witnessradio.org is running the report in series
When the New Forests Company (NFC) was formed in 2004 its management’s aim was for it to become East Africa’s biggest forester. The UK registered company has achieved that, along the way building itself a high-powered and influential corporate CV.
Today, the NFC plants and harvests timber on 27,000 hectares of ‘underutilized and/or degraded’ land in Uganda, Tanzania, Mozambique, and Rwanda; it has deals in those countries totaling around 90,000 hectares. The plantations contribute jobs and revenue, along with the timber products those countries need as they develop and which would otherwise be logged from natural forests. NFC hopes to attract more revenue from carbon credits, obliging the company to submit a full Project Design Document to the UN’s Clean Development Mechanism. In 2008, the Uganda Investment Authority named NFC an ‘Investor of the Year’. The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) – the global gold standard for forestry best practice – has certified two of NFC’s Ugandan plantations. The company has strong political ties in the countries where it works, from central government down to local level. NFC has attracted investment from international banks and private equity funds since 2008. The European Investment Bank (EIB), the EU’s financing institution, has loaned NFC five million Euros to expand one of its Ugandan plantations. Agri-Vie Agribusiness Fund, a private equity investment fund focused on food and agribusiness in sub-Saharan Africa, has invested $6.7m in NFC. Agri-Vie is itself backed by development finance institutions, notably the World Bank’s private sector lending arm, the International Finance Corporation (IFC). The most significant investment in NFC comes from HSBC (around $10m), which gives HSBC 20 per cent ownership of the company and one of six seats on the NFC Board. These investors have social and environmental standards to maintain in administering their own portfolios.
NFC runs education, health, and income-generation programmes with local communities; in Uganda, for example, it has built school rooms, health clinics, wells, and latrines, and runs literacy programmes and tree out-sourcing schemes which are ‘demand-driven’ and ‘locally-owned’. The company says it is now developing a system to quantify the positive social impacts that it ‘anecdotally and theoretically’ knows are already happening as a result of its investments.
Land has always been a contentious and emotive issue, even more so today given fierce competition over its use and spiraling value – and particularly so in Africa. NFC appears, on the face of it, to be the design blueprint for how a young modern business can conduct a major land investment in Africa in a responsible and ethical way. It has economic power, professional expertise, and close political support. It has a hands-on chief executive with local knowledge and ethical credentials. The company and its investors have clear environmental and social standards they commit to uphold and has corporate social responsibility and accountability principles embedded at the heart of its operations.
Given all this, how is it possible that thousands of people in affected communities have alleged that land clearances, which have taken place to make way for NFC’s operations in Uganda, have been accompanied by distress and violence, and have left many in a state of poverty?
“I remember my land, three acres of coffee, many trees – mangoes and avocados. I had five acres of banana,’ Francis Longoli says. ‘I was given awards as a model farmer. I had cows for milk, ten beehives, two beautiful permanent houses. My land gave me everything from my living to my children’s education. People used to call me Omutaka – someone who owns land. Now that is no more. I am one of the poorest now.’
Francis is among more than twenty thousand people who have been evicted from their homes and land in Kiboga district, and in nearby Mubende district, to make way for NFC plantations.
The Ugandan National Forestry Authority (NFA) granted licences over the plantation areas to NFC in 2005 and embarked on procedures to remove the former residents, which it claimed were ‘illegal encroachers’. This had taken place by February 2010 in Mubende and between 2006 and July 2010 in Kiboga. Oxfam’s research estimates that the number of evictees is in the region of 22,500, although that figure could be substantially higher. NFC, on the other hand, claim that this figure is no more than 15,191. Even this figure, they say, is likely to be significantly inflated since it is partly based on a survey conducted by the District Planner from Kiboga, which they claim is unreliable, despite that survey having been paid for by NFC.
It is alleged in the legal claims lodged by a large number of local villagers against NFC that individuals whom they believe to be NFC employees took part in evictions. NFC strongly denies this allegation, stating that the land clearances were voluntary and that the company played no role in them since ‘it is the sole mandate of the National Forestry Authority to document, engage with, and peacefully vacate any individuals illegally settling on Central Forest Reserves’. It states that it placed NFC employees on the plantations to observe the eviction process, but states that NFC played no part in the evictions themselves.
Today, the people evicted from the land are desperate, having been driven into poverty and landlessness. In some instances they say they were subjected to violence and their property, crops, and livestock destroyed. They say they were not properly consulted, have been offered no adequate compensation, and have received no alternative land.
Some of the affected people in Mubende district say that their land had been given to them in recognition of their fathers or grandfathers having fought in the British army in Burma and Egypt during the Second World War. Others say they were in the process of converting their title from customary to freehold tenure. Those evicted in Kiboga district state that they had been settled on their land for 40 years or more having been invited there by the Idi Amin regime. They had functioning village and government structures, such as local council systems, schools, health centres, churches, permanent homes, and farms on which they grew crops to feed themselves and surpluses to sell at market. They paid taxes. Theirs were strong and thriving permanent communities.
To be continued…
Breaking: Three community land rights defenders from Kawaala have been arrested.
Breaking: Three community land rights defenders from Kawaala have been arrested.
By Witness Radio team
Police at Old Kampala Regional Police Headquarter have arrested three of the six community land rights defenders from Kawaala Zone II, Kampala suburb, and preferred a fraud charge before being released on bond.
Kasozi Paul, Busobolwa Adam, and Kabugo Micheal got arrested on their arrival before being taken inside interrogation rooms. They were questioned from 11:00 AM – 12:30 PM local time and later recorded their statements.
Section 342 of the Penal Code states that forgery is the making of a false document with the intent to defraud or deceive. It carries a three year imprisonment on conviction.
According to lawyers representing victims, defenders are arrested on the orders of the Deputy Resident City Commissioner (RCC) in charge of Rubaga Division Anderson Burora and accused them of fraud.
Resident City Commissioner is a representative of the president in the Capital City at the division level.
The charges are a result of continued resistance by Kawaala community seeking fair compensation and resettlement before Lubigi drainage channel is constructed. Since the first COVID outbreak in 2020, the victim defenders and others have been leading a pushback campaign to stop forced evictions by a multimillion dollars Kampala Institutional and Infrastructure Development Project (KIIDP-2) funded by World Bank. Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA) is the implementor of the project.
This project first impacted Kawaala Zone II around 2014, when a channel diversion was constructed. The current planned expansion will widen that channel and require forced evictions across an area at least 70 meters wide and 2.5 km long.
The New Vision, a local daily of June 21st, 2022, quoted Burora accusing Kasozi Paul, one of the community land rights defenders from Kawaala Zone II of being a fraudster.
Witness Radio – Uganda challenges the deputy RCC Burora to produce evidence that pins the defenders on fraud instead of criminalizing the work of defenders.
“We warn Mr. Burora against using police to harass defenders who have openly opposed a project which is causing negative impacts on the community” Adong Sarah, one of the lawyers representing the defenders said.
The defenders got released on police bond as they are expected to report back to the police on Monday, the 18th of July 2022 at 11:00 AM local time.
Signs of harmful projects with financing from development institutions are spotted in Uganda…
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.
Breaking: over 350,000 acres of land were grabbed during Witness Radio – Uganda’s seven months ban.
By Witness Radio Team.
As the onslaught on civil society heightens, its space continues to shrink which has bearing on the services they render to the communities. Witness Radio, was among the 54 organizations suspended by Uganda’s National Bureau for Nongovernmental Organizations on August 20th, 2021. The actions are amongst the recent forms of attack on civil societies in Uganda. Other numerous attacks include arrests of rights activists, harassment, tortures, and office- break-ins at night by security operatives who move away with valuables.
The effects of this suspension were felt by communities facing land grabs across the country. For seven months while the organization was suspended, over 300,000 people were evicted from their land and couldn’t access specialized and prompt legal assistance.
Witness Radio Uganda, globally known for its campaign against community land-grabs couldn’t assist these victims of land grab since it risked facing further sanctions from the Bureau in case it intervened. However, last week, there was some relief, when Uganda’s National Bureau for NGOs lifted suspension and certified its operation.
According to Mrs. Bulyerali Joan, the Head Legal at Witness Radio – Uganda, the organization conducted a review of the evictions that happened during the suspension. With information and assistance from some lawyers, local journalists, and community land and environmental rights defenders across the country, the evictions watchdog was able to document cases of hundreds of thousands of Ugandans that were either forcefully evicted or received threats of evictions while in its limbo.
The ban imposed on Witness Radio coupled with the disruptive impacts of COVID- 19 resulted in the surge of eviction cases, especially in areas where the organization had a presence. Throughout the ban, without access to swift and prompt legal support, the communities resorted to sharing with the world their ordeal.
She further noted that the evictions were conducted in disregard of the law on evictions. “I was shocked to see powerful people and companies take advantage of our suspension to escalate the evictions of vulnerable communities that received our assistance. The evictions did not comply with the land eviction practice directives. None of them was preceded by legal court orders.” She noted.
According to the Land Eviction directives, issued by the former Chief Justice of Uganda, Bart Katureebe, evictions shall be preceded by valid court order, properly identifying the persons taking part in the eviction, and upon presentation of formal authorizations. The police and local authority of the area shall be notified and shall be present to witness the evictions, among others.
Based on the data gathered by the team, various communities across the country were left dispossessed by land grabbers without any form of assistance. Others have received threatening messages with intentions of dispossessing them off their land.
During the period under review, over 300,000 people across the country are believed to have been threatened with evictions, while 350,000 acres of land were either grabbed or on verge of being grabbed.
“However much, we gathered this information, we expect the cases to be higher because some evictions go unreported either due to the remoteness of the areas or other related factors.” One of the collaborators observed.
The evictions were extremely violent. They were characterized by kidnaps, arrests and detentions, torture that often-caused unexpected grief to the communities.
Among the most affected districts include Kyankwanzi, Mubende, Kassanda, Hoima, Buikwe, Wakiso, Kikuube, and Bulambuli districts.
In some of the mentioned districts, the Lands, Housing, and Urban Development Minister toured and halted the evictions but the evictors continued unabated.
Mr. Kimazi Experito, a journalist based in Mubende, attributed the rise of evictions to the organization’s suspension which denied the evictions-affected communities access to specialized legal assistance.
He said Witness Radio has offered support to over 20 land-grab-affected communities in Mubende with legal support. “Witness radio is a game-changer that brought back lives of evicted communities to normal,” he lauded.
“Mubende is one of the fastest-growing areas because of gold and other minerals as well as factors related to fertile soils. Currently, it is one of the hotspots of evictions. Opportunists used this chance to grab land from people with full attention. Without the defenders, it’s often hard for people to get justice since local people are not much informed about land laws.” Kimazi explained.
Engineered by powerful people in public offices, multinational companies, and politicians using state machinery including the army and national police, forced evictions to continue to affect food sovereignty and threaten the role of indigenous communities to protect the environment.
During the same period, President Yoweri Museveni stopped any eviction without the approval of the Resident District Commissioners. However, legal experts warned that the move is to usurp the powers of the Judiciary. In a statement signed by Pheona Nabasa Wall, the Uganda Law Society President noted that the directive undermined the role and independence of courts in handling eviction matters.
That notwithstanding, “Occasionally, the residents are not given any opportunity to negotiate with the landlords. Even when the government obliges to pay landowners, neither does the government nor the evictor compensate for the damaged property. During evictions, properties that were made for their life end up being destroyed in seconds which causes lifetime misery.” Paul Kasoozi, a community land rights defender stated.
With different tactics aimed at alienating the poor from their land, it has been established that the police and the army continued to play a huge role in the largest forms of violent evictions through torture, arbitrary arrests, and detention and instilling fear and pressurizing the local communities to vacate their land on orders of the evictors.
Many of those community members who oppose land evictions end up being kidnapped, tortured, or arrested and detained to silence the community. It takes support from an organization defending communities’ land rights to intervene for such communities to get justice.
Days before the lifting of the suspension imposed on Witness Radio, communities neighboring the Katta Barracks in Bulambuli district, were violently evicted by the Uganda People’s Defense Forces under the alleged command of Lieutenant Colonel Mukiibi Julius without offering alternative resettlement.
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