livestock – a lifestyle borrowed from agrarian communities. As such, they are unable to afford school fees and sometimes even sufficient food for their children.

The Ogiek community has been fighting a longstanding battle with the Kenyan government which claims that the evictions were necessary to conserve indigenous forests.

However, Daniel Kobei, the executive director of the Ogiek Peoples’ Development Program (OPDP), blames the evictions on the destruction of the forest by multinational companies and uncontrolled encroachment in the Mau Forest Complex. The OPDP is a Kenya-based NGO that promotes the recognition and identity of the Ogiek indigenous community and its culture.

As recently as July 2020, the Kenya Forest Service (KFS) personnel, with protection from the country’s security forces, have been driving the eviction process in defiance of a 2017 ruling of the African Court of Human and People’s Rights which recognised the Ogiek peoples’ right to their ancestral land, by evicting the community.

The community now finds itself thrust into an unfamiliar environment with their way of life grievously disrupted, making it difficult for them to cope – financially and emotionally.

Little Attention to Mental Strain of Evictions

Ogiek community members ponder on what to do next following their eviction from the Mau Forest Complex by Kenyan security forces.

While some local Kenyan and international groups have protested the evictions, the stress and mental health effects of the displacement have received little attention.

“When we talk about environmental changes, we often ignore the mental aspect that comes with it,” noted Billy Rwothungeyo of the Minority Rights Group International (MRG) told Health Policy Watch.

MRG is a human rights organisation that works to secure the rights of marginalized and indigenous communities around the world. It works in 150 countries, with its Africa office based in Kampala. It has a presence in Kenya, Uganda, Cameroon, Congo, Gambia, Ethiopia, Tunisia, and Egypt.

New Global Research Initiative Examines Mental Health Stress of Indigenous Communities

The Ogiek people are part of a new research initiative that will look into the mental strain faced by indigenous communities around the world facing evictions.

Indigenous communities in East Africa, Finland, Northern Thailand and India will participate in the global research project that looks at the emotional effects of environmental changes experienced by the world’s indigenous groups.

Dubbed Land Body Ecologies Research Group, the research will involve the Ogiek, the Batwa in Uganda, the Sámi in Finland, and the Pgak’yau in Northern Thailand. Communities living in the buffer zones of the Bannerghatta National Park in India will also take part.

The two-year research project, due to start in October, will involve human rights activists, mental health researchers, scientists and artists in a bid to understand solastalgia, a phenomenon defined as the emotional or existential suffering caused by environmental change. It is also commonly described as “the feeling of homesickness while still at home.”

Funded by the  Wellcome Trust Hub Award, the initiative will be led by Invisible Flock, an award-winning interactive arts studio based in London and MRG. The final project will take the form of an art exhibition in London.

“The space will be used to showcase results from the project, which will be open to the public, academics, media and other stakeholders,” explains Rwothungeyo.

“With around half of the world’s languages having no written form, art can act as a vehicle to bring forward alternative modes of expression not limited to human speech,” according to Victoria Pratt, artist and creative director of Invisible Flock in a press release

Pratt said that their approach is to tell multiple global stories at once, with the hope that through this process, solutions, answers, and meanings would be collectively conjured in the act of listening and retelling.

Indigenous Communities Continue to Lose Land.

A hut belonging to one of the Ogiek community members still smouldering following evictions carried out by the Kenyan security forces.

Indigenous communities all over the world have lost and continue to lose their ancestral lands due to encroachment from other communities and state-sanctioned evictions under the guise of forest conservation. This has brought with it environmental changes, which indigenous communities have had to live with, but whose mental and psychological toll is still not well understood, hence this new research effort.

To make matters worse, the minority groups say the global call to turn 30% of the world’s surface into protected areas by 2030 will displace hundreds of millions of indigenous peoples and traditional landowners.

Through the solastalgia research, the team aims to understand the lived experiences of land trauma on marginalised and indigenous communities.

Added to the food insecurities caused by environmental changes, indigenous communities also suffer increased incidence of diseases such as malaria, malnutrition, stomach disorders and respiratory diseases.

Involve Indigenous Communities More

“This research is supposed to inform such stakeholders as government and civil society to come up with more targeted measures to help marginalized communities, who are often overlooked in public policy,” added Rwothungeyo, maintaining that the study will also shed light on how these communities are being left behind and why governments should involve them more.

The OPDP’s Kobei said that even though the core objective of the research is to understand the mental predicament of indigenous communities brought on by environmental changes, they were hopeful that a learning center for the Ogiek culture will be established, following this study.

“If you talk to a 70-year-old Ogiek about the forest they have lost, he will talk in a very emotional manner,” said Kobei. “He will tell you of the kind of honey we used to harvest in the forest that is no more, the kind of hunting we used to undertake in the forest that is no more, the kind of herbs and clean water we used to get in the forest that are no more.”

Image Credits: Ogiek Peoples Development Program.

Original Source: Healthpolicy-watch.news

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How politically connected individuals abuse their powers to grab land for poor communities; a case of a Ugandan presidential aide

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Mrs. Grace Majoro Kabayo, (standing in the middle) in a meeting that was blocked by residents.

By witnessradio.org Team

As the demand for land for land based investments soars, the middleman’s role in the unlawful land transactions between investors and government agencies remains crucial in the broader scheme. The middleman business has become a lucrative venture in Uganda; more people are being recruited into it. For a public servant with access to vital information from land registries, the business is a goldmine. Middlemen are grabbing land for investors.

From the stage of land grabbing to investing, middlemen resort to the use of violence orchestrated by both police and other security agencies; at this point, high levels of impunity are exhibited, land rights defenders and land owners who demand for justice are then arrested for non-existent offences.

Witness Radio – Uganda records show that a reasonable percentage of grabbed land from poor communities in the country have for instance remained undeveloped.

In Mubende District, Central Uganda, residents accuse Mrs. Grace Majoro Kabayo a Senior Presidential Advisor for using her position to fraudulently acquire their land using police and officials from the Ministry of Lands. Ironically, Kabayo advises the President of Uganda on Pan-Africanism, and doubles as the Executive Secretary of the Pan African Women Organization’s PAWO Eastern Africa chapter, where she oversees the organization’s day-to-day activities.

Mubende District according to Witness Radio – Uganda figures, is ranked as one of the districts with the highest incidents of forced and illegal evictions and has registered with more than five cases since the year 2021 started.

Mubende District is bordered by Kyankwanzi District to the north, Kiboga District, Kassanda to the northeast and Mityana District to the east. Gomba district and Sembabule District lie to the south, whereas Kyegegwa District to the southwest and Kibaale District to the northwest.

Mrs. Kabayo with her political influence is allegedly using survey and boundary opening tactics to grab 625 Ha of land for thousands of inhabitants, which she has never lived on or owned.

According to locals, this is not the first time for the presidential advisor to engage into land grabbing, in 2017 while accompanied by the police in Mubende, she forcefully surveyed and grabbed 20 square miles and now wants to expand.

It is anticipated if Kabayo succeeds with the land grab, more than 5000 people on five villages comprising Kattambogo A, Kattambogo B, Rwobushumi, Rwonkubi and Nyaruteete, in Kigando-Buwekula Sub County in Mubende district, will lose their livelihood.

A letter dated 29th March, 2021, signed by the Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Lands, Housing and Urban Development, Mrs. Docus Okalanyi which Witness Radio – Uganda obtained a copy, okayed the move by the president’s advisor to open boundaries on land located at block 379 and all adjacent blocks which include: 378, 380 and 381 a process which the residents opposed.

Without any prior notice to the residents, Kabayo accompanied by the officers from Ministry of Lands, State House officials, and security personnel for the Uganda Peoples’ Defence Forces (UPDF) and Uganda Police had planned to conduct a rally at Nyarutete, one of the 5 villages, but was blocked by the angry residents.

Mr. Ruzhoga Laurent, 53, a resident of the village from birth, said, they have been facing threats of forced evictions for the last three years by Kaboyo. He asserted that his family would not leave the land for an imposter. Ruzhoga added that he would only leave as a corpse.

Jordan Byakatonda, an area land committee, chairperson said, the land targeted is public land with people on living on it.

He said, any person who wishes to get a leasehold on public land must first show his or her interest in the land before picking application Form 8 from the District Land Office or Area Land Committee, fill it, and attach 4 passport photos. He stated that the area land committee’s mandate involves receiving applications and issuing notices for public hearings concerning land ownership using Form 10, Byakatonda observed that Kaboyo had not engaged the committee during the process.

Information Sources from Mubende district preferring anonymity for security reasons accused some government officials of manipulating the stated legal procedures and guidelines. “Everything is coming from the center (ministry) instead of starting from an area where the land is located”, said the source.

“The first time we saw her, she was grabbing land and now she has come back to take ours. When she was asked by the land probe committee headed by Justice Catherine Bamugemereire why she had surveyed the land forcibly, she replied that she never surveyed any land and did not know those people,” another villager who preferred anonymity said.

According to guidelines of Ministry of Lands, Housing and Urban Development Planning Act, 2010 and Land Act, Cap 227, state that;

Any applicant for a leasehold on the public land must have in his/her possession fully completed form 4,10,19 23, a set of 3 authentic deed plans, 3 passport photographs, receipts of payment and a forwarding letter requesting for a freehold title signed by the District Land officer of the respective district where the land is located.

Step 2

The applicant presents the full set of original documents in duplicate and a photocopy of the same to the department of land administration for checking.

The photocopy is stamped received and returned to the applicant. The applicant checks with the department of land administration after 10 working days to confirm their approval or rejection.

Step 3

Once approved the documents are forwarded to the department of the land registration for issuance of a freehold land title. The applicant checks after 20 working days.

Step 4

The applicant presents the photocopy given to him/her by the department of land administration stamped, received and identification documents on collecting the freehold Title. The applicant signs for the title and the photocopy is stamped returned on completion.

Documents required include; Deed plans, set of passport photographs, general receipts of payment and a requesting letter. Fees paid at the ministry. Registration fees-10,000#, Assurance of the title- 20,000#, issuance of the title-20,000#.

The preliminary steps that involve the Area Land Committee were not complied with by Mrs. Grace Majoro Kabayo as she acquired land that accommodates thousands of people.

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Witness Radio welcomes the World Bank’s intervention into Kawaala drainage channel project affected persons…

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By witnessradio.org Team

Kampala – Uganda – Witness Radio Uganda has welcomed the World Bank’s decision to intervene into its funded project which is dispossessing poor urban dweller at Kawaala Zone II, Lubaga division, Kampala district.

On March 4th, 2021, the World Bank Team held its first ever virtual meeting with other stakeholders including the Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA) over a forceful implementation Kampala Institution and Infrastructure Development (KIIDP 2) project.

On top of running to court to stop an illegal eviction, the residents through Witness Radio – Uganda lawyers raised a complaint to the World Bank to restrain its grantee (KCCA) from imposing a project they (residents) never participated in from the start.

In 2015, KCCA acquired USD 175 million loan from the World Bank and the International Development Association (IDA) for Kampala Institution and Infrastructure Development (KIIDP) project. However, part of the money (USD 17.5 million, which is 63 billion Uganda shillings) was earmarked to construct Lubigi Primary Channel.

Without following business and human rights standards, KCCA started using tricks aimed dispossessing the poor urban community at Kawaala including; hiding under section 72(1) cap 281 of the Public Health Act, and issued a notice to dwellers to pull down what it termed illegal structures erected on their land or otherwise, KCCA would do so at the cost of residents, just to cause a property loss to them.

In a meeting chaired by Martin Onyach-Olaa, a Task Team Leader, Senior Urban Specialist at the World Bank, faulted KCCA for failing to engage community including taking the contractor to the ground without their notice.

“The project affected community have valid grievances, which must be attended to in the interest of Kawaala project” Said Onyach-Olaa

The representatives from the affected community accused KCCA of intimidation, undertaking a forceful survey, sidelining and usurping powers of elected local leaders, extortion and undermining business and human rights standards before and during the implementation of the World Bank project.

“I was threatened and forced to participate in KCCA valuation exercise of my properties and I never understood what was done. I was even lured to sign on certain documents that were in a language they never explained and no copy was left with me. I am opposed to the KCCA’s working and I will not allow them to come back on my property: Said Segue Abbas.

He added that when he sought wise counsel from his lawyers, he just realized that he had been duped.

Among other recommendations, KCCA was advised to embark on an inclusive exercise to identity project affected persons, properties to be affected by the project and ensure that surveys and property valuation exercises are undertaken in accordance within the law.

About the Grievance Redress Committee the KCCA claims they elected, the World Bank saw it important that the Grievance Redress Committee be put in place with a complaint book and functional internal appeal mechanism.

It was further emphasized that no Kawaala resident will be forcefully lose his/her under a project being funded by the World Bank.

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