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Local communities lost over 60,000 acres of land to grabbers at a time Witness Radio – Uganda was under a suspension.



By Witness Radio Team.

In our breaking article published last week, Witness Radio and its contributors based on their data indicated that evictions rose during their suspension. According to the data, over 300,000 people’s livelihood was at stake as their land was on the verge of being grabbed. However, the new findings by the team reveal that 50,000 Ugandans were evicted. The evictions left the communities impoverished, homeless, hungry, disintegrated, and lost their livelihood.

Recently Witness Radio’s suspension was lifted as the National Bureau of non-government organizations licensed it to operate as a non-governmental organization. However, one of the chilling evictions transpired in Nyamutende and Kikungulu villages around the 3rd of September 2021. Over 20 residents slept in the cold after they were evicted at gunpoint by a multinational, Kiryandongo Sugar Company Limited.

“The soldiers guarding the company come from nowhere, they were tough and did not talk to us but only destroyed everything they found,” Mr. Olupot James, one of the evicted residents recounts the ordeal in an interview with Witness Radio.

When the area chairperson Mr. Ochola Charles intervened to stop the evictions, he said he was threatened to be shot at.

“Their manager whom we identified as Peter instructed the soldiers to shoot at me. He argued that I had no reason to stop them from doing what they are doing. But am the area chairperson who has to know what is happening in my community. This is the impunity we are fighting but the companies seem to be protected,” Mr. Ochola wondered.

In Katusiime William’s community, Kisalanda village in Kiryandongo district, his family is among the many that Agilis Company has recently evicted. Katusime who is protected by law as a bona fide occupant was evicted from the land claimed by the company. His family occupied the said land in 1975.

According to Uganda land law, a person who settled and utilized the land unchallenged by the registered owner for twelve years or more before the coming into force of the 1995 Constitution is protected by law as a bona fide occupant.

In an interview we held with him a fortnight back, he said he was attacked by 18 people consisting of 8 armed policemen, 7 private security guards, and 3 government soldiers, who destroyed his cassava plantations and a son’s house. They immediately ordered them to leave their land.

When we contacted Mr. Johny Masagazi, the Corporates Manager for Kiryandongo Sugar and Agilis’ Communications Corporates Manager, Mr. Emmanuel Onyango denied evicting residents.

These systematic and forceful evictions have ravaged smallholder farming communities since the suspension. These evictions have continued in Mubende, Kyankwanzi, Kikuube, and Kiryandongo districts.

In the Mubende district, families continue to be displaced and terrorized by Formosa, a tree planting company accusing them of occupying their land illegally.

According to Witness Radio’s legal officer, Ms. Sarah Adongo, none of the evictions that happened during their suspension was peaceful and neither followed the required legal eviction guidelines.

“In some communities, land rights defenders were kidnapped and whisked away, tortured purposely to instill fear among the people they lead. The evictors always use extreme force that is un-called-for yet eviction directives clearly state that the evictions shall be carried out in a manner that respects the dignity, right to life, property, and security of all persons affected.” She said.

“Persons to be evicted shall be allowed to remove illegal structures and where a person does not comply, the eviction shall be carried out. Evictions should be carried out on weekdays from 8:00 am to 6:00 pm. But cases are seen happening at night without complying with any orders, and particularly without valid legal notices.” She added.

Concerning the forceful evictions, over 60,000 acres of land were grabbed by the big shots in government and local or foreign investors. Research by Witness Radio indicates that most of the grabbed land is used for large-scale commercial agriculture, industrialization, or what the government calls development projects which have disrupted people’s livelihoods.

Katusiime and Olupot’s communities form part of the 50,000 people. Katusiime described the current situation as hell. Mr. Katusime had over 150 acres that were grabbed by the company. “I am useless without my land. I used to provide for my family. We used to eat well”. He grieved.

Currently, 90 community land rights defenders in only four districts namely Kyankwanzi, Mubende, Kikuube, and Kiryandongo are facing unscrupulous charges over multiple resistance to land grabbing.

The Head Legal at Witness Radio, Mrs. Bulyerali Joan, one of the lawyers who were arrested while collecting evidence in Kiryandongo district in 2020 to pin multinational land grab in court said police and army are in bed with the investors to cause fear within the oppressed communities by arresting and charging them.

She noted that the Kiryandongo district is one of the areas where the criminal justice system has been used to kidnap, torture, and arrest land rights defenders, and the main perpetrator is the Uganda Police Force which tortures eviction victims, arbitrarily arrests and dumps them in police cells only to be falsely charged with abusive criminal charges. She added that at the time of the organization’s suspension, the defenders could not be represented in court or while in police cells.

Our attempts to speak to the Uganda Police Force’s spokesperson Fred Enanga on his known contact for comment on the increased arrests were futile since our repeated calls were neither received nor returned by press time.

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Mityana district police rounded up and arbitrarily arrested over 50 Kikuube PAPs to block them from meeting Uganda’s Prime Minister.



By Witness Radio team

Two (2) community land rights defenders and 68 projects-affected persons from Kikuube district including children have been rounded up and arrested by Mityana district Police, Witness Radio has learned.

The community group led by Fred Mbambali and Ahumuza Busingye, were arrested from City Healing Church in Mityana Municipality, Mityana district. They were arrested on the orders of Mityana District Police Commander, Mr. Hasunira Ahmed, without being informed of the reasons for the arrest.

To seek justice and reclaim their grabbed land, the community decided to journey from the Kikuube district on Saturday, 2nd March 2024. Their objective was to petition Uganda’s Prime Minister, Rt. Hon. Robinah Nabanja, to intervene in grievances concerning forced evictions from their land and their unsuccessful attempts to regain ownership of their land that was grabbed by the officials of the Prime minister’s office for Kyangwali resettlement camp.

“On Friday, we departed from Kikuube district to Kakumiro intending to meet the Prime Minister. We aimed to convey the challenges we are facing following the unlawful seizure of our land. We sought her intervention to help us regain ownership, especially since many offices that were approached have not helped end our misery. Unfortunately, upon our arrival, we discovered she was in preparations to leave her residence. Instead, she instructed her private security team to escort us to her party’s offices (National Resistance Movement, NRM) in the Kakumiro district, assuring us that she would meet with us there. But she did not come back.” Mr. Mbambali Fred, one of the group leaders told Witness Radio.

Little did the affected community members know that their stay at the offices would be short-lived. Initially, they were welcomed by the security officers at the party offices, but their situation took a turn when the District security committee of Kakumiro led by the Resident District Commissioner (RDC), Mr. Matovu David and the District Police Commander (DPC) in the area Mr. Niyonzima Morris visited and questioned them about the reasons for their visit.

Subsequently, PAPs explained that they had been directed to wait at the offices by the Prime Minister. Despite their explanation, the Committee was skeptical and held an emergency meeting to resolve that Kikuube PAPs should leave the premises. The committee stated that the issue raised was not within the mandate of the Kakumiro district and thereafter, were asked to relocate to a different location, not within Kakumiro.

The stern Kakumiro district leaders directed the group to depart and proceed to the Office of the Prime Minister in Kampala for their meeting with her.

Shortly after being chased, they proceeded to Kampala via Mityana road, but PAPs sought to rest at one of the churches in the Mityana district. As soon as they occupied the church, Mityana district raided the premises, arrested all of them, and took them to Mityana Central Police Station, claiming that PAPs were posing a threat to the community.

“We were rounded up and arrested without being given any opportunity to explain ourselves. They didn’t even inform us of the reason for our arrest. We were kept at the police for nearly 12 hours without food. Both children and elders were starving, and the children even reached the point of crying because we were not allowed to move. It’s a double punishment to us because we haven’t committed any offense,” Ahumuza Busingye, another defender, told Witness Radio.

They were cautioned and later released without charges.

The Mityana District Police Commander, Mr. Hasunira Ahmed confirmed the arrest, stating that people neighboring the church had lodged complaints with the police about unknown individuals with a large amount of luggage occupying their premises. This led the police to arrest them.

“We received complaints about these individuals occupying a particular church, which posed a potential threat because they hadn’t obtained permission to stay there and didn’t possess a letter authorizing their movement to their destination. That’s why we intervened with an arrest, as many of them looked like rebels,” stated the Mityana District Police Commander.

PAPs arrested are part of the larger group of over 90,000 people evicted between 2013 and 2019 in 29 villagers by the office of the Prime minister (OPM) to give their land to the refugees in Katikala and Bukinda in Kyangwali district.

The community was evicted by officials led by Charles Bafaki from the Office of the Prime Minister, accompanied by the police and Uganda People Defence Forces (UPDF), from their land measuring 36 square kilometers located in various villages, including Bukinda A and B, Bukinda 2, Kavule, Bwizibwera A and B, Kyeya A and B, Nyaruhanga, Kabirizi, Nyamigisa A and B, and Katoma, all in Kyangwali sub-county for the Kyangwali refugee resettlement camp.

Despite receiving various directives, including two from the President, instructing the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM) officials to facilitate the return of the residents to their land, they have chosen to turn a deaf ear and disregard the implementation of these directives.

In 2016 and 2018, President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni issued directives to resettle PAPs back to their ancestral land, but unfortunately, these directives remained unimplemented.

In 2021, Prime Minister Robinah Nabbanja visited the victims and promised action, which, as of the time of writing this article, it’s yet to be realized.

On March 1, 2022, Minister of Relief, Disaster Preparedness, and Refugees, Mr. Hilary Onek, accused the victims of encroaching on government land. He also criticized local leaders and officials for potential involvement in stage-managed evictions.

In 2022, approximately 1,000 of the evictees camped at the office of the Kikuube Resident District Commissioner, Amlan Tumusiime, demanding his intervention to help them return to their land. Unfortunately, this intervention did not materialize. Some of the evictees sought shelter in temporary shelters provided by Florence Natumanya, the Kikuube Woman MP, and Francis Kazini, the Buhaguzi Member of Parliament, while others continued to search for livelihoods in other parts of the country.

“People are suffering immensely, and we are witnessing deaths without having a proper place to bury our loved ones. No one is coming to our rescue, and it’s heartbreaking to see our children deprived of education, as they are the future of tomorrow,” expressed the community members in an interview with Witness Radio.

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Breaking: A community land rights defender in the Kiryandongo district is charged with assault and released on a cash bail.



By Witness Radio team.

Magistrate Court sitting in Kiryandongo district has released a community land rights defender on a cash bail. He was arbitrarily arrested, and detained Thursday, February 29th, 2024, for attempting to open a criminal case against Great Seasons SMC Limited workers for erasing his 3 acres of land with ready-to-harvest cash crops.

Mwawula Fred’s release came after spending five (5) days in detention. Mr. Mwawula is a community land rights defender based in Kisalanda village, Mutunda parish, Kiryandongo district help to mobilize communities to resist forced land grabbing by multinational companies in Kiryandongo district.

The prosecution alleges that Mwawula assaulted workers of the Great Seasons SMC Company Limited who were in his garden.

The Penal Code Act, Cap 120, states that any person who commits an assault occasioning actual bodily harm commits a misdemeanor and is liable to imprisonment for five years on conviction.

On February 22nd, 2024, Witness Radio ran an article about four Great Seasons SMC Limited Company workers with a numberless tractor who had invaded and erased Mwawula’s garden with crops ready for harvest such as maize, green pepper, and tomatoes in Kisalanda village.

When he (Mwawula) went to Kiryandongo Central Police Station to open up criminal cases against the company, he was instead arbitrarily arrested, detained by local police, and preferred an assault charge before appearing before the court.

While granting the defender bail, Her Worship Amweno Hellen released Mr. Mwawula on a cash bail of 700,000 Ugx (Equivalent to 178.47 USD) while the sureties conditioned a non-cash bail.

The defender will report back to Court on the 13th/March/ 2024.

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Breaking: A community land rights defender in Kiryandongo, who was arrested for attempting to open a case against company workers at Kiryandongo Central police for erasing his garden, is facing assault charges.



By Witness Radio team.

Kiryandongo Central police have preferred an assault charge against a community land rights defender who was arbitrarily arrested and detained Thursday, February 29th, 2024, for attempting to open a criminal charge against workers of Great Seasons SMC Limited.

On February 22nd, 2024, four Great Seasons SMC Limited Company workers with a tractor invaded and erased Mr. Mwawula Fred’s garden with crops ready for harvest such as maize, green pepper, and tomatoes. The workers used a numberless company tractor to destroy the defender’s 3 acres of crops.

According to the police charge sheet, Mwawula allegedly assaulted workers of the Great Seasons SMC Company Limited who were in his garden.

Defender’s lawyers said Mwawula bravely tried to intervene to stop the destruction of his crops by company workers, but they (workers) callously persisted with their destructive actions, disregarding the defender’s pleas.

The lawyers also stated that company workers made off with sacks full of maize belonging to their client.

The Penal Code Act, Cap 120, states that any person who commits an assault occasioning actual bodily harm commits a misdemeanor and is liable to imprisonment for five years on conviction.

Mwawula, on several occasions, has been in and out of prison on several charges over eight times for mobilizing local communities to resist land grabbing and forceful evictions by multinational companies in the Kiryandongo district. However, the court has dismissed all of them for want of prosecution.

Frequently, the gardens belonging to smallholder farmers, activists, and defenders have been targeted and vandalized by Great Seasons SMC Company Limited, demanding that the local community should vacate what the company asserts as its land. In a distressing incident last December 2023, many defenders’ gardens were set ablaze by workers of the company, resulting in a prolonged famine within projected affected families.

The defender is yet to be produced in court to answer to assault charges.

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