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Starvation is rooming in Kiryandongo district as families count losses after missing the seventh planting season consecutively to a multinational.

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By Witness Radio team

As farmers are busy planting their garden fields during this rainy season in Uganda, the hopes for Kiryandongo smallholder farmers continue to dwindle as the multinational continues with forceful evictions and bars them from accessing their gardens for seven consecutive seasons since 2020.

They said in every planting season, the company employs private security guards from Saracen that are assisting the company’s employees to stop the smallholder farmers from planting their crops. This has contributed to food insecurity and poverty since the community had entirely been depending on subsistence farming as their main source of livelihood.

Jerusalem-Kisalanda is one of the villages in Kiryandongo district, Western Uganda, that have faced constant violent attacks and forced evictions from Agilis Partners Limited, a company owned by two American brothers and deals in the grains and seeds business.  The village is now in the middle of the Agilis farms.

Agilis Partners Limited, since 2017 has been carrying out forced evictions in the Kiryandongo district with the interest to pave way for large-scale industrial agriculture.

According to the affected villagers, since last week on Saturday the 11th of March, 2023, the company has employed both its employees and guards from a private security company, Saracen to frustrate any farming activity by community members on their land. The company accuses the people of illegally occupying the land.

Mr. Samuel Kusiima, a community land rights defender and one of those affected by the evictions, in an interview with Witness Radio Uganda, revealed that the maize and beans he has been planting get destroyed by the company, saying we are “encroaching on the company’s land.”

“These guards come at 6:00 am and leave late in the night, they say they are employed to keep the company garden, and cannot allow us to access our fields. They initially said they had given me 10 acres of my land but also the ten remain inaccessible. Over 10 families are at the edges of starvation.” The defender revealed.

He added, “We used to earn millions from our gardens but we are now starving and the company is profiteering from our misery. It does not care about us.”

“These guards are often violent and threaten to shoot us if we resist, last week they found my wife in the garden and threatened to shoot her. They always say they have orders to do whatever they want but we are tired of this” the defender further added.

Mr. Nkuzimana John, another victim, said he survives by the mercy of God since he has been victimized. He adds that there has never been any intervention from authorities and courts of law for the past seven seasons.

“Even when you report these incidents to authorities including police, there is no change or hope for a change. My family currently starves because I don’t have food to feed them. I cannot access the 50 acres of land that I had. The company told me to use a quarter of an acre of it last season, which is impossible. Last season I planted maize on two acres of my land but it was harvested by the company.” He said.

Currently, Sam and the rest of the community are living in abject poverty with no hope of recovering from it, a situation they claim has been brought by Agilis partners. “This has been ongoing since 2020. Even when we resist and continue to plant the crops, they either bring a tractor to plow our crops or spray them with chemicals. Do they want us to go steal to earn a living?” the defender questioned.

The community now, makes ends meet by being hired as laborers by neighboring communities, burning charcoal, and also surviving on handouts from their relatives and friends.

“We are collecting tree stems that are thrown by the Company. This is what we burn and get charcoal that we sell to earn a living. It is also not easy because sometimes we are prohibited from taking them, hence risking our lives. If not that, we ask for support from our relatives and friends or seek opportunities to be hired as laborers.” One of the Community members shared.

For the past five years, Kiryandongo has had a history of forced evictions by multinational companies. According to Witness Radio, over 35000 people have been evicted by three multinational companies which include, Agilis partners, Kiryandongo Sugar Company, and Great Seasons SMC all interested in carrying out large-scale plantation agriculture on the fertile lands of Kiryandongo.

When contacted for a comment on the abuses performed by Agilis partners, Mr. Emmanuel Onyango, the company’s Public Relations Officer told our reporter to write to him an email, for a better and easier response within a short period.

By the time of writing this story, Mr. Onyango had not yet responded to the email.

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How Kiryandongo land conflict has affected children

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Parents affected by the seven-year-old land conflict in Kiryandongo District have said hundreds of their children are facing hunger and lack of education.

The children have been forced out of school since 2017 and their parents, who derived livelihood mainly from cultivation, are now struggling to put food on the table since their land is now occupied by a ranch.

Currently, the farming families are now trapped in the middle of farms belonging to Agilis Partners, Great Season SMC Limited, and Kiryandongo Sugar Limited, who have set up ranches measuring about 9,300 acres in Mutunda and Kiryandongo sub-counties.

The ranch land had for long been occupied and farmed by more than 35,000 families who came to the area after they fled war and natural calamities from other districts in Uganda, according to Witness Radio, a non- governmental organisation.

Ms Esther Namuganza, a resident of Kimogoro Village, Mutunda Sub-county, lives with her five children in an area known as Ranch 20.

She recalls that on November 23, 2017, agents of Agilis Partners told the people living within Ranch 20 and 21 that it had acquired the land and that they would have to vacate.

“The first eviction took place on November 23, 2017. It was a Thursday. We grew big-headed and refused to vacate the ranches because we are the citizens of Uganda, we have nowhere to go,” she says.

Her family is one of a few that still remain on the land but with nowhere to grow food.

“We eat one meal a day and even at times we just take porridge. We don’t eat during the day to save for tomorrow. If you say I’m going to have lunch and supper, what about tomorrow?” Ms Namuganza wonders.

Annet Muganyizi, a former Senior Four student who dropped out of school in 2017, says all the schools, health facilities and water sources on the land have all been destroyed.

Mr John Byaruhanga of Nyamutende Village in Kiryandongo Sub-county said agriculture used to be their only source of livelihood in the ranches.

“When Agilis Partners came, everything changed for the worse. We were beaten, tortured and evicted at gunpoint. When we ask those armed men where they want us to go with our children and cattle, they just tell us to vacate. When you try to resist, they arrest you. I am one of those who have been arrested twice,” he says.

However, the spokesperson of Agilis Partners, Mr Emmanuel Onyango, earlier dismissed the allegations of unending forceful evictions.

“To be honest, I don’t know why people keep on accusing us of evictions yet we still have people residing on Ranch 20 and 21,” Mr Onyango said . He explained that if indeed they were evicting people, “there wouldn’t be anyone left on the land.”

Mr Jonathan Akweteireho, the Kiryandongo deputy RDC, said the Bunyoro land question cannot be sorted out without thinking about its history.

“We had 38 ranches here, which, on guidance of these international organisations, told the government to restructure the ranches. The ranches were restructured, people settled there, they were never given titles and up to today, there are big problems in all those ranches,” he said.

Source: Daily Monitor

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Chip in to take Bayer down!

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If the lawsuits keep on coming, it could finish off this brutal corporation – and send its bee-killing, cancer-linked chemicals into history.

But many of Bayer’s victims don’t have enough money to take them to court and get the justice they deserve. That’s where we come in.

If everyone reading this chips in just a small amount, we’d have enough to launch a powerful legal fund for Bayer’s victims – helping more desperate people access legal advice and get their day in court. Every win will get us closer to a future free of poisonous pesticides.

Can you chip in now to help take Bayer down?

Anything extra raised will power Ekō and our campaigns worldwide fighting for people and the planet.

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MEDIA FOR CHANGE NETWORK

Oil project-affected persons express disappointment in Uganda judiciary

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The Tilenga and EACOP oil project-affected households have expressed deep disappointment over the failure of key stakeholders in Uganda’s judicial system to grant them audience to discuss their grievances stemming from a lawsuit filed against them by the government in December 2023.

In a press conference organized at Hotel Africana in Kampala, some members of the 42 of the families sued by the government claimed having travelled from Buliisa district to Kampala with the aim of meeting Norbert Mao, the minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs, Chief Justice Alfonse Owiny-Dollo and the deputy chief justice.

They also intended to meet the principal judge, the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) and others. Additionally, the households wanted to meet Total Energies’ managing director. However, they were unable to meet any of them, stating that their refusal indicated lack of responsiveness and dialogue on critical issues affecting the rights and livelihoods of project-affected people in the oil region.

According to a one Bamutuleki, one of the affected members, they had written letters to various stakeholders, including the ministry of Justice and Constitutional Affairs, the chief justice, deputy chief justice, principal judge, Judicial Service Commission (JSC), and Total Energies, seeking for a meeting to discuss their grievances. However, they were unable to meet any of them for a crucial discussion.

“This lack of interaction leaves us feeling neglected and unheard in our quest for justice and fair treatment in the face of potential evictions related to the oil projects,” Bamutuleki said.

Julius Asiimwe, another oil project-affected person, raised similar concerns about their failure to meet the key stakeholders in the judiciary to address their grievances.

“We are not happy with all these offices. We are aggrieved. We wrote them letters requesting for meetings on specific dates and none of them wrote back to us. Based on the reception we received at the offices we visited, we don’t think that the judiciary understands the implications of its actions on our families, and our children,” Asiimwe said.

The failure to meet any of the officials leaves the future of the affected households in uncertainty after the High court in Hoima gave the government a go-ahead to evict them from their land.

GENESIS

In December 2023, the government filed a lawsuit against the households affected by the Tilenga and East African Crude Oil Pipeline (EACOP) projects in Uganda. This was after the affected households had rejected the compensation offered by Total Energies, a French company, which was acquiring the land on behalf of the ministry of Energy, citing it as inadequate, unfair and low.

The affected people said the government valuation did not reflect the value of their land, and the impact of losing their property. They expressed their preference for land in exchange for their property rather than monetary compensation in order to maintain their livelihoods.

Additionally, they claimed it was a violation of Article 26 of the Ugandan Constitution, which protects property rights and ensures fair compensation. However, the rushed court processes led by Justice Jesse Byaruhanga of the High court in Hoima resulted in a judgment against the households within four days of the case being filed, which is arguably one of the fastest court cases to be resolved in Uganda in recent memory.

The court ruling stated that the people’s compensation could be deposited in court and the government could proceed and gain vacant possession of their land.

The affected households did not participate in the court hearing because some of them were even unaware that they had been sued.
According Bamutuleki, other project- affected persons could not travel to the court in Hoima, which was far away from Buliisa, due to the short notice provided for the hearing and their lack of financial resources to cover transportation costs.

“This lack of adequate notice and financial constraints hindered our ability to participate in the legal proceedings and defend our interests,” Bamutuleki pointed out.

Additionally, Bamutuleki stated that they were given a pile of legal documents by the court and no one was there to make the interpretation for them. Most of the project-affected persons are illiterate, a factor that made it harder for them to get a fair hearing.

UNCERTAINTY

Many families say their eviction from land for the Tilenga and East African Crude Oil Pipeline (EACOP) projects makes their future unknown given that land is their primary source of income.

While at the press conference, Jelousy Mugisha stated that their daily lives depend on the land for various aspects such as generating income, sending children to school, and accessing medical assistance.

“I have been using my land for many years now to take care of my family because I don’t earn any monthly salary. So, the government giving me money to leave my land and get a smaller one is completely unfair and unconstitutional,” he said.

The families highlighted that they weren’t fighting the government and its projects but only want a fair compensation for their land, which will restore them to their former positions. Mugisha stated that the money the government proposed in compensation for their land is completely low compared to the market prices of the land in the area.

“The size of my land that was acquired is 2.5 acres. The government wants to give me Shs 5 million per acre yet the market price for one acre is Shs 20 million in my area,” Mugisha said.

“If the government really wants the land, let it get us another land equivalent to what we had and we shall agree,” he said.

Dickens Kamugisha, the executive director of the Africa Institute for Energy Governance (AFIEGO), an organization that has been supporting the affected families for a long time, expressed deep concern over the plight of the poor families from the oil region who are facing injustices.

He emphasized the importance of all Ugandans to take a keen interest in their struggles, highlighting the broader implications of the government’s actions and court precedents that allow for the violation of constitutional rights and unfair treatment of landowners.

“As these poor families from the oil region suffer injustices today, all Ugandans should take a keen interest in their plight. With courts setting bad precedents that allow the government to violate Article 26 and other human rights provisions of the Ugandan Constitution, where affected landowners are forced to accept low, unfair, and inadequate compensation, and courts deny people fair hearings, any Ugandan could suffer the same fate,” he warned.

Despite facing legal battles, evictions, and disruptions to their livelihoods, these individuals remain resolute in their pursuit of a just resolution to their grievances.

Source: The Observer.

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