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DEFENDING LAND AND ENVIRONMENTAL RIGHTS

How politically connected individuals abuse their powers to grab land from 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.

DEFENDING LAND AND ENVIRONMENTAL RIGHTS

Statement: The Energy Sector Strategy 2024–2028 Must Mark the End of the EBRD’s Support to Fossil Fuels

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The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) is due to publish a new Energy Sector Strategy before the end of 2023. A total of 130 civil society organizations from over 40 countries have released a statement calling on the EBRD to end finance for all fossil fuels, including gas.

From 2018 to 2021, the EBRD invested EUR 2.9 billion in the fossil energy sector, with the majority of this support going to gas. This makes it the third biggest funder of fossil fuels among all multilateral development banks, behind the World Bank Group and the Islamic Development Bank.

The EBRD has already excluded coal and upstream oil and gas fields from its financing. The draft Energy Sector Strategy further excludes oil transportation and oil-fired electricity generation. However, the draft strategy would continue to allow some investment in new fossil gas pipelines and other transportation infrastructure, as well as gas power generation and heating.

In the statement, the civil society organizations point out that any new support to gas risks locking in outdated energy infrastructure in places that need investments in clean energy the most. At the same time, they highlight, ending support to fossil gas is necessary, not only for climate security, but also for ensuring energy security, since continued investment in gas exposes countries of operation to high and volatile energy prices that can have a severe impact on their ability to reach development targets. Moreover, they underscore that supporting new gas transportation infrastructure is not a solution to the current energy crisis, given that new infrastructure would not come online for several years, well after the crisis has passed.

The signatories of the statement call on the EBRD to amend the Energy Sector Strategy to

  • fully exclude new investments in midstream and downstream gas projects;
  • avoid loopholes involving the use of unproven or uneconomic technologies, as well as aspirational but meaningless mitigation measures such as “CCS-readiness”; and
  • strengthen the requirements for financial intermediaries where the intended nature of the sub-transactions is not known to exclude fossil fuel finance across the entire value chain.

Source: iisd.org

Download the statement: https://www.iisd.org/system/files/2023-09/ngo-statement-on-energy-sector-strategy-2024-2028.pdf

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DEFENDING LAND AND ENVIRONMENTAL RIGHTS

Uganda: Judicial harassment of environmental and human rights activist Desire Nkurunziza

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UGA 001 / 0923 / OBS 037
Arbitrary detention /
Release /
Judicial harassment
Uganda
September 5, 2023The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a partnership of the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), requests your urgent intervention in the following situation in Uganda.

Description of the situation:The Observatory has been informed of the arrest and subsequent release of Desire Nkurunziza, an environmental and human rights activist and the elected leader of Nyairongo village, Kikuube district, mid-western region of Uganda. As a member of the Save the Bugoma Forest Campaign (SBFC) community task force, Mr Nkurunziza has been calling out the local and central government authorities about the deforestation of the Bugoma Central Forest Reserve, which has been leased to the Hoima Sugar Limited company, mainly for sugarcane cultivation, by the Bunyoro Kitara Kingdom, South-West region of Uganda. This project is not only affecting the biodiversity of the forest but also the local community, which has been subjected to extortion by land grabbers associated to Hoima Sugar Limited and/or its agents.

On July 16, 2023, two cars came to Desire Nkurunziza’s home in Nyairongo trading center, one of them belonging to a supervisor of Hoima Sugar Ltd and the other to an associate of the Kikuube Resident District Commissioner, both known by Mr Nkurunziza. The two men informed him that two of his village members were arrested in the forest, now a sugar cane plantation, and he agreed to go with them to help his constituents. Upon reaching the plantation, he was handed over to armed Hoima Sugar Ltd personnel, who started beating him and then recorded a video accusing him of illegally cutting down sugar cane. He was then taken to the Kikuube police station by the same Hoima Sugar Ltd car, where he was arrested on the grounds of “incitement of violence” and “criminal trespass” under Section 51 and 302 of the Penal Code Act, respectively, and detained there by the police for two days. He requested temporary release from police bond – custody -, but his request was denied.

On July 18, 2023, he applied for Court bail, which was denied even though he fulfilled all the requirements set by the Court and no reason was provided. He was then remanded to Kiryatete prison.

After reporting back to court on July 24, Desire Nkurunziza was released on Court bail. He had to pay a cash bail of 300,000 Ugandan shillings (approximately 74 Euros) in addition to satisfying all the conditions for release, with the obligation to report back on August 31, 2023, to the Chief Magistrates Court of Hoima, which is handling the matter. During his audience, the magistrate informed him that he would need to report back once again to the Court on November 2, 2023, without providing any reasons.

The Observatory recalls that the Bugoma Forest is the second biggest natural forest reserve in Uganda. In recent years, it has been claimed by the Bunyoro Kitara Kingdom, Western Uganda, which obtained a land title through irregular ways before it leased it to sugar manufacturer Hoima Sugar Limited for sugarcane cultivation, to establish an urban centre, develop eco-tourism, and restore a portion of the forest reserve. Before leasing the land to Hoima Sugar Limited, an environmental and social impact assessment (ESIA) certificate was issued by the National Environment Management Authority, in circumstances that have been contested by the Africa Institute for Energy Governance (AFIEGO) in courts of Law. The contestation is based on the allegations that the assessment was made without consulting the local community, even though this issue clearly concerns them. A trial which aims to annul the ESIA certificate is ongoing in front of the Court of appeal.

The Observatory further recalls that this is not the first time that defenders of the Bugoma Forest are targetted for their legitimate human rights activities. In September 2020, nine environmental rights defenders were arbitrarily arrested for defending the Bugoma Forest, including Venex Watebawa and Joshua Mutale, respectively team leader and Head of Programmes of Water and Environment Media Network (WEMNET), who were first arrested on their way to a radio talk show to discuss the dangers of sugar cane cultivation in the Bugoma Forest and call on peaceful protests, as well as Sandra Atusinguza, member of AFIEGO who went to the police station to negotiate their release and got arrested herself. These various acts of harassment against environmental and human rights defenders, in addition to the numerous arrests of local residents defending their right to access their own land, show the will of the local and national governments to intimidate and silence them.

The Observatory strongly condemns the arbitrary arrest and judicial harassment of Desire Nkurunziza, as well as the other above mentioned human rights defenders, which seem to be only aimed at punishing them for their legitimate human rights activities.

Source: fidh.org

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DEFENDING LAND AND ENVIRONMENTAL RIGHTS

Uganda: Targeting community land and environmental defenders with criminal offenses is rising as two community land rights defenders arrested in a hotspot district of forced land evictions.

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By Witness Radio team

As land and environmental rights defenders strive to better their areas, they continue to bear the brunt of defending communities’ land rights from negative impacts brought by the development projects.

In Kiryandongo District, multinationals have increasingly chosen to adopt a strategy of criminalizing activities of community defenders who are working tirelessly to protect communities’ farming fields.

This criminalization method has captured area police units and use it to cause arbitrary arrest and detention, and prefer various offenses against community land and environmental defenders. Commonly used charges include criminal trespassing on a piece of land communities have cultivated for generations and causing damage to their own property. These actions have weakened the activism charisma of defenders and deter them from continuing with pushing back against illegal and forced land evictions. These tactics do not only undermine the legitimate work of community land and environmental rights defenders but also create an environment of fear and intimidation among those who dare to resist land grabbing and environmental degradation.

On the 22nd of August 2023, two community land rights defenders were rounded up for the seventh time in a period of two (2) years by police officers attached to Kiryandongo district police, and three workers from Great Seasons SMC Limited company Limited arbitrarily arrested and dumped in the Kiryandongo district police cells.

The defenders Barumangabo Sepriano and Ramu Ndahimana rounded -up and arbitrarily arrested from their farming fields preparing for the upcoming planting season, handicapped, and subsequently taken away.

“In the early morning hours, we were suddenly confronted by a group of armed people comprised of Kiryandongo district police personnel and individuals representing the company. Swiftly and forcefully, we were pushed into a white land cruiser bearing the registration number UBF 417C, which was later identified as the property of the evictors. Initially, the captors asserted that one of the grounds for our apprehension was our alleged trespassing on the company’s land.

However, upon arrival at the police station, the officers altered their claims and stated that we had supposedly posed threats to the company’s workers, a charge we vehemently denied. Shortly after a short period of time, another accusation of malicious damage was leveled against us. Astonishingly, we were informed that we were being held accountable for purportedly setting a structure ablaze.” One of the defenders narrated when visited by Witness Radio team at police.

The two defenders are among a group of community land and environmental rights defenders who have been on the forefront advocating for land, social and economic justice of communities in Kiryandongo district whose land is targeted for large-scale farming by multinationals.

Great Seasons SMC Limited, planting coffee on a large scale, is one of the multinational companies in the Kiryandongo district that have violently deprived communities of their rights to own land, and homes, demolished community schools, cut down food crops owned community members/families, destroyed water sources, and privately-owned health centers.

Over 35000 residents have lost their family lands after violent and forceful land evictions to pave the way for industrial agriculture. In addition to the Great Seasons SMC Limited, there are other multinationals implicated in land-grabbing activities, such as Kiryandongo Sugar Limited, Agilis Partners Limited, and Somdiam Limited.

Kiryandongo district police has preferred threatening violence, criminal trespass and malicious damage to property charges against the two (2) defenders.

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