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Masindi high court finally fixes court dates for Kiryandongo land grab victims



In 2017, all hell broke loose when thousands of families in Kiryandongo district, Western Uganda started fleeing their homes for their dear lives. The move was triggered by the unabated brutal and forceful evictions orchestrated by multinational companies who acquired the interests in the said land for large-scale agriculture.

The eviction had far-reaching consequences on the community. It left broken homes and shattered dreams. Rape and defilement were among the underhand tools employed to break the resistance put up by the smallholder farmers. At all times, arrests, detentions and prosecution defined and still define the relationship between the evicted community and the multinational companies. Not even their lawyers were spared; they too were arrested and detained.

On 30th June 2020 in Busaana-Kimogola village, Kakooko parish, Mutunda Sub County, the Uganda Police Force (UPF) arrested seven lawyers and 6 land rights defenders while collecting evidence to support ongoing human rights enforcement cases against the multinationals: Kiryandongo Sugar limited, Agilis Partners Limited, and Great Seasons SMC Limited. The brutal and chilling accounts of the state’s excesses against its own citizens were detailed in a report, “Land Grabs at Gunpoint” by AFSA, GRAIN and Witness Radio – Uganda.

“UPDF Soldiers and police officers under the command of the former Kiryandongo District Police Commander Mr. Joseph Bakaleke and his predecessors. They caught us unaware and nobody expected this. We had never been consulted nor compensated. The area was cut off right from the main road and no car would access the eviction premises. No media or human rights defenders were allowed to access the entire villages. The inhuman actions were devastating”. said Joseph Walekula, one of the victims.

Despite a shocking report by three civil societies that revealed gross human rights abuses and violations in Kiryandongo by multinationals, the companies continue to violate the rights of the evictees unabated.

According to the report, more than 35,000 have been evicted by the companies. However, rights activists and land rights defenders claim the numbers are increasing due to the unending evictions. The 2020 report called for independent investigations into the matter and compensation for the affected families. To date, the demands have not been addressed!

But the shocking revelations persist. On 28th February, three armed Field Force Unit officers guarding Agilis partners plantations, led by Byaruhanga Francis, attacked 20-year old Talemwa Eliot in the wee hours of the morning and ordered him to vacate his land. He says he was questioned why he is still living in the company land.

“They came at around 2:00 am, they banged on my door and threatened to set it on fire if I do not open or come out. I opened it but they were armed with a gun and big sticks. I think they wanted to take my life. It was terrible. I had to fight one who had a stick and then ran. I managed to escape but still, they ran over me and hit me with a big stick,” Talemwa added.

He added that all his belongings including 200,000 Ugandan shillings (USD56.7) were taken, and mattresses, clothes, and other household items were thrown outside.

“They failed to catch me and decided to come back for my property at home. I found all of them out while the money had been taken.” he further said in an interview.

The attack on Talemwa happened barely 10 hours after terrible violence was committed at his parent’s home.

According to eyewitnesses, Mr. William Katusime and Namuganza Esther, both parents to Talemwa were violently evicted from their land by a group of 18 people consisting of 8 armed policemen, 7 security guards, and 3 soldiers. Their cassava plantation of 4 acres was destroyed.

“They came with a tractor registration number UAR 643K at around 4:45 pm on Saturday and destroyed everything. I had over 150 acres of land.” Katusime narrated.

These and other atrocities committed forced Walekula, Katusime, and other residents affected by the three companies’ forced evictions to petition the High Court of Uganda at Masindi to seek, among others, compensation for the violations of their human rights and the destroyed properties, and to halt the forced evictions.

Witness Radio Uganda through M/s Kiiza and Mugisha Advocates, helped the communities to file the applications seeking justice and and the return of their grabbed lands.

“We cannot sit while the companies are grabbing our land. We have been here for decades. Our families are broken. We are broke. People are dying. We have no food to eat because we are restricted from using our land. This is why we ran to court for our rescue in getting justice,” explains Mr. Otyaluk Ben Wilson, one of the affected residents in Nyamutende.

According to the lawyers, all the cases have been fixed for hearing at the High Court. The Masindi High Court fixed 20th April 2022 for hearing of Miscellaneous cause number 11 of 2020 of Joseph Mangfu and 11 others vs. Agilis Partners, 21st April for hearing case Miscellaneous Cause Number 12 of 2020 of Otyaluk Ben Wilson and 8 others vs. Kiryandongo sugar Company and 30th of May 2022 for hearing the application for Ssebisolo Godfrey, Miscellaneous cause Number 007 of 2020 vs. great seasons SMC limited company.

“This means a lot to us. We are happy for the success we have so far achieved. We thank our representatives for the support,” Joseph said.

Meanwhile, the Kiryandongo women affected by the forced evictions community have written to the US ambassador to Uganda, Ambassador Natalie E Brown, seeking a remedy and redress on the forced, violent, and inhuman evictions orchestrated by the Agilis Company that is funded by the US.

Represented by Akiteng Stella, the affected communities including Kisaranda, Kanani, Gologosa, kololo, Kamison, Kamigora, Techwa, Ndoi, Nyamuntende Sub- Counties: Mutunda and Kitwara claim they have extremely suffered as a result of the company’s excesses.

Residing on Ranch 20/21 in Kiryandongo, the community says their land was forcefully grabbed by the Agilis partners in 2017 and has since evicted them without following the necessary due process.

According to the letter, residents have been greatly disturbed and negatively affected by the projects they established in their community. It reads:

“…First and foremost, the company hires men who come from wherever and these men are busy raping my fellow women and, since most of them are not married, they end up satisfying their sexual [urges] by raping our women thus infecting them with sexually transmitted diseases like HIV/AIDS, Gonorrhea and Syphilis among others. Some of our young girls are raped and they end up becoming pregnant thus being forced to drop out of school.

They demolished our schools, hospitals, churches and destroyed our gardens too so we have no land for farming, and yet agriculture was a source of income.

After evicting us from the land, some of our husbands abandoned us with our children so without land for farming it’s really hard for us to be in a position to sustain our families.
Our water sources like wells were destroyed which has caused water shortage and those that are left are far and the path that leads us to the water sources are inaccessible and are risky because they are surrounded by plantations and the rapists usually use that opportunity to rape our women…”
…We are requesting you to give us audience so that we can air out our issues on how Agilis coming to our community has caused us a lot of suffering as a community, infringed on our human rights, greatly affected our lively hood and increased poverty to mention but a few yet we believe these projects are meant to better our lives. We also request you to carry out investigations on the company whose projects you’re funding because it is not exhibiting American values. Is this company whose employees’ rape and defile American?”

Brief background about the multinational companies.

Agilis partners.

Agilis Partners is owned by twin brothers from the US, Phillip Prinz, and Benjamin Prinz. In 2013 the brothers established Joseph Initiative, a maize trading company that sources from a network of out-grower farmers in Masindi District who were previously doing contract production for British American Tobacco.

The Joseph Initiative has received financial support from several sources. In 2013, it received a US$1.5 million equity investment from the Dutch billionaire De Rijcke family, via its registered charity in the UK, Dutch OakTree Foundation, and DOB Equity (DOB Foundation), a private equity vehicle that manages the “charitable” investments of the De Rijcke family.

In 2017, Dutch Oak Tree sold its minority shares in Joseph Initiative to Agilis Partners but remains involved in the company through a loan that is due in 2022.

In 2013, Joseph Initiative also received a $500,000 loan from the United Nation’s Common Fund for Commodities (CFC), via the Dutch Trust Fund arrangement set up by the Netherlands Ministry for Development Cooperation to support CFC projects with co-financing contributions.10 And in 2014, the UK DFID funded Food Trade program granted Joseph Initiative £981,311(US$1280, 59), under a 3-year project.

Kiryandongo Sugar

Kiryandongo Sugar is owned by members of the powerful Rai family, a Kenyan-based business group that owns numerous plantation, food, metals, and timber companies in east and southern Africa. Over the past decade and a half, the Rai Group has become one of the continent’s largest players in the production and import of sugar. Several of its sugar companies are involved in land conflicts, including the displacement of 5,000 people by Hoima Sugar Limited in Kijayo, Uganda.

Great Seasons SMC Limited

Great Seasons SMC Limited, owned by Sudan’s investor based in Dubai. Company records indicate only that it is owned by one Yasir Adam Ahmedai Abdalla.

Original source: Ugandan Land Defenders Via Farm Land Grab


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



UGA 001 / 0923 / OBS 037
Arbitrary detention /
Release /
Judicial harassment
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.


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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.



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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Breaking: Criminal trial for seven community defenders opposed to EACOP/Tilenga project forced land eviction has been fixed.



By Witness Radio team

The Magistrate court in Hoima City has announced that the trial for seven community environmental rights defenders will kick off on the 3rd and 4th of October, 2023, respectively. The defenders are part of a larger community of 2500 locals negatively impacted by the East Africa Crude Oil Project (EACOP)/ Tilenga project. The victim community lost its land, properties, food and livestock, livelihood, and people’s rights were grossly violated/abused, and its identity through a violent and forceful land eviction without a court order or an alternative settlement.

The displacement occurred immediately after the arbitrary arrest and imprisonment of victim defenders.
Over 3500 hectares that were lawfully occupied and cultivated by the local community were earmarked for the oil EACOP/Tilenga project several years ago before the imprisonment of defenders and forced land eviction.

The Tilenga feeder pipeline corridor is approximately 95 km long originates from the Tilenga Project Central Processing Facility (CPF), about 8 km northeast of Buliisa town in Buliisa District and 5 km south of the Albert Nile.

The purpose and the need for the Tilenga feeder pipeline, according to Total Energies, is to deliver crude oil to the planned refinery in Kabaale and the East African Crude Oil Pipeline (EACOP).
Those facing trial include Kataza Samuel, Mulega Eria, Mbombo Steven, Rubyogo David, Karongo Edward, Karongo Stephen, and Rangira Stephen.

The seven face different charges shown in tables below;

File No. 1

Name Court File Number Charge
Kataza Samuel 237 of 2023 Malicious damage to property
Mulega Eria 237 of 2023 Criminal trespass
Karongo Stephen 237 of 2023 Threatening violence
Rangira Stephen 237 of 2023 Threatening violence
Karongo Edward 237 of 2023 Theft

File No.2

Name Court File Number Charge
Kataza Samuel 77 of 2023 Stealing cattle
Mulega Eria 77 of 2023 Stealing cattle
Karongo Stephen 77 of 2023 Stealing cattle
Rangira Stephen 77 of 2023 Stealing cattle

File No. 3

Name Court File Number Charge
Karongo Stephen 238 of 2023 Assault
Karongo Edward 238 of 2023 Assault
Rangira Stephen 238 of 2023 Assault

File No.4

Name Court File Number Charge
Rubyogo David 241 of 2023 Threatening violence

File No. 5

Name Court File Number Charge
Mbombo Stephen 60 of 2023 Malicious Damage to property

File No. 6

Name Court File Number Charge
Mbombo Stephen 64 of 23 Threatening violence

On 15th and 16th August 2023, the court ordered the state prosecutor’s office in Hoima City to disclose to the defense as soon as possible for preparation ahead of the trial.

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