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DEFENDING LAND AND ENVIRONMENTAL RIGHTS

Double tragedy as KCCA uses the World Bank’s money to evict a Kawaala resident from both his home and place of work: TALES OF A BUSKER

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Mr. Mutaasi’s house marked with “X” by KCCA for demolition.

By witnessradio.org Team

“…Ekuba omunaku tekya…”, loosely translated as “The rain that falls on a down-and-out is a relentless deluge,” is one of the adages applied among the Baganda, and its equivalent among the English is, “it never rains but it pours”, highlight the 12 years of misery of 42-year-old Mutaasi Ali.

Mutaasi, a resident of Kawaala zone II in Kampala had a dream of living a better life, but it has never turned out as he had envisioned it. His suffering started way back from the fire-outbreak that twice gutted his merchandise in the Owino-Park Yard market. A market that mothered the urban poor. That Market is no more. It was replaced with a gigantic mall whose construction was preceded by a brutal night of forced eviction carried out with impunity by Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA). The Authority is the governing body and administers the Capital City of Uganda.

Now the ghosts of the past are back, he hardly sleeps. A nightmare of a looming eviction to give way to the expansion and construction of Lubigi-Channel under a World-Bank funded project, KIIDP-1or 2, pre-occupies his mind. And the outbreak of the pandemic is another setback that has kept him on tenterhooks waiting for the Covid-19 relief from the government.

The father of ten (10), has spent about a half of his age on the streets of Kampala trying out different odd jobs to feed his family.

Before the pandemic, he was a maid of all work. He gurgled busking, farming, singing, and playing aback-up artist role. Mutaasi who is now a backup artist moved from his home village in Mpigi town in Mpigi district, 50 km from the western side of Uganda’s capital Kampala for greener pasture in the capital at the age of 18.

“I was born to in an extended poor family; we had little chances of getting the basic needs we wanted because of being poor. I had to look for a livelihood elsewhere to support my needs and those of my family,” Mutaasi narrated.

Mutasi said a village friend who had come earlier in Kampala informed him of a job. “A friend of mine in Kamwokya, a Kampala suburb helped me to get it. It was a hawking job. I did it for about 4 years on the streets of Kampala. In 1997, we shifted to the Park Yard market,” he added.

When he was moved to Park Yard market, it was a great achievement. “Because we were expanding, and our second hand-clothing business was showing signs of success, he (my boss) decided we move to Park Yard since it was busier and had enough space. And after making some little money, I parted ways with him (my boss) and I started a similar business in the same market in 2004,” he added.

He was determined to learn and worked hard. He becomes an inspiration not only to his peers but also to his former coworkers. “Mutaasi was a promising bright child that everyone wanted to be with. We looked up to him for inspiration,” a close friend confirmed in an interview with Witness Radio.

His business continued to boom, but misfortune struck.  Mutaasi and many other traders suffered big blows when merchandise, worth billions of Ugandan shillings was razed in the fire that first gutted the market in 2009.

“I had shopped a day before the fire, so I was left with nothing and no capital to start again with,” he said.

But as the saying of the Banna Kampala (people living in Kampala) that “Kampala kuyiiya,” literally meaning that to thrive in Kampala you have to hustle.  Mutaasi and two of his friends moved onto the city streets as buskers with a reggae music version.

“I would practice singing in my free time and some friends of mine had described my voice as euphonious. Because I had nothing to do at home at that time, we formed a group of three, went to the streets, and started entertaining people. Some of us were even employed as backup artists during shows,” Mutaasi reveals.

He says the little money they earned helped them to cater to their needs. “At least on a good day, we could earn 6000 Shillings (USD 1.7) each, which I would use to look after my family in the village. In about a year, I had also saved some money and went back to Park Yard market to give selling clothes a second-shot,” he shares with a nostalgic look.

According to Mutaasi, initially, his business had failed to pick up, but the desire for better life kept him soldiering on.

“I had to limit on other roles, so I left the street entertainment and concentrated much on growing my business in Park Yard and recording music. Every single coin I would get from music would be invested in my second-hand clothing business,” he added.

Whereas it had grown, fire gutted the market on 31st July 2011 and destroyed traders’ merchandise worth millions of shillings. It did not spare his business either. And according to Mutaasi, this was the second fire in one year and subsequent fire outbreaks until Park Yard Market land was forcefully grabbed by KCCA, politically connected investors, and police in 2017 without any prior consultation or compensation.

“When this happened, I felt like I had lost my senses. Asking myself why I don’t succeed yet others do, and why my businesses collapse yet others stand the taste of time,” he recounts.

In an interview with the Sunday Monitor, a local newspaper in March 2017, Mr. Kiggundu acknowledged being behind the eviction of Park Yard vendors. He said he demolished the temporary structures at Park Yard to make it a better place. Mutaasi was left grasping at straws

Helpless traders watch as their merchandise are destroyed by an excavator during an eviction in march 2017.

After a double loss, he had to pick up his broken pieces and focus on music and entertainment which had been his initial source of income, but the ghosts of the past continued to haunt him. In July 2020, a countrywide lock-down was imposed and the entertainment industry was hit hard. No concerts! No bars! No clubs! This was later lifted except for the entertainment industry.

Then when he thought the state would lift the ban on the music industry, there was a surge in COVID-19 cases, the government of Uganda imposed a second lockdown. This continued to pile misery upon him.

“Backing up other artists pays less and it is what I used to rely on now. We depend on God’s mercy to survive. I have not even received the government’s COVID relief ever since the lockdown started.” he added.

As he still recounts his ordeal; the misery in Park Yard market and the heart-wrecking lockdowns, the father of 10 is now facing forced eviction from his 27×40 piece of land by a World Bank-funded project. Mutaasi bought his piece of land 10 years ago from his hard-earned money.

In all that he has gone through his land without a doubt is being grabbed by Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA) officials to pave way for the Lubigi primary channel expansion.

He said, “I started working in 1991. Look, my merchandise perished and the only thing I have is a piece of land that I have, and now is being taken away without any compensation.

“KCCA’s imminent eviction has taken me aback. I remember when I was evicted from a rental. I was verbally abused in front of my children, wife, and neighbors, my household items were thrown out and others confiscated. I was forced to move out of the house since the rent arrears had accumulated,” he shares the distressing memories. That day, he and the rest of the family had to brave the cold night outside.  The following day, he could not bear the embarrassment and scorn that came with the eviction.  He took it upon himself to construct a makeshift shelter, without walls, on his piece of land to temporarily serve as a house.

Good times may not last, but bad memories never fade, and Mutaasi, now penniless at the time, vividly remembers the price he had to pay to put up the make-shift shelter; “I had some sugarcane on the land, and on the second day, I requested my neighbors to give me eucalyptus poles to in exchange for the sugarcane. That is how I started a new life without a coin.”

He wonders why KCCA, the project implementer, is using the World Bank project to grab his land without being compensated. He is among the 120 households being evicted to pave away for the Lubigi drainage channel expansion project.

“You cannot tell me that you want my land on which you have found me living and you don’t want to compensate me for it. You want to take it and you don’t want to prepare for me who owns it. Why don’t they first prepare for the people affected by the project and then think of taking the land?” He questioned.

He also blames KCCA for the corrupt networks under the Buganda Land Board (BLB), a company that manages the Kabaka’s land who solicit money from them in rewards to a letter taken to KCCA to carry out the surveying and valuation of their property.

“We are required to clear UGX 250,000 (USD 70.46) for a letter proving your ownership in Mengo, the Busuulu (ground rent) of UGX 550,000 (USD 155), and UGX 150,000 (USD 42.28) to the chairman for the stamp. This is a lot of money that some of us don’t have. We are in a lockdown, and like me, I stopped working last year, where do they expect me to get all that money,” he further wondered.

He wonders what will happen if the others pay the BLB fee and is valued and surveyed but he fails to clear the fee. “It seems I am losing my land too, because if I lack what to eat, then where will I get the money to pay for the surveying and valuation,” he said.

He proposes that KCCA uses its money to survey and value his land, clear BLB, and then deduct it from the compensation money instead of losing the property they have worked for generations.

“I have suffered a lot and I feel I am tired…, he painfully concluded.

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DEFENDING LAND AND ENVIRONMENTAL RIGHTS

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

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By Witness Radio Team.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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DEFENDING LAND AND ENVIRONMENTAL RIGHTS

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

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By Witness Radio team.

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

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

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

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

Participants attending the dialogue.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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DEFENDING LAND AND ENVIRONMENTAL RIGHTS

A breaking alert! A community land rights defender is kidnapped from his home.

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Kassanda, Uganda: a community land rights defender is missing after unidentified men cladding Uganda police uniform raided his home at around 10 PM local time, his wife has revealed.

Julius Ndagize is one of the community land rights defenders in Kassanda district advocating for the compensation of over 10,000 people illegally evicted from their land by the New Forest Company (NFC) in 2008 to plant monoculture trees.

In early 2020, evictees rose again to revive their demands to repossess their land following NFC’s failure to resettle and compensate them for the human rights violations and damages.

Evictees further narrate that ever since NFC grabbed their land, they have experienced increased deaths among children due to malnutrition and hired out land to bury their relatives who have died. All children who were attending school at the time of eviction have dropped out of school, while others have gotten married at a tender age. Furthermore, many families of the evictees have since broken up, and the list of long-standing impacts goes on.

“Our home was raided by unidentified men in police uniform at 10 PM local time. When they reached home, they banged on the house door and demanded that I should open the door. Upon opening, they forcefully entered the house without identifying themselves, with no explanation. Instead, they asked the whereabouts of my husband. They searched while throwing house properties in every direction until they got him and took him to an unknown direction. Said Mrs. Ndagize

She accused Uganda police of stealing Uganda Shillings 350,000, which is equivalent to about USD 90, which they found in their bedroom. She said the money belonged to a local women’s savings association, of which Mrs. Ndagize is the treasurer.

Since 2011 NFC has benefitted financing from international banks and private equity funds, including the European Investment Bank (EIB) with five million Euros (almost US 6 million dollars) to expand one of its plantations in Uganda; The Agri-Vie Agribusiness Fund, a private equity investment fund, had invested US 6.7 million dollars; the World Bank’s private sector lending arm, the International Finance Corporation (IFC) and the UK bank HSBC with around US 10 million has caused unimaginable pain to hundreds of households and continued to suffer gross human rights abuses, mainly in Mubende district.

Lately, NFC has benefited from the carbon offset financing from several financiers, including the Dutch Development Bank (FMO).

Witness Radio has commissioned search for the lost person, but no success had been reached by the time of writing this article.

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