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DR Congo oil palm company bankrolled by development banks unleashes wave of violence against villagers after peaceful protests

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On 13 February 2021, local communities in the area of Lokutu, Tshopo Province, Dr Congo organised peaceful actions to protest the arrival of a delegation of investors organised by the oil palm plantation company Plantations et Huileries du Congo (PHC). The villagers were protesting against the failure of the company to provide them with any benefits after more than a 100 years of illegally occupying their lands and the recent takeover of the company by a private equity fund called Straight KKM without any involvement from the communities. Since 2013, PHC, until last year owned by the Canadian company Feronia Inc, has received over US$150 million in financing from the development banks of the UK, Belgium, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Spain and the US. 

A peaceful protest was held at the airplane landing strip in Mwingi to greet the arrival of a delegation of the new owners of PHC/KKM. The new director of PHC and one of its new owners, the Congolese businessman Kalaa Mpinga, was not part of the delegation, which was composed of 3 Asian investors, a representative of PHC and a South African. The villagers then marched from the airfield to the office of PHC in Lokutu.

The next day, the delegation attempted to visit some of the affected communities (notably in Mindua). In some places they were confronted with roadblocks organized by the communities as a sign of discontent. 

In the days that followed, PHC’s security guards (known as gardes industriels) began terrorising the local populations.

According to the information provided by numerous local sources, dozens of villagers from the communities of Mindua, Mwingi, Bolesa, and Mosite (all located in the vicinity of PHC’s Lokutu plantations) suffered arbitrary arrests and/or physical violence. At the present time, it appears that 12 people are still being held in Yangambi prison (150 km from Lokutu and therefore far from their villages and from any support to assist them in asserting their rights). 

One of those attacked by the company’s security guards died shortly after being badly beaten, tortured and detained. Blaise Mokwe, a 33-year old man engaged to be married, from the village YAKOTE, community of BOLESA, BOLINGA sector, Yahuma territory in the middle of the PHC/ Feronia/ KKM Lokutu plantations in the Province of Tshopo in the Democratic Republic of Congo, died on 21 February 2021 as a result of torture, assault and beatings, perpetrated by the security guards of PHC / Feronia / KKM in Yahuma/Basoko territory, at the Lokutu plantation site, Tshopo Province (DRC).

Here is a breakdown of the arrests and assaults that have occurred so far:

1] Arbitrary arrests in Mwingi – 13 February 2021 – of 3 RIAO-RDC members and 1 community leader

2] Arbitrary arrests in Bolesa – 15 February 2021 – of 8 people, one person who died of his injuries

3] Arbitrary arrests in Mindua – 15 February 2021 (and following days) – of 5 (or more) persons

4] Information that several women were likely raped in Mindua, Mwingi, Bolesa, Mosite

Request for authorisation for a peaceful protest in Lokutu to denounce the killing and violence committed by PHC against local villagers.

Increasing violence over the past months

According to community members, since the recent sale of PHC, and the hiring of Mr King Mpika as Security Estate Manager (head of security) of the PHC in Lokutu, the criminalisation of local protest has increased. According to Gilbert Lokombu Limela, President of the Civil Society of Basoko (Lokutu side), King Mpika’s security operations also include a detachment of around 50 police officers from Kisangani. Tensions have also been heightened because of the delay in a mediation process that was promised to the communities by the DEG-FMO-Proparco complaint mechanism over 2 years ago. 

Mr King Mpika (who according to some sources is related to the new PHC owner Kalaa Mpinga) is said to have made death threats towards two of the detainees arrested on 13 February, before leaving Lokutu: Mr Christian Litikela and Chimita Alela. 

He is said to have given the orders that led to the acts of repression and recent arrests. 

Villagers protesting the killing of Blaise Mokwe and other violence committed by security guards and police under the command of PHC, February 26, 2021

Circumstances of the arrests

According to local sources, the arrests at Mwingi were carried out by local police, at the request of PHC security. The security guards led or participated in the arrests.

In Mwinigi, three members of RIAO-DRC in Lokutu were arrested under a false pretext of inciting revolt, taking photos of the protest and providing interviews to journalists in which they explained the context of the Lokutu protests. Similar charges were made against the community leader who was arrested at the same time. Three of those arrested were badly beaten. One was released after a payment of 300,000 FC (US$150), while the three others were transferred to Yangambi prison

In the vicinity of Bolesa, the PHC security guards arrested 4 women and 4 men, which they then took to the police station in Lokutu. Several of those arrested were assaulted before they arrived at the police station. Some arrived handcuffed/tied. The eight villagers were taken to the holding cell in Lokutu and the four women were later released. Three of the men were transferred to Yangambi prison. One of those arrested and assaulted, Mr. Blaise Mokwe, was transfered to a hospital which could not care for him and he died on 21 February of his injuries at his home.

There are also reports that a young teacher from Mwingi, who is a local member of RIAO-RDC, was assaulted by PHC security guards while he was travelling to central Lokutu, without any reason given. According to local sources, the arrest was extremely violent. The teacher was eventually tortured, handcuffed and taken to Lokutu prison. He is reported to be in critical condition. 

Following the violent incidents in the vicinity of Lokutu after the demonstration, further assaults and arrests were reportedly made in other villages, including Mindua. The majority of those arrested in Mindua were apprehended by PHC security guards on suspicion of stealing palm nuts and taken by the security guards to Lokutu police station. Sources indicate that five men were arrested, as well as one woman who is five months pregnant. The woman was allegedly beaten and raped and is now at risk of losing her baby. She is reported to have been transferred from the local police station in Lokutu to Yangambi prison. 

Local sources also state that there were several cases of sexual assault and rape committed against women by PHC security guards in Mindua, Mwingi, Bolesa and Mosite during this wave of violence. 

The coffin of Blaise Mokwe, sitting outside the offices of PHC, as act of protest by his family.

Killing of Blaise Mokwe

Blaise Mokwe, a 33-year old man engaged to be married, from the village of Yakote, was arrested on 15 February at his home near his village of Yakote. That day, he started his day by sweeping his yard in front of his house. As his broom was broken, he went to the plantation to look for a stick to repair his broom. 

That’s when he was arrested by the security guards. They accused Mr. Mokwe of “stealing palm nuts belonging to the plantation” and forced Mr. Mokwe to take them to his house to search the premises and find the “nuts”. Following the search, they found no nuts or oil at Mr Mokwe’s home. However, the security guards decided to take Mr Mokwe to the Lokutu police station. Considering this arbitrary arrest and in the absence of any offence, Mr Mokwe refused to follow them. The security guards then tried to take him by force to the Lokutu police station.

When Mr. Mokwe resisted, the security guards beat and kicked him and then took him by force, handcuffed, to the Lokutu police station (25 km away).  

On arrival at the police station, the commander reportedly demanded that Mr Mokwe be immediately taken to hospital as his health was in a critical state. Unfortunately, at the hospital, due to a lack of medication, Mr Mokwe was unable to receive the necessary care. He therefore returned to his village in Yakote. He died on February 21, in Yakote/Mosite, of the injuries sustained when beaten by the PHC security guards.

In an act of protest and desperation, Mr Mokwe’s family took his body to the Lokutu police station the next day to seek justice. But the Lokutu local police commander refused to allow the body to be taken to the police station because, according to him, the security guards of PHC were responsible for Mr Mokwe’s death, not the police. The body was then taken to the PHC workers’ camp in Lokutu, where it remained during the day of February 22nd, in the presence of some relatives. 

Receipt for the loan of US$100 provided by PHC towards the costs of Blaise Mokwe’s funeral.

PHC made a contribution of 200,000 FC (US$100) to the funeral expenses of Mr Mokwe. Subsequently, PHC requested that an acknowledgement of debt be signed by Mr Mokwe’s elder brother, committing him to reimburse PHC for the payment of the advance to cover funeral expenses. Subsequently, sources confirm that representatives of PHC acknowledged that Mr Mokwe’s death was linked to the assault and beatings he suffered at the hands of its security guards. 

This is understood to be what motivated the company to promise the family an additional indemnity of 500,000 FC (US$300) to cover the funeral expenses.

Mr. Mokwe was buried on 22 February at the end of the day.

Original source: RIAO-RDC

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African Faith Communities Tell Gates Foundation, “Big Farming is No Solution for Africa

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Busisiwe Mgangxela, seed saver and agroecologist from the Eastern Cape

Following the United Nations (UN) Food Systems Pre-Summit in Rome last week – a prequel to the Head of State-level Summit in New York, this September – faith communities from across Africa continue to call attention to the wide range of far-reaching consequences of current industrial agricultural models.

An open letter to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation – sent by the Southern African Faith Communities’ Institute (SAFCEI) on behalf of faith leaders on 4 June and endorsed by nearly 500 faith leaders across Africa – emphasizes that the current approach to food security, in the face of the intensifying climate crisis, will do more harm than good on the continent.

SAFCEI’s Executive Director Francesca de Gasparis says, “In addition to damaging ecosystems, threatening local livelihoods and increasing climate vulnerabilities, monocrop farming ignores and undermines smallholder farmers, whose efforts promote sustainable food production and protect the environment.”

“What African farmers need, is support to find communal solutions that increase climate resilience, rather than the top-down profit-driven industrial-scale farming systems proposed. When it comes to the climate, African faith communities are urging the world to think twice before pushing a technical and corporate farming approach,” she says.

Two months after sending the letter, and despite extensive coverage of the pre-summit, which saw more than 100 countries discussing ways to transform national food systems to meet sustainable development goals by 2030, faith leaders in Africa have yet to receive a reply or acknowledgement from the Gates Foundation.

According to de Gasparis, what is currently promoting in sub-Saharan Africa is based on a fossil fuel and extractive business model and reduces farmers to nothing more than “food factories”, rather than meaningful stakeholders and contributors of the global food system.

Consider the N2Africa project, which started with funding from the Gates Foundation. The project, oriented towards a modernisation agenda, will only benefit a few. And, while soil health and nutritional benefits are used to justify investment in legume commercialisation, the actual baseline measurement for success is production for external markets. As a result, local legume crops and varieties that are within existing seed banks and have been grown for generations in ecosystems are bypassed in favour of imported commercial varieties that are developed for industrial feed and processing markets. This threatens local varieties that African farmers and consumers prefer, impacting the affordability of foods, local nutrition, and cultural cooking practices.

Another insidious aspect of the Gates Foundation’s work on the continent is how laws are being altered. The foundation is working to fundamentally restructure seed laws, which protect certified varieties but criminalise non-certified seed. This is particularly problematic for small-scale farmers in Africa, who nourish their families and their communities through seeds that are not certified.

80% of non-certified seeds come from millions of smallholder farmers who recycle and exchange seeds each year, building an “open-source knowledge bank” of seeds that cost little to nothing but have all the nutritional value needed to sustain these communities. In contrast, the approach supported by the Gates Foundation, threatens to replace seed systems diversity and the agro-biodiversity system that is critical for human and ecosystem health and replace it with a privatized, corporate approach that will reduce food systems resilience.

De Gasparis says, “One of the (many) problems with the Gates Foundation approach, where a single cash crop is grown year after year, without rotation and vulnerable to the same pests and disease. This ends up reducing resilience by depleting and destroying natural soil fertility, water resources and our rich biodiversity and genetic capital. Experiences from around the world provide further evidence that industrial mono-cropping will leave African communities worse-off and even more dependent on aid, in the future.”

This style of farming which has been pushed by big commercial farming entities in the US and Europe undermines community-spirited traditions of selecting, saving and sharing seed. It ignores indigenous knowledge regarding local food crop diversity and multi-cropping. One of the results of a business approach that centralises control of production systems, is that land and profits end up in the hands of a small elite minority. This not only threatens the agency of most producers in Africa, who are small-scale farmers – those whose farming practices are based on historical and cultural knowledge and understanding of their ecological landscapes – it also reduces production of local nutritious foods and medicines.

“We saw that many of these same issues were at stake during the farmer protests in India and the same issues are valid in Africa. Around the globe, agribusinesses are trying to convince governments and financial institutions that they hold the answer to the world’s hunger problems, and that they can resolve these in a sustainable, climate -friendly way. We’ve seen that movie before and it never works out fairly for the small farmers who remain the life blood of much of Africa and who are indispensable to its future,” says de Gasparis.

According to SAFCEI’s Climate Justice Coordinator, Gabriel Manyangadze, “We’ve seen from its initiatives in Africa that the Gates Foundation puts its full faith in technological fixes without seeking to address the vitally-important issues of morality and political economy involved. As such, the Foundation’s approach supports a dominance of multinational corporations over African-led food production systems. And in the Gates Foundation’s unwillingness to listen – we see a self-confidence bordering on arrogance, exactly the kind of ‘white saviour’ mentality of colonialism that Africa neither needs nor wants.”

“People of faith, with reverence to the Almighty and with concern and respect to creation, must stand for agroecology. Faith leaders across Africa are witnessing the negative impact of industrialised farming to the land and in their communities. The data shows that industrialised mono-crop farming practices and food systems do not and will not provide the people of Africa with a nutritious and chemical-free, nor a diverse and culturally-appropriate diet that is affordable,” says Manyangadze.

“That is why hundreds of religious leaders from Africa with solidarity from organisations have called on the Gates Foundation to re-think its approach to farming in Africa. We appeal to those who truly want to do good in Africa, to start by listening to the farmers that you claim you want to help. Work with them because they are already developing appropriate solutions for their contexts. There are better ways to become climate resilient, than what you are proposing.”

According to SAFCEI, more investment and support must be given to the small-scale farmers around the world who are working to build alternative food systems that are socially just and ecologically sustainable and learn from them. It says it wants to see organisations, like the Gates Foundation, use their influence to ensure that smallholder farmers have ample support. This includes assisting governments to implement holistic, supportive strategies. And rather than giving ownership to multinational corporations, help local communities have a real stake in policy negotiations. This approach also requires a commitment to land reform and gives communities agency and power over their own circumstances for self-determination.

“Our call is for the Gates Foundation (and others) to stop pushing profit-driven industrial agriculture that impose technologies and seeds that are controlled by companies with vested interests, under the guise of a green “revolution”. We call on Northern actors to instead move towards sustainable and agro-ecological approaches that work with farmers to achieve climate resilience. Agroecological strategies such as intercropping, the “push-pull” system and integrated pest management that show efficacy in the field and build ecosystem climate resilience. These are already being implemented in both the Americas and Africa and do not further indebt farmers or compromise their health, or that of their environment,” says Manyangadze.

“As the faith communities and farmers of Africa, we want regenerative and agroecological approaches that do not destroy biodiversity on the continent and that will provide a just distribution of food for all. Such an approach requires the Foundation and others to look for solutions not only from science, but also in the knowledge, heritage, experience and needs of African farmers,” he concludes.

“Religious communities around the globe have no faith in the Gates Foundation’s corporate agribusiness approaches which threaten small farmers, degrade soil and water, concentrate ownership by regional and global elites, and reduce everything and everyone – from farmers to soil to seeds to livestock – to soulless commodity. We believe in a bottom-up approach that respects small farmers, protects land from toxic inputs, and strengthens local communities.” Rev. Fletcher Harper (U.S.A.), Executive Director, GreenFaith.

Speaking from her experience on the ground, Busisiwe Mgangxela – an agroecological farmer from the Eastern Cape province in South Africa – says, “What I love about agroecology is that it takes care of the soil and environment, and in turn, the people. It looks at ecology, diversity, and sustainability by incorporating the principles of organic farming: care, health, ecology, and fairness. Sustainable agriculture works to conserve our natural resources, while also considering the health of the people.

This style of farming allows us to plant a variety of crops, using organic fertilisers to feed the soil and natural pest control methods, to avoid chemicals damaging our soil and water sources. Agricultural Industrialisation is taking away the nutrients from the soil that produce good crops. What we need to focus on is sustainable production and sustainable consumption, as part of our efforts to mitigate climate change and reduce our footprint on Mother Earth.”

Celestine Otieno, a Kenyan permaculture farmer shared some of the challenges facing farmers in Kenya. She says, “Farmers have become wary of programs that promote monoculture and chemical-intensive farming. Farmers have lost control over indigenous seeds and farming systems and are now saying that they are being held hostage on their own farms. The Gates Foundation is pushing to expand industrial agriculture. My question is: is agricultural industrialisation leading to food security or to food slavery?”
Rev Wellington Sibanda says, “The churches in this area that I serve, are mostly in rural communities. They provide a sense of hope for those trying to make a living on the edge of Northern KwaZulu-Natal. Many of them must survive as seasonal workers in the farming areas, and others as subsistence farmers. Our churches are supported by the sweat of these mostly impoverished communities, who are far away from the industrialized markets of the cities.”

“Under economic imperialism, almost all the crops and goods that are produced in this region are under the control of multi-national corporations. Immediately after they are harvested or dug from the belly of the Earth, they are exported to regional and overseas markets. This affects the livelihoods, not just of the people from around here, but throughout Southern Africa.”

“Agro-ecological farming practices increases sustainable agricultural productivity and the income of smallholder women farmers.”

Ange David from GRAIN in Côte d’Ivoire says, “People in Ghana are fighting against policies pushed by institutions like Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA). We can call it agro-colonialism. We need to put pressure on AGRA and the Gates Foundation. They are trying to change government seed policies to benefit corporations.”

Anne Maina from BIBA Kenya believes that the future is in agroecology and supporting smallholder farmers to produce food for current and future generations, in the process, taking care of the soil and natural resources.

Maina says, “Seed laws are being changed across Africa, to the detriment of the people. $1 billion has been allocated to Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), but the impacts are really low. Soil fertility in Africa is going down due to increased fertiliser use and punitive seed laws are marginalising farmers. When we demanded evidence of the positive impacts they claim to come from their approach, they would not give it to us. Till today, we have no solid evidence. It would have been much more productive had we had focused on agroecology. This is why we are pushing for it now.”

Neth Daño from ETC Group Philippines says, “This philanthrocapitalism from the likes of the Gates Foundation and others, are enabled by government policies. We are inspired by resistance in Africa because we have seen this technofix approach disempower traditional farmers in Asia and Africa.”

Original Source: safcei.org Via: grain.org

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Uganda: Judicial harassment and sexual assault of woman human rights defender Florence Orishaba

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On 22 July 2021, woman human rights defender Florence Orishaba appeared before the High Court of Uganda. She has been charged with “inciting violence”, “defamation of a government official” and “promoting defiance among communities”. On 19 July 2021, the woman human rights defender was provisionally released from arbitrary detention at the Mbarara Central Police Station. On July 4 2021, Florence Orishaba was abducted and sexually assaulted by individuals believed to be plain clothed security officers, before she was officially detained in the Mbarara Central Police Station.

Florence Orishaba is a woman human rights defender, land rights defender and the executive director of Defence For Human Rights (DEFOHR). DEFOHR is a Ugandan non profit organisation that works to defend human rights by sensitizing communities to their rights and violations of their rights. On 1 July 2021, DEFOHR debuted a project which involved weekly radio talk show appearances from Florence Orishaba to sensitize communities regarding their human rights and how to handle human rights violations. DEFOHR had previously run a program that involved educating the public regarding their rights through radio shows.

On 4 July 2021, Florence Orishaba was exiting a local radio station after being hosted as part of DEFOHR’s project, when she was approached by unknown individuals in plain clothes. She told Front Line Defenders that she was sexually assaulted by the individuals and taken to an unknown location. Later the same evening the individuals, who the woman human rights defender believes to be security officers, turned her in to the Mbarara Central Police Station where she was detained with no charges for 15 days, which is long past the 48 hours stipulated by the Ugandan Constitution. On 7 July she was granted access to her lawyer and DEFOHR’s program coordinator, however, during her detention she was denied access to her family, allegedly due to COVID-19 guidelines. Despite her lawyer urging for her release based on her arbitrary detention, Florence Orishaba was only provisionally released on 19 July 2021.

The woman human rights defender’s arrest was preceded by threatening messages sent to the coordinators of DEFOHR on their personal mobile telephones. The threats started following the debut of DEFOHR’s radio talk show project, which is in collaboration with six local radio station. During the shows, the woman human rights defender discusses property rights, specifically land rights of women and children.

On 22 July 2021, woman human rights defender Florence Orishaba was charged with “inciting violence”, “defamation of a government official” and “promoting defiance among communities”. The case has been adjourned to 28 July 2021. As a response to the unlawful detention of Florence Orishaba and the assault against her, DEFOHR will be submitting a petition on 28 July 2021 to the High Court to seek an investigation into the matter.

Front Line Defenders is gravely concerned by the arbitrary detention, abduction and sexual assault of woman human rights defender Florence Orishaba and believes that she is being targeted solely as a result of her legitimate and peaceful work in defence of human rights.

Front Line Defenders urges the authorities of Uganda to:

  1. Carry out an immediate, thorough and impartial investigation into the detention, abduction and sexual assault of Florence Orishaba, with a view to publishing the results and bringing those responsible to justice in accordance with international standards;

  2. Carry out an immediate, thorough and impartial investigation into the allegations of threats to Defence for Human Rights (DEFOHR) and its members, with a view to publishing the results and bringing those responsible to justice in accordance with international standards;

  3. Immediately drop all charges against Florence Orishaba as it is believed that they are solely motivated by her legitimate and peaceful work in defence of human rights;

  4. Guarantee in all circumstances that all human rights defenders in Uganda are able to carry out their legitimate human rights activities without fear of reprisals and free of all restrictions.

Original Source: Frontline Defenders

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30 civil society organizations have written to the World Bank Group demanding to publicly disclose the Africa Energy Approach paper.

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By witnessradio.org Team

30 civil society organizations from around the world are demanding that the World Bank must cease investing in fossil fuels, scale up investments in decentralized renewable energy, and expand finance for energy access, including clean cooking, while embedding these efforts in a much wider ‘just recovery’ from the COVID-19 crisis, that can serve as a bridge to a ‘just transition’ to a zero-carbon future, more generally.

The demands are being raised in an ongoing discussions around World Bank’s engagement in the African continent to support borrowing countries energy sector represents a huge opportunity for the Bank to walk the talk when it comes to climate solutions and increasing the Bank’s share in supporting energy access projects, given the existing global financing gap for energy access, particularly for the least cost solutions needed by people living in energy poverty (SEforALL, 2019).

Letter To World Bank Executive Directors

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