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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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The Appellate East African Court of Justice sets timelines for hearing an appeal against the construction of the EACOP.

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By Witness Radio team.

The Appellate Division of the East African Court of Justice (EACJ) has instructed the four East African civil society organizations (CSOs), which lodged an appeal challenging the construction of the East African Crude Oil Pipeline (EACOP) project, to submit their written arguments by March 22, 2024. The appeal follows the dismissal of their case in 2023.

The appeal was heard by the following judges: Justice Nestor Kayobera, the President of the EACJ; Justice Anita Mugeni, the Vice President of the EACJ; Justice Kathurina M’Inoti; Justice Cheborion Barishaki; and Justice Omar Othman Makungu.

The organizations were represented by Counsels Justin Semuyaba, David Kabanda, John Baptist Okurut, and Veronica Nakityo, while the respondents were represented by Counsels Hangi M. Chang’a, Mark Mulwambo, and Stanley Kalokole from the Tanzanian team, as well as Counsels George Kalemera, Charity Nabasa, and Mark Muwonge from the Ugandan team. The EAC Secretary General was represented by Dr. Anthony Kafumbe, Counsel for the EAC.

The organizations, which include the Africa Institute for Energy Governance (AFIEGO)-Uganda, Center for Food and Adequate Living Rights (CEFROHT)-Uganda, Natural Justice (NJ)-Kenya, and Centre for Strategic Litigation (CSL)-Tanzania, filed a court case against the EACOP at the EACJ in November 2020.
In November 2020, the East African organizations asked the EACJ to issue temporary and permanent injunctions stopping the development of the EACOP.

The organizations argued that the EACOP violates key East African and international treaties and laws including the East African Community (EAC) Treaty, Protocol for Sustainable Development of the Lake Victoria basin, Convention on Biological Diversity, and the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. Others include the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights as well as the African Convention on Conservation of Natural Resources among others.

However, on 29th of November, 2023, the EACJ dismissed the case relying on the preliminary objection raised by the Tanzanian and Ugandan governments regarding the timeframe within which the petition was filed at the EACJ. The EACJ ruled that the applicants filed the petition out of time, thus saying that the petitioners should have filed the petition as early as 2017 instead of 2020. The same court further said it did not have jurisdiction to hear the case.

The aforementioned organizations appealed against the Court ruling, and subsequently, it was heard on Tuesday, February 20, 2024, by the appellate division of the EACJ. The petitioners were directed to submit their written submissions by March 22, 2024.

The court also asked the governments of Uganda and Tanzania as well as the Secretary General of the EAC, (respondents) to file their counterarguments by April 22, 2024.

Further, the court ordered the appellants to file rejoinders to the counterarguments from Uganda and Tanzania and the EAC Secretary General by May 6, 2024.

Mr. Dickens Kamugisha, representing some of the appellant organizations, expressed satisfaction with steps taken by the Court. He emphasized the reliance of communities and East Africans on their natural and other resources for livelihoods, stressing the need to challenge projects like the EACOP that pose threats to these resources.

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Appellate Division of the East African Court of Justice (EACJ) to hear an Appeal filed by CSOs which seeks to reinstate a petition against the construction of the EACOP project tomorrow.

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By Witness Radio team.

In a stirring development for environmental and human rights advocacy in East Africa, the Appellate Division of the East African Court of Justice (EACJ) is set to hear an appeal that four East African civil society organizations (CSOs) filed to re-instate the petition challenging the construction of East African Crude Oil Pipeline (EACOP) project.

The organizations spearheading this appeal include the Africa Institute for Energy Governance (AFIEGO) from Uganda, the Center for Food and Adequate Living Rights (CEFROHT) also from Uganda, Natural Justice (NJ) based in Kenya, and the Centre for Strategic Litigation (CSL) from Tanzania.

This appeal comes in response to a ruling handed down in November 2023 by the Court of First Instance at the EACJ, which dismissed the case on ground that it was filed out of time.

The pipeline, spanning 1443 kilometers from Uganda to Tanzania, has been met with fierce opposition from many groups and environmental activists all over the world, who argue that it violates key East African and international treaties, as well as laws safeguarding human rights, environmental conservation, biodiversity, and the protection of Lake Victoria.

According to activists, the EACOP project is traversing through sensitive ecosystems, including protected areas and internationally significant wetlands, posing threats to biodiversity and ecosystems that local communities depend on for their sustenance posing grave environmental risks.

Furthermore, the project also termed as a curse by the majority of the would-be beneficiaries due to displacement of thousands of individuals from their ancestral lands, and human rights violations/abuses.

Despite the setback of the initial dismissal, the four organizations pressed forward their pursuit of justice.

In their appeal, groups contend that the Court of First Instance erred in its ruling, and want the Appellate Division to reinstate their case.

Mr. Dickens Kamugisha, the CEO of AFIEGO, expressed that they remain resolute in their pursuit of justice through the East African Court of Justice and other courts.

He further mentions that millions of East Africans have high hopes in the regional court to protect their socio-economic and environmental rights and help them continue advancing their aspirations for climate change mitigation and clean energy.

Mr. Kamugisha added that they maintained hope that the court would prioritize the rights of East Africans over the profit-seeking endeavors of large corporations, even if it came at the expense of people.

According to the Executive Director of Natural Justice, Ms. Farida Aliwa, the EACOP and related projects have already led to serious human rights abuses, including evictions, assaults and environmental destruction

“In the interests of justice, we believe that this case needs to be heard at the East African Court of Justice, as a positive outcome will be good for the East African people and planet. The Court has the power to affirm that the governments, investors, and companies violate both national and international laws and that the EACOP project must be stopped. We trust that the East African Court of Justice will see this, and decide to hear the merits of this case.” She revealed.

The case will be heard tomorrow 9:00 East Africa Standard Time at the Court of Appeal of the East African Court of Justice.

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PFZW scraps funding from Total and others for failure to transition into a cleaner energy mix.

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By Witness Radio team.

In a significant move towards aligning its investments with environmental goals, Pensioenfonds Zorg en Welzijn (PFZW) has announced its decision to disinvest from fossil fuel giants such as Shell and Total.

This decision comes after two years of intensive engagement with fossil fuel companies, during which PFZW sought to encourage the development of climate transition plans in line with the Paris Climate Agreement.

PFZW is the pension fund for the care and welfare sector based in the Netherlands. PFZW invests the contributions paid by employers and employees to achieve a high, stable, and responsible return over the long term at an acceptable level of risk. The fund invests globally in the investment categories of variable-yield securities and fixed-income securities. The pension fund had a total of € 217 billion of assets under management at the end of 2022.

According to PFZW, 310 oil and gas companies failed to demonstrate a clear transition to a cleaner energy mix.

Some of the big oil and gas companies that PFZW parted ways with are Total, Shell, and BP among others. These major corporations have frequently faced criticism for investing in fossil fuel projects.

For example, Total, among other projects putting the World climate at risk, is advocating for the construction of the East African Crude Oil Pipeline (EACOP) and Tilenga projects in western Uganda. Despite, environmental experts warning of potential environmental damage, Total has persisted in heavily funding these projects.

PFZW’s disinvestment strategy is part of its broader commitment to sustainability and responsible investing. The PFZW fund has sold its stakes in 310 oil and gas companies, totaling 2.8 billion euros, for failure to demonstrate a clear transition to cleaner energy sources.

During this period, dialogue with oil and gas companies was significantly intensified to encourage them to produce verifiable transition plans that support the goal of the Paris Climate Agreement.

Joanne Kellermann, chair of the board of PFZW said that “the intensive shareholder dialogue over the past two years with the oil and gas sector on climate has made it clear to us that most fossil fuel companies are not prepared to adapt their business models to ‘Paris’. While the largest companies in this sector do invest in sustainable forms of energy, the switch from fossil to low carbon is not nearly fast enough. Incidentally, this reflects the slow pace we see globally in the transition to renewable energy.”

According to PFZW, seven listed oil and gas companies with a compelling climate transition strategy will remain part of the portfolio. This contributes to the goal of investing more in companies that play a positive role in the global energy transition.

Despite parting ways with numerous fossil fuel companies, PFZW will continue to invest in seven oil and gas companies that have demonstrated a commitment to transitioning towards renewable energy sources. These companies, including Cosan S.A., Galp Energia, and Neste Oyj, are regarded as frontrunners in the energy sector due to their efforts to reduce carbon emissions and invest in low-carbon technologies.

“The seven companies we will continue to invest in are the only ones that show a switch is possible. At the same time, it is disappointing that there are only seven. We encourage the biggest players in the oil and gas sector to also accelerate the switch to a cleaner energy mix.” She revealed.

Furthermore, to significantly increase its investments in companies focused on improving the climate and energy transition, allocating two billion euros over the next two years to companies with measurable impacts on climate and the energy transition reflecting PFZW’s dedication to achieving a climate-neutral investment portfolio by 2050, with interim goals such as a 50% absolute carbon reduction by 2030 for equities, liquid credit, and real estate.

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