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Defending Land And Environmental Rights

Local land grabbers evict villagers at night; foreign investors cultivate the same lands the next day



Houses of villagers in Mubende Madudu, Uganda set on fire during an eviction for agribusiness.
In Uganda, land remains the most sought–after natural resource, however legal and structural mechanisms have not been effective in addressing illegal land evictions faced by vulnerable communities. Most local investors have taken advantage of the structural gaps in land administration which have exacerbated the issuance of multiple titles. This has been compounded by Uganda’s weak justice system and excesses perpetrated by some police officers and the military.
In recent times, the country has witnessed catastrophic forced evictions across the country including Mubende, Kiryandongo, Wakiso, and Amuru districts. These evictions are synonymously connected to gross human rights violence which includes rape, extra-judicial killing, and destruction of homes and farms against lawful landowners.
In the circumstances, the affected families are denied adequate compensation and left homeless. They are removed from areas that they formerly called homes and cultivated for decades. Even those that get a chance to be paid are paid peanuts. For instance, in the Kiryandongo district residents were paid as little as UGX. 100,000/= equivalent to 28.39 USD for them to leave their land. Those who refused were evicted forcefully.
A random survey carried out by this defender also indicated that about 45% of the grabbed land has not been utilized, yet it is tightly guarded by the army, police, and private security guards.
The current patterns indicate that upon a successfully forced eviction by local faces of brokers, in a blink of an eye, the grabbed land is handed over to foreign investors/multinational companies and in most cases, they (investors) grow the same crops the project affected persons were growing before.
In the Kiryandongo district, a local land broker Mwesigye Reuben caused the dispossession of thousands of poor families. He, in company with the senior lands officer at the Kiryandongo district land board John Lubambula, allegedly changed the ownership of that land, and with the help from Kiryandongo district police plus other private security firms, carried out forced evictions before the land was handed over to the Great Seasons SMC limited.
Great Seasons SMC limited, owned by a Sudan investor, is one of the multinational companies that have forcefully evicted more than 35,000 smallholder farmers. Other multinational companies include Kiryandongo Sugar Works limited and Agilis Partners Limited.
Earlier this year, a joint team of detectives from the Land Protection Unit, Special Investigations Unit (SIU), and Criminal Intelligence and Investigation Directorate (CIID) arrested Mwesigye and Lubambula and later charged them with three counts including fraud by Masindi Chief Magistrate’s Court.
Mubende, one of the forced eviction hot spots in the country, witnessed the rage of one George Kaweesi, who, with help of Mubende district police and private security firms, carried out a forced eviction of over 3500 villagers in Kambuye, Kikono, Kyabaana,Kanseera, and Lwensanga. The land is adjacent to the Kaweeri Coffee plantation. It’s alleged that four years after this land was grabbed, it has remained unutilized but being guarded tightly by one of Uganda’s popular private security firms, and the exercise of planting of coffee is secretly taking place.
It’s important to note that some of the victims in that particular eviction were hitherto evicted by the Kaweeri Coffee Plantation Limited 20 years ago with compensation.
In 2013, Karangwa Moses grabbed and violently evicted over 17000 people from 20 sq. miles in Kayunga district. Within a short period, farm equipment and workers from Kakiira Sugar Works Limited, a subsidiary of Madhvani Group started cultivating the land.
The company is financed by different financial institutions including the World Bank, the African Development Bank, and Uganda Development Bank among others.
Original source: Ugandan land defenders

Defending Land And Environmental Rights

The abducted community land rights defender is found and released on a police bond.



By Witness Radio Team.

A Kawaala Zone II community land rights defender who was waylaid and arrested by eight (8) armed policemen has been found at Old Kampala regional police headquarters and released without a charge.

On 31st/10/2022, armed Policemen arrested Kabugo Michael who was due to set off for a community meeting between the residents, Witness Radio – Uganda, and the Accountability Counsel intended to discuss issues surrounding their land interests targeted by the infrastructural project.

Kabugo is a community land rights defender in Kawaala Zone II Rubaga division, Kampala district. He is one of the community land rights defenders facing reprisals for defending the community’s land targeted by Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA) for a drainage channel construction and expansion project funded by the World Bank.

After a long day search for the abducted community defender, Witness Radio lawyers found him held at the Old Kampala regional police headquarters.

Mrs. Adongo Sarah, one of the victim’s lawyers said the police reviewed an old file where the victim was accused of ‘fraud’ and re-interviewed him.

“He was able to make an additional statement, and his police bond and that of his other colleagues accused alongside with on the old file was extended to Friday 4th November this year.” She added.

She further said Michael’s arrest was arbitrary, adding that even the Officer in Charge of the case at Old Kampala Regional Criminal Investigations Department could not give reasons.

The victim’s lawyers believe these increased actions of arrests, kidnaps, and detentions of Kawaala community land rights defenders are reprisals for their work of opposing

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Defending Land And Environmental Rights

Breaking: A Kawaala community land rights defender kidnapped and taken to unknown destinations, others on the run.



By Witness Radio-Uganda.

Armed Policemen have this morning waylaid and arrested a community land rights defender in Kawaala zone II Rubaga division, Kampala district, Witness Radio-Uganda has learned.

Mr. Kabugo Micheal is a renowned community land rights defender who advocates for fair compensation of the community land on an ongoing project of Lubigi drainage channel expansion funded by the World Bank and implemented by the Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA).

According to eyewitnesses, the defender was at Mr. Kasozi’s home (one of the community defenders) before setting off for a community meeting between the residents, Witness Radio – Uganda, and Accountability Counsel. The meeting was to discuss issues surrounding their land interests targeted by the infrastructural project.

“As he was sitting on a Boda (motorcycle taxi driven in Uganda and other East African States), police rounded him up before his arrest. We saw him being manhandled. They (police) forced him onto one of the police bodas before he was taken to unknown destinations.” Said an eyewitness.

Another eyewitness further explained that he was arbitrarily arrested by eight (8) armed policemen on a police patrol

Mr. Kasozi Paul Ssengendo who also witnessed the arbitrary arrest of Michael said police are targeting them with arrests because of their work to resist forced eviction by Kampala Capital City Authority.

“I am currently on the run. I was a target of police but I managed to escape.” The defender told Witness Radio.

In June this year, Mr kabugo and 5 others were arrested and falsely charged with forgery, a charge they said is retaliation for their work in fighting for their land rights.

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Accountable Development To Communities

Breaking: Court dismisses a criminal case against a community land rights defender for want of prosecution.



By Witness Radio Team.

Kiryandongo. A criminal trespass case against a community land rights defender has been dismissed over the prosecution’s failure to adduce evidence before the Chief Magistrate Court that pinned the community defender on the alleged charges.

On 27th October 2021, Kiryandongo Chief Magistrate Court charged Otyaluk David with criminal trespass and remanded him to Masindi prison. He was later granted court bail and since then, he has been traveling 48 kilometers to and from court every fortnight.

Before he was presented before a court, Otyaluk was kidnapped and illegally detained in Kiryandongo Central Police Station (CPS) cells for five (5) days for trespassing on a piece of land he (Otyaluk) had lived and cultivated since he was born.

In the afternoon of 21st October, two (2) armed men cladding Uganda People Defense Forces (UPDF) uniform and police personnel raided Otyaluk’s home and got him kidnapped to an unknown destination. UPDF soldiers guard Kiryandongo Sugar Limited plantations.

“On the day of his kidnap, Otyaluk was found praying in his house. In a blink of an eye, the defender was rounded up and bundled onto a vehicle owned by Kiryandongo Sugar Limited, forcefully evicting us off our land. We later learned that he was taken into evictor’s facilities where he was kept for some time before being transferred to Kiryandongo CPS” A family member remembers.

A family member further added that before the kidnap, Otyaluk’s family had lost about 12 acres of land to Kiryandongo Sugar Limited.

“Company workers under the protection of soldiers brought a tractor and plowed acres of semi-mature maize, beans, sorghum, and sim-sim. We were only left with a small piece of land where our house sits and we are currently trapped in the middle of a sugarcane plantation” a family member added.

Since the trial period was announced, the prosecution failed to bring witnesses to pin Otyaluk for trespassing on his land. It was only on the 19th of July, 2022 during a court session, one Adamuru Peter, allegedly to be a company manager turned up as a company representative but not as a witness.

In her ruling last week, a magistrate at Kiryandongo Magistrate court discontinued the trial of Otyaluk and dismissed the case.

Otyaluk is one of the luckiest among hundreds of community land and environmental rights defenders currently under persecution to have his case dismissed. It’s an order of the day for the community land and environmental rights defenders to be kidnapped, arbitrarily arrested, and tortured on orders of investors for their work of mobilizing the communities to desist land grabs.

Kiryandongo Sugar Limited is among multinationals forcefully evicting over 35000 local and indigenous people off their land to give way to large-scale agribusinesses.

Kiryandongo Sugar Limited is one of the many companies owned by the Rai Group of Mauritius. The dynasty owns several other companies in DR Congo, Kenya and Malawi, and Uganda. A dynasty owns companies such as West Kenya Sugar (which owns Kabras Sugar), Timsales Limited, Menengai Oil Refineries, Rai Ply, and Webuye Panpaper.

In Uganda, the Rai Group of Mauritius owns Nile Ply limited, Kinyara Sugar Limited, and Masindi Sugar Limited among others. One of its directors is a shareholder of a British Virgin Islands company, listed in the Panama Papers database recently.

The same company has fraudulently gotten a license to replace part of Bungoma natural forest with a sugarcane plantation.

“Court has shown today that the company is maliciously arresting us to keep us in jails. To weaken our hearts, wasting our time and resources. They intentionally do this because we refused to surrender the land we have lived on for years. It is shaming that the government has failed to protect the rights of the poor people.” The defender noticed.

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