| MUBATSI ASINJA HABATI | The sprawling Kehong Farm in Lubenge in Luweero district produces rice, bananas, eggs, and chicken meat. It is the pride of the area with its Chinese machines and scientific methods and a promise of over 30,000 jobs when fully operational.
But the success has a sting in its tail that President Yoweri Museveni appears unable to escape from. The 1,000 hectares on which Kehong Farm sits is partly what is technically called a `wetland’; an area of land that is permanently or seasonally water-logged. That means it is a protected area under the law and no development is allowed on it under the National Environment Management Authority (NEMA) guidelines.
But somehow, the Chinese Kehong Group acquired the land in 2016 as the China-Uganda Agricultural Cooperation Industrial Park and the farm was officially opened by President Museveni amidst protests from environmental activists.
Meanwhile, almost in panic mode, the Minister of State for Environment; Beatrice Anywar, is daily seen threatening to evict ordinary Ugandans who occupy wetlands. She recently embarked on a tour in Kalungu district, under heavy police escort, ordering peasants on tiny half acre patches to vacate wetlands or else they will be forcefully evicted.
Minister Anywar’s threats to peasants in wetlands and President Museveni’s embrace of big Chinese farms in the same wetlands appear to be a contradiction but they may not be. It appears that if you have the right sums of money or the right Godfather, you are above the Uganda wetland laws.
“The people who build factories in wetlands have godfathers in the central government,” says the Luweero district Chairman Ronald Ndawula.
Ndawula was attempting to explain to The Independent why, in his view, presidential directives on wetlands are never implemented.
He was commenting on a June 04 speech in which President Museveni condemned investors who build factories in wetlands.
While giving his annual State of the Nation Address, Museveni mentioned several areas where factories have been built in wetlands and called that “a mistake”.
“We want more and more factories, but build on dry land, not the wetlands,” the President said.
Then he added: “Those already built or being built should be allowed to continue. Demolishing an already built factory is not common-sense. They are very expensive and very useful.”
Perhaps unknown to the President, his comments reinforced an already entrenched practice which has seen some investors constructing at breakneck speed in wetlands, including at night. The goal is to ensure that their development is up and, therefore, unbreakable.
Arthur Bainomugisha, executive director of Advocates Coalition for Development and Environment (ACODE), a non-government organisation, says what appears to be defiance is actually a reflection of how politics has killed institutions.
“I think the institutions charged with managing the environment have been weakened. And they have been weakened by politics. The legal regime is in place but politics always interferes with NEMA’s activities,” Bainomugisha says.
As a result, factories of varying beautiful designs, size, and function have been built in wetlands all over the country. Driving along major highways leading out of Kampala and other towns and urban centres, one sees rows upon rows of steel framed factory buildings and sprawling farms in former wetlands.
On the Kampala Jinja highway, for example, one can count hundreds of such factories. Such factories include Abacus Parenteral Drugs Ltd (APDL), Tian Tang Group, Global Paper, Landy and others. Uganda’s main industrial park, in Namanve outside Kampala lies on 1000s of hectares of what were once wetlands.
The factories produce goods previously imported into the country, making them cheaper and available. Some of the products are being exported, bringing in the much needed foreign currency.
Tian Tang Group produces metal products such as iron bars and steel sheets, APDL produces infusion products like IV fluids, eye, ear and nasal drops. Such economic gains appear to dwarf any environmental benefits from wetlands that conservations speak of. No wetland is safe.
Environmentalists argue that construction in wetlands deprives the marshland of its water storage and filtration roles, kills plants and animals whose only habitats may be a wetland. But these benefits are indirect, almost invisible while the money from salaries of factory workers, taxes, and sale of products areas are as visible as the clouds of dark smoke fuming from the factory chimneys.
Effects of encroachment on wetlands
There was a time when almost 16% of Uganda’s surface area was wetland. Since building factories in wetlands became normal, it is not clear how much of the remains.
The latest Biomass study indicates that in the last 15 years, the country has lost 569,021 hectares of wetlands in various parts of the country.
The 2019 water and environment sector review report shows that the wetland cover has reduced from 15.6% in 1994 to 8.4% in 2019.
A 2015 study by researchers at Makerere University states that 56% of the original Nakivubo wetland in Kampala had been modified, mainly due to industrial development and small-scale farming.
Another study by World Bank study found that the eight major wetlands in Kampala district declined from 18 percent to 9 percent of the area between 2002 and 2010.
Across the country, urbanisation, industrial development and agriculture have spurred swamp losses, influencing the rise of severe flash floods; particularly in eastern Uganda. They destroy infrastructure, homes and crops. People drown.
There are 25 major wetlands systems in the country that treat wastewater and serve as a source of safe water for local communities, according to the Wetlands Management Department. But data from Uganda’s Ministry of Water and Environment indicates that up to 30% of Uganda’s wetlands were lost between 1994 and 2008. In this period, Uganda’s wetlands reduced from 37,575.4 sq. km in 1996 to 26,307.7 sq. km in 2008.
Signs of harmful projects with financing from development institutions are spotted in Uganda…
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.
Breaking: over 350,000 acres of land were grabbed during Witness Radio – Uganda’s seven months ban.
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.
Google Internet project closes in Uganda.
Uganda will be among the 10 African countries that will lose out as Google winds up its Internet Balloon Project.
The closure follows an announcement in which Google said the project was “an unsustainable business model”.
In 2019, Loon LLC, a subsidiary of Alphabet, Google’s parent company, signed a Letter of Agreement in Kampala with officials from Uganda Civil Aviation Authority, in which high altitude solar powered Internet balloons with floating masts over Uganda’s airspace, would be established at an altitude of 500,000 feet.
The balloons would create an aerial wireless network to provide Internet and telecom network connectivity to rural and remote areas.
Dr Anna Prouse, the Loon LLC head of government relations, had said then that Google would partner with telecoms to tap into their technology to allow connectivity.
However, Alastair Westgarth, the team lead of the project, last week announced in a statement the project would be closed.
“We talk a lot about connecting the next billion users, but the reality is Loon has been chasing the hardest problem of all in connectivity – the last billion users: The communities in areas are too difficult or remote to reach, or the areas where delivering service with existing technologies is just too expensive for everyday people,” he said.
While Loon had found a number of willing partners along the way, he said, they had not found a way to get the costs low enough to build a long-term, sustainable business.
“Developing radical new technology is inherently risky. I am sad to share that Loon will be winding down,” he said.
Loon had had similar arrangements in Botswana, Nigeria, South Africa, Mauritius, Seychelles, DR Congo, Congo Brazzaville, Mozambique and Kenya, but are expected to close as well.
The Loon project was expected to be a game changer in Uganda’s telecomm sector through enhancing connectivity in remote areas, and contributing to the development of the national backbone infrastructure project.
The demand for Internet among Ugandans has grown exponentially in the recent past with Covid-19 being a serious catalyst.
A UCC report published recently indicated telecom and Internet service providers registered an increase in demand for data in the third quarter of 2020 with more than 20 million subscriptions – nearly 50 per cent of the population being connected.
The growth was mainly attributed to the shifting work culture driven by Covid-19, which led many businesses to adopt remote working methods.
Original Source: Daily Monitor
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