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Picking up broken pieces: victims of land grabs in Uganda have resolved to put their past aside to build a new life.

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By Witness Radio team.

Despite the dominance of many faces of poverty at a week-long camp that ended last Saturday, the 1st of July, 2023, held in Kassanda district, members of the informal Alliance for victim communities of irresponsible land investments have resolved to use any available opportunity at their disposal to re-build a new life.

In their week-long activity camp, participants were drawn from different parts of Uganda and outside the country to think of opportunities available, peer-to-peer learning and share experiences, testimonies and knowledge network building, and starting and running cooperative unions.

The second alliance camp meeting drew representatives of communities affected by palm oil in Kalangala and Buvuma, evictees of Formosa tree planting company, Bukinda and Katikala evicted by Hoima Sugar Limited, victims of the East Africa Crude Oil Pipeline (EACOP) from Kapapi in Hoima district, and victims of Kyangwali Refugee Camp and other groups from Uganda. The camp also was joined by Alliance members from West Africa nations.

The 2023 alliance camp was hosted by Bukakikama Cooperative Union, founded by over 10,000 people forcefully evicted off their land by New Forests Company (NFC) to plant monoculture tree plantations (eucalyptus and pine).

The cooperative members, the last five (5) years started teaming up and renting land to grow seasonal crops including maize to find an alternative means of survival as they continue with a struggle to regain their land back.

In February 2010, over 10000 villagers in seven villages woke up to a hail of NFC representatives and graders under the protection of the Uganda People’s Defense Forces (UPDF) and the Uganda Police Force (UPF), which in turn were under the command of the then Mubende Resident District Commissioner Nsubuga Bewaayo. They destroyed the villagers’ properties worth billions of Uganda shillings to give way for NFC monoculture plantation.

The evictions rendered people from Kanamire, Kyamukasa, Kigumya, Kyato, Kisita, Mpologoma, and Bulagano villages in the Mubende district landless without consultation, compensation, or resettlement.

The New Forests Company is a U.K based company operating monoculture tree plantations in Uganda. It has plantations in Namwasa in Mubende, Luwunga in Kiboga, and Kirinya in Jinja.

The company has received funds from the Dutch Fund for Climate and Development, Agri-Vie Agribusiness Fund, FMO, European Investment Bank, and HSBC, among others to support its timber and carbon credits activities.

Protecting vulnerable groups, developing less developed countries, and uplifting the livelihoods of the local communities is one objective in common of mentioned NFC funders. But the story is a different story in Mubende, communities revealed that they were violently pushed off their land to unending suffering while the company and the banks continue to profit from their land.

NFC victims were duped and abandoned: In the fight to regain their land, the communities in 2011, with support from civil society groups filed a complaint to the World Bank’s Compliance Advisor Ombudsman (CAO)  in relation to an investment made by Agri-Vie Agribusiness Fund, a client of IFC. The complainants raised concerns about forced evictions and displacement in the plantation area and how the evictions had negatively impacted their communities by displacing them from land, destroying their private property, and forcing them to forgo health, education, and livelihood opportunities. The complaint was found eligible for further assessment.

Parties opted to address issues through dispute resolution. What turned out was dumping and duping the community members. Under their Bukakikama Cooperative Union formed in 2013, they received 600 Million Ugx (162538.14 USD) to buy land elsewhere. For the 901 families evicted, the money wired to their account by the company as agreed in the dispute resolution agreement was not enough. Only 453 families were allocated land which is also not equal to what they had. Each was allocated 1 acre (less than half a hectare) of barren land filled with rocks. The remaining 448 families haven’t been compensated or resettled up to date.

After over 15 years of suffering with no land to live on, to practice agriculture which was their sole source of livelihood, or bury their beloved ones. A few of the evictees led by the chairman of the cooperative society, Mr. Julius Ndagize resolved to re-unite to embark on a new journey to restore their livelihoods.

In 2021, the victim community reached out and entered into a gentleman’s agreement with one of the landlords to rent out his 82.9606 hectares to them. They agreed to pay the landlord every after-season harvest. Now the land is being occupied by 130 NFC evictees.

According to the Evictee leaders, their target is to see all NFC evictees get land to live on like they hitherto lived. Despite acquiring 82.9606 hectares for the evictees, the leaders have not relented. They are currently walking on a journey to acquire 906.496 hectares for the rest of the community members in the Mubende district.

Mr. Ndagize Julius adds that with all that land in their hands, the community he is leading will be able to revive their dreams by contributing to family food sovereignty, preserving and protecting ecosystems and welfare of their families.

“Whereas we are pursuing these means, we have not stopped demanding for our grabbed land. We are also continuing to use available opportunities, reaching out to the company funders and other stakeholders to enable us to regain our land and get compensation. It’s a continuous fight we believe we shall win.” The cooperative chairman added.

Journey to start a new life: Upon listening and learning from Bukakikama cooperative experience, the 2023 camp attendees got inspired. And at the end of the camp, one of the resolutions is to replicate Bukikama’s success story.

“We unanimously agreed to go back to our respective localities and start re-mobilizing members of affected communities, bring counsellors and experts on union, legal issues, and modern agriculture issues to build our capacities which will help us get fresh energies and start a new life” Said Stella Akiteng, the Alliance chairperson.

She added that each group’s priority is to re-organize themselves and identify an economic activity to earn money to support their survival without looking at a size of the project.

The Alliance members in Uganda resolved to speak with one voice against the escalating forced land evictions in Uganda.

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MEDIA FOR CHANGE NETWORK

Breaking Alert: Barely a year after signing the remedy agreement, World Bank Project-Affected Persons (PAPs) receive fresh land eviction threats

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By Witness Radio team.

Kawaala community, which signed a dispute resolution agreement between the Kawaala community and the Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA), facilitated by the World Bank Dispute Resolution Service (DRS) a year ago, has received a fresh land eviction threat. PAPs say they have received a three-day notice to vacate the land or face an eviction by the National Environment Management Authority (NEMA).

This community first faced a forced eviction in December 2020, shortly after Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA) acquired a loan from the World Bank on behalf of the government of Uganda to construct the Second Kampala Institutional and Infrastructure Development Project (KIIDP-2).

A USD 175 million project was started before consultations with the project-affected community, with no compensation or alternative settlement.

The remedy agreement signed on May 31st, 2023, aimed to mitigate the negative impacts of the drainage channel development on the livelihoods of the affected community and agreed to compensate all PAPs.

On June 3rd, 2024,  PAPs and their advisors  (Witness Radio and Accountability Counsel) issued a statement titled One Year Later, Justice is Delayed expressing disappointment in the way the post-agreement phase was being managed. In the agreement, KCCA, on behalf of the Government, offered to compensate all victims, resettle, and restore livelihoods, which have not been met since.

However, as the victim community is still waiting for the full implementation of the agreement by the KCCA, NEMA is forcing the urban poor community to vacate their land without any due process.

On June 13, 2024, NEMA’s representatives, under the protection of over 30 heavily armed soldiers and police officers, descended on the Kawaala Zone II community and issued an ultimatum of three days to vacate their land. Community members’ houses and other structures were marked with a big “X,” indicating they would be demolished.

“NEMA deployed at our homes soldiers and policemen to intimidate us, warning us that if we fail to remove all our belongings in three days, they will be brought down. Yet this is the land that we have held for decades. We are surprised that this is happening.” Kawaala community members revealed to Witness Radio.

According to Project-Affected Persons (PAPs), this is a collusion between KCCA and NEMA to evict them without receiving additional and fair compensation and their livelihood support under the Second Kampala Institution and Infrastructure Development (KIIDP2) project as terms of the May 31st, 2023 agreement.

Witness Radio investigations show that this is the third eviction attempt by the government to run away from its responsibility of providing fair and timely compensation to victims.

The first attempt occurred in December 2020, amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, when the Kawaala Zone II community received an eviction notice with a 28-day deadline and no explanation from the government. Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA) officials heavily guarded by armed soldiers marked the houses with letter “X,” indicating they were to be demolished under the guise of the Public Health Act Cap 281.

KCCA had hidden intentions of taking the community land for the project without compensation. Upon learning that the project is funded by the World Bank, the Project Affected Persons filed a complaint to the World Bank’s inspection Panel demanding to be fairly compensated among others. The parties (KCCA and the Affected community) opted for the dispute resolution supported by the World Bank’s Dispute Resolution Service (DRS).

Still later on, on 23rd August 2022, when the community was still under the dispute resolution, NEMA emerged under the protection of the military, and anti-riot police descended on gardens for the same families in Kawaala Zone II, cut down food crops and demolished houses belonging to over 100 families.

The grieved PAP revealed that this tactic between the two government entities is intended to deny justice to them.

Mbabali Hamis, a 47-year-old father of 15, is cursing the World Bank-funded project. According to Mbabali, ever since they learned about the project’s implementation in their area, they have faced evictions by government agencies, including KCCA and NEMA, which they believe is a tactic aimed at grabbing their land. Mbabaali’s sentiments were re-echoed by many other project-affected persons.

“We have lived here happily for many years, but everything changed when this project began. Since then, we have witnessed numerous attempts to evict us from our land under the pretense that we have been living in the Lubigi Wetland. This is not true,” He revealed.

Like other residents, Mbabali has lived on his land since 1999, farming yams, sugarcane, and trees to provide for his family. When we spoke to him, his words were coming from far away, “he said, this is my land, and I have been living on it for two decades. I have all the documents proving ownership. Where do they want me to take my family when I bought this land with my hard-earned money?” he asked.

Currently, the National Environment Management Authority (NEMA) is disguising itself as ‘evicting wetland encroachers’ a move targeting the urban-poor families’ land well aware that these individuals are the rightful owners of the land.

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Anti-oil pipeline activist in Uganda detained, pressure group says

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A Ugandan activist campaigning to stop the development of a $5 billion crude oil pipeline in east Africa by France’s TotalEnergies (TTEF.PA), opens new tab and others has been detained by Uganda’s military, the group he works for said on Wednesday.

Stephen Kwikiriza from the Ugandan environmental pressure group Environment Governance Institute (EGI) has been campaigning to halt the East African Crude Oil Pipeline (EACOP).

The 1,445-km pipeline is to carry crude from oilfields in Uganda’s west through Tanzania to a port on Tanzania’s coast.

The pipeline’s opponents, including Human Rights Watch, say the project will displace hundreds of thousands of people, destroy fragile ecosystems and undermine efforts to limit carbon emissions.

In a statement, EGI said the Ugandan military had detained Kwikiriza on Tuesday in the capital Kampala, according to a text message he sent to a colleague. His whereabouts are unknown, said EGI, which works with other groups to oppose the pipeline.

“The StopEACOP coalition…condemn this latest abduction and all the recent escalation of intimidation and arrests and urges the Ugandan authorities to release the human rights defender,” EGI’s statement said.

Deo Akiiki, deputy spokesperson for Uganda’s military said he was not aware of Kwikiriza’s arrest. He said EGI should make a report to police if they believed their colleague was missing.

TotalEnergies did not immediately reply to a request for comment. The company has defended the project in the past, saying that it adheres to strict Ugandan and Tanzanian environmental laws.

Pressure groups accuse Ugandan authorities of harassing activists who have been campaigning against EACOP. Ugandan authorities deny the accusation.

Last month seven activists were briefly detained outside the Chinese embassy in Kampala as they prepared to hand over a petition to the Chinese ambassador asking China to not fund the pipeline.

Source: Reuters

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PAPs and advisors cry foul over the mismanagement of the remedy agreement with the Uganda Government facilitated by the World Bank’s IAM.

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By Witness Radio team.

When Rita Zinsanze (not her real name due to fear of retaliation) signed a remedy agreement with the Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA) on behalf of the Uganda government, facilitated by the World Bank Independent Accountability Mechanisms (IAM), she was confident that her land, targeted by the Second Kampala Institutional and Infrastructure Development Project (KIIDP-2), would be compensated fairly.

The agreement was aimed at mitigating the negative impacts of the drainage channel development on her livelihood and gave her hope for a just resolution.

Rita’s family is one of the hundreds of families affected by the construction of the Lubigi drainage project, which is part of the KIIDP2 project implemented by KCCA.

“I wanted fair compensation so that I could buy land elsewhere and resettle my family, hoping to rebuild our lives as we once lived,” she revealed in an interview with a Witness Radio journalist.

Before the coming of the project, Rita used to live happily with her family on her 100 ft70 ft plot (0.065 hectares) of land farming yams, sugarcanes, and trees, which she used to sell and earn a living to cater for her family’s needs.

“I used to earn at least 500,000 Uganda shillings (131.53 United States Dollars) from yams and sugarcanes every season plus doing other works that supplemented my living.” She added.

But now, Rita says her situation has worsened since the project got to her land. Now, she struggles to make ends meet for her family of 10 because the compensation is very little to enable her to find an alternative piece of land elsewhere.

Rita, like other Kawaala Project Affected Persons (PAPs), finds themselves disillusioned, as none of the promises made before signing the agreement have materialized.

“Every time I follow up on my additional compensation and other promises, they (governmental officials) keep extending days to get my entitlements. I am becoming hopeless for the endless and empty trips I have been making to their offices.” she lamented.

May 31st, 2024, marked the first anniversary since a remedy agreement was signed. In the agreement, PAPs were promised additional compensation, livelihood restoration projects, settlement, and other support.

Instead, the aftermath has brought more negative impacts on the community members, including increased flooding of the area caused by poor drainage, hate speeches, poverty, and family separation.

In a statement released on June 3rd, 2024, by both Witness Radio and Accountability Counsel under the title: One Year Later, Justice is Delayed called upon KCCA and the World Bank to pay agreed compensation, address livelihood concerns, provide a thorough update, and ensure effective monitoring of the implementation of the agreement among others.

Furthermore, the statement mentions that some members of the community are worried that the remains of their departed family members would be lost as some of these affected community members are yet to be compensated for this loss and have not been able to restore their loved ones’ grave sites.

For more details on the statement, click on the link below; https://witnessradio.org/one-year-later-justice-is-delayed-a-joint-statement-on-the-implementation-of-the-kiidp-2-kawaala-community-agreement/

A brief background of the project;

KCCA in 2015 acquired a USD 175 million loan from the World Bank and the International Development Association (IDA) for Kampala Institution and Infrastructure Development (KIIDP) project. However, part of the money (USD 17.5 million, which is 63 billion Uganda shillings) is to finance the construction of Lubigi Primary Channel.

On December 3, 2020, the Kawaala communities were shocked to find KCCA representatives in their village, accompanied by armed police officers, distributing eviction notices and informing residents that they had 28 days to vacate their homes. A few days later, for instance, in the wee hours of 05th/12/2020, the community started experiencing attacks by armed anti-riot police and workers of the construction company; destroying properties, without any prior consultation or plan for compensation and resettlement.

In a bid to find justice, in June 2021, the affected community filed a complaint with the World Bank’s Inspection Panel and raised concerns about forced evictions during COVID-19. At the time of the Complaint, the Kawaala community worried that their land would be taken away without adequate compensation and that the project had been marred with retaliatory attacks from people believed to be project implementers against project affected community.

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