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Investments And Rights To Food

How land grabs are causing food insecurity: A case of a community land rights defender in Mubende district forced to buy food for a family of 13 people for the last five years.

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By Witness Radio team.

As prices of food commodities continue to skyrocket, many families in Uganda are struggling to have a meal that can take them through the day. For John Settimba, a community land rights defender in the Mubende district, chances to pull this off for his family of 13 are limited.

Mubende district is 149.6 kilometers from the capital Kampala. The major economic activity in the district is agriculture with an emphasis on food crops like sweet potatoes, beans, cassava, maize, bananas, ground nuts, etc. Cash crops include coffee and tea.

The selfless defender who has been pushing back forced eviction being masterminded by one George Kaweesi since 2018 reports that his one-and-a-half acres of sweet potatoes and cassava garden have been sprayed with chemicals by laborers of the evictor.

Settimba a resident of Kawuula village, East Division in Mubende district says, all food crops have dried up in a day after being sprayed, leaving his family with no hope for food from his garden instead to buy food markets.

“I have been using Shs. 30,000, which is equivalent to (8.15 USD) to buy food every day for my family since 2018. Late last year, I decided to use my land to grow sweet potatoes and cassava. Unfortunately, they have been destroyed before harvest” Said Ssettimba.

On Friday 06th January 2023, one and a half acres of cassava and sweet potatoes were sprayed by casual laborers in the night hours.

According to the defender’s wife, on reaching their garden, she found the plantation had been sprayed and had started to dry up. She added that she reported the matter to the area police but the police declined to register the complaint because she failed to pay money.

According to Ssettimba’s wife, this is not the first time the Kaweesi’s laborers have sprayed his crops. In 2022, the defender’s banana plantation was caused to dry after spraying, explaining that these attacks are carried out at night.

“He always tells us he wants to use my land and that we should vacate. He has prohibited us from carrying out any activity on our land, causing my family members to starve. We had about 22 acres, but he has taken 11 acres. But also, we cannot use the remaining piece of land since he targets crops grown on it before harvest.” The defender explained.

Ssettimba further explains that Kaweesi’s acts of impunity have forced him to seek employment (to be hired as a laborer by other farmers) to support his family.

“This is embarrassing because the money I get is too little, and I cannot afford to buy enough food to feed my family, which would have been easier if I was using my land.” The defender added.

In 2018, one George Kaweesi, with help of Mubende district police and private security firms carried out a forced eviction of over 3500 villagers in Kambuye, Kikono, Kawula, Kyabaana, Kanseera, and Lwensanga. Nonetheless, Ssettimba’s family survived the storm. Ruins of the evictions have been outgrown by the wild, but his house which is saddled by Kaweesi’s land is a remnant of that violent eviction. He has refused to give up despite repeated harassment and threats.

According to Witness Radio’s data, Mubende district is one of the forced eviction hot spots in the country, witnessing high levels of violence and criminality related to evictions. For years, Witness Radio has reported millions of people being evicted from their land by wealth investors without prior consultation, compensation, or resettlement.

However, Mr. George Kaweesi denied the accusations of land grabbing and spraying the defender’s land.  He said, “I paid every squatter and they vacated, but Ssettimba refused. I have never grabbed his land and am not aware that my men sprayed his garden.”

 

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Investments And Rights To Food

A dead body recovered in a resident’s garden is causing sleepless nights to community members in fear of arrests and false charges.

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By Witness Radio team

The Mubende Police on Wednesday last week recovered the body of a yet-to-be-identified male person who committed suicide in one of the resident’s gardens in Kirwanyi, Kitule parish in Butoloogo Sub- County in Mubende district. The incident has caused shock and fear to the community who believe this is a plot to criminalize land grab in their area.

The police have not yet established the identity of the deceased calling, on the public who may have lost any of their beloved ones to approach them

“We have neither identified the personal information or relatives for this person nor the cause of his death ever since we received his body. He was found hanged in a resident’s garden and is also unknown to the community. We call upon anyone who lost a relative to approach us.” Racheal Kawaala, the Wamala Region Police spokesperson told Witness Radio on Saturday last week.

He was found dead and hanging on a tree at around 3 pm on Tuesday by a resident who had gone to tend to his maize plantation. The resident whose attention was attracted by an awful stench alerted the village leaders, residents, and the police.

The next day, police swung into action at 3 pm and picked up the body of the deceased, and took it to Mubende hospital.

Ms. Kawala added that senior officers joined the probe into the cause of the death. She added that the body is, however, still kept in Mubende Hospital Mortuary.

However, the news of the dead body left the community shocked and in fear of arrests for allegedly being behind the cause of the murder. They believe this is a plot by their evictor, a renowned land grabber, Naava Milly Namutebi to frame them with murder charges so that she can continue grabbing their land.

According to the community, the discovery of the body happened just a few days after the return of the self-claimed landlord and her intensified violent land grab.

In December, Naava returned to the community land guarded by (four) 4 armed men and started harvesting community members’ crops. They allege she might be behind the dead body that they believe was dumped to further the land grab.

At least 30 houses and hundreds of hectares of crops especially maize have been destroyed in the recent violent evictions according to a community land rights defender, Mr. Ssesazi Christopher.

Since 2012, Naava with support from a senior government army officer Major Eric Kigamboha, and the Mubende police have displaced over 4000 people from their land without a court order and continue to perpetrate violence against families that are still staying on the land.

Over 3.5 square miles belonging to residents have all been taken by the wealthy investor without consent from the owners.

This took them aback, in 2019, a similar incident happened, seven community members were framed for having killed one Mbabazi Samuel who worked as a casual laborer for a self-claimed landlord Naava and was imprisoned for three years in jail without trial.

The casual worker had been murdered in cold blood. The residents were later accused of being behind the murder in a bid to eliminate some of the powerful and vocal land rights defenders to ease her land grab process.

According to locals, the two workers of Naava lynched their colleague at one of the resident’s gardens. Later, this incident was used against vocal rights defenders who were resisting her land grab.

“Eventually, some information leaked from some of the workers that the residents will be punished and charged for the murder. Some villagers went on the run while others who remained were arrested by the police.” One of the defenders revealed this information in an interview with Witness Radio.

Tumusiime Benjamin, Bagirana Innocent, Habana Damaseni Miyingo Gerald, Byangaramani Charles, and Byekwaso Fred were arrested by armed policemen attached to Mubende police on orders of one Naava Milly Namutebi. But luckily their charges were later dropped by the Director of Public Prosecution (DPP) in June last year

Naava’s continued land grab and perpetuation of violence defy the recent orders of both the Prime Minister of Uganda Rt. Hon. Nabbanja Robinah and the Minister of Land, Housing, and Urban Development Hon. Judith Nabakooba. . Last year, Nabakooba visited the affected communities and directed no further evictions.

However, when Naava defied and continued the violent evictions, over 60 residents pitched camp at the Prime minister’s home in Kakumiro district in December protesting the continued destruction of their property.

Sources told Witness Radio that the Prime Minister ordered the arrest of the renowned land grabber and the withdrawal of policemen that have been guarding and facilitating the land grab.

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Defending Land And Environmental Rights

Gov’t body evicts hundreds, orders the remaining families on the land to de-molish their houses…

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By Witness Radio

A forest body in Uganda, the National Forestry Authority (NFA) is displacing over 700 poor families that have lawfully settled and cultivated their land since the 1920s. The targeted land is needed to plant monoculture trees.

The National Forestry Authority is a semi-autonomous statutory body established by c National Forestry and Tree Planting Act of 2003 and it’s charged with the responsibility to manage and control the country’s forests.

The land measuring about 2900 acres is located at Yandwe village, Butuntumula Sub County in Luweero district in Buganda region, in Uganda.

The forest authority is responsible for causing loss of properties and committing human rights violations/abuses against local and indigenous communities as land belonging to them is leased out to investors to plant trees for carbon offsets without following due processes.

According to Global Forest Watch (GFW), in 2010, Uganda had a tree cover of 6.93 Mha, extending over 29% of its land area. However as of 2020 the GFW latest data presented a tree cover loss of 76.3 kha in Uganda. In the same year, Luwero district was named with the most tree cover loss. It lost 9.10kha of tree cover, equivalent to 4.48Mt of CO₂ emissions.

Principle 10 of the Rio Declaration asserts that ‘environmental issues are best handled with the participation of all concerned citizens. This principle is seen to be in reverse in Uganda’s practice.

Before forced evictions which started in 2015, families used the land for subsistence farming to raise money to meet basic needs and grow food for feeding, burial grounds and constructed permanent houses that have earned them a sense of belonging for generations but NFA has since destroyed 70% of their heritage.

Since 2015, the families have been forcefully evicted without court orders, prior consultation, and consent to give away their land. “There has not been any single document that permitted them to evict us since 2015. They came with graders, armed police, and soldiers to terrorize the whole village and enforce their evictions. We were not informed, consulted, and neither did we consent to give them our land.” The local council chairman, Mr. Buule Cossy, also one of the affected said in an interview with Witness Radio – Uganda.

According to documents seen by Witness Radio – Uganda, ownership of land by the indigenous community is traced between the 1910s and early 1920s. Some locals have receipts indicating payments made to the then colonial matters while others have presented sale agreements.

On a fateful night, 18th March 2019, the entire village of Yandwe woke up to face the wrath of armed police, soldiers, and armed workers of NFA. Victims narrated that armed groups burnt their houses, razed gardens, and looted their properties at gunpoint before the majority of community members fled their homes.

The violence orchestrated by different armed groups left one villager identified as Ntalo Simon shot and badly wounded.

“We had one incident in which our community member Ntale was shot in the process of eviction and the victim was badly wounded while others were beaten, houses demolished and crops were cut down,” Buule confirmed.

The NFA claims that residents are occupying the forest land illegally. According to residents, Mbale Forestry Reserve was gazetted in 1967 as a central forest reserve land, found their ancestors already on the land. They claim they are the lawful owners of the land and accuse the NFA of forcefully grabbing their land tactically.

Another victim, Katongole John said his grandparents settled on this land in 1915 and claimed that they were paying some dues to the colonial administrators then.

“Upon making payment, colonial matters would issue a certificate known as an occupational license to the payee. The documents would prove land ownership”. he claimed.

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Accountable Development To Communities

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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