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Defending Land And Environmental Rights

State Power: Army Used Expired Mining license to Forcefully Evict 120,000 Families Off Gold-Rich Land

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By Witnessradio.org Team

“On August 4th 2017, at 8am, police and army surrounded the mines and started demolishing any standing structures including restaurants, shops, among others,” Robert Ssempewo, the chairperson of Mubende gold mining grounds recounted to witnessradio.org during a recent visit to the highly guarded 12-square mile land that hosts gold deposits.

The two-day operation under the command of Colonel Joseph Balikuddembe, the UPDF 1st Division commander, followed an order by Energy ministry’s Permanent Secretary, Stephen Isabalija who reportedly been ordered by president Museveni to kick-out of over 50,000 artisanal miners off gold mining land.

Three companies under the directorship of Gertrude Nanyunja Njuba, a state house director on land matters namely; M/S Gemstone International, A.U.C Mining Company, and Kamalenge Mining Company forcefully evicted people at a time when their mining license had expired.

In a recent interview with local media, Njuba said she has had gold mining interests in the area since 1987. In 1994, Njuba said that she obtained a mining lease for 207 square kilometers in an area which straddles two sub-counties namely; Bukuya and Kitumbi in Mubende district.

But according to available documents, Njuba’s mining license has been expiring, but get renewed under mysterious circumstances whose actions are inconsistent with the mining act, 2003.

An anonymous expert in the mining sector, contends that it’s difficult to know how Njuba’s license has been renewed on several occasions over the last 23 years yet technically, she has never complied with the mining act.

A review of the mining act 2003 by witnessradio.org, discovered that Section 47 (1) of the mining act stipulates that “the holder of a mining lease may apply to the Commissioner for the renewal of his or her lease in respect of all, or of part of the mining area not later than one year before the expiry of such lease.” The same law goes ahead to state that if the mining lease expires, the lease holder “relinquish at least 50 per cent of the land as they apply for a renewal” before submitting a renewal application.

Witnessradio.org findings reveal that by the time Njuba evicted the artisanal miners, her mining lease had expired two years prior to the eviction.

Ssempewo, also confirms that Njuba’s lease had expired. He said that “I have information that investor’s exploration license had expired and it’s in the law that if the license expires, you relinquish half of your exploration area.”

He added; “but for over 30 years now, this investor has been operating in the exploration area without relinquishing any part. According to what I know, this investor single-handedly operates the huge exploration area measuring 288 square kilometers.”

When it comes to making application for the mining license, the procedures are well laid down under article 42 (2) of the mining act, 2003.

“An application for a mining lease shall be advertised in the Gazette and copies of the accompanying plan shall be displayed at the relevant district and sub-county headquarters and such other place as the Commissioner may specify,” article 42 (2) states.

Clause (3) of the same article states that “the applicant shall show written proof that he or she has reached an agreement with the landowner of the area he or she intends to mine.”

To tame unreasonable greed, 43 (3) (a) of the mining act provides that “the area of land over which the lease is sought is not in excess of the area reasonably required to carry out the applicant’s programme of proposed mining operations.”

Recognizing the rules, above, Njuba who stretched her exploration area to evict artisanal miners from the neighboring mines flouted the law.

“We are not totally objectionable to the investor because she has her area, but we want our area to be returned because we are also Ugandans,” Ssempewo said, “we want our portion of just 5-square miles so that we can also restore our source of livelihoods.”

The experts asserted that “it is not clear how these mining leases have been renewed yet there is no clear demonstration of mining activities.”

According to this expert, Njuba’s practice is clear indicator of speculation that has dogged Uganda’s mining sector for decades.

During its July 2017 report titled; Uganda: Undermined, a London-based Global Witness revealed that pervasive corruption in Uganda’s mining sector allows crooked officials and investors they partner with to profit at the expense of country’s “economy and people.”

The report exposed the way how well connected individuals including those with close ties to president Museveni trade political influence for financial economy.

“…rather than fulfilling its mandate to work for the benefit of the Ugandan people, the Directorate of Geological Survey and Mines [DGSM] is controlled by a hidden alternative power structure and decision making process or ‘shadow system’ which benefits predatory investors and politically powerful Ugandans,” the report reads in a part.

To achieve her aspiration, Njuba used both police and Uganda People’s Defence Forces (UPDF) soldiers to violently evict people which led to gross loss of property. To this date, the contested land is still under tight guard of armed security personnel who have vehemently denied the indigenous people an opportunity to rescue any of their belongings from the structures that are being razed down by graders.

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Defending Land And Environmental Rights

The abducted community land rights defender is found and released on a police bond.

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By Witness Radio Team.

A Kawaala Zone II community land rights defender who was waylaid and arrested by eight (8) armed policemen has been found at Old Kampala regional police headquarters and released without a charge.

On 31st/10/2022, armed Policemen arrested Kabugo Michael who was due to set off for a community meeting between the residents, Witness Radio – Uganda, and the Accountability Counsel intended to discuss issues surrounding their land interests targeted by the infrastructural project.

Kabugo is a community land rights defender in Kawaala Zone II Rubaga division, Kampala district. He is one of the community land rights defenders facing reprisals for defending the community’s land targeted by Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA) for a drainage channel construction and expansion project funded by the World Bank.

After a long day search for the abducted community defender, Witness Radio lawyers found him held at the Old Kampala regional police headquarters.

Mrs. Adongo Sarah, one of the victim’s lawyers said the police reviewed an old file where the victim was accused of ‘fraud’ and re-interviewed him.

“He was able to make an additional statement, and his police bond and that of his other colleagues accused alongside with on the old file was extended to Friday 4th November this year.” She added.

She further said Michael’s arrest was arbitrary, adding that even the Officer in Charge of the case at Old Kampala Regional Criminal Investigations Department could not give reasons.

The victim’s lawyers believe these increased actions of arrests, kidnaps, and detentions of Kawaala community land rights defenders are reprisals for their work of opposing

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Defending Land And Environmental Rights

Breaking: A Kawaala community land rights defender kidnapped and taken to unknown destinations, others on the run.

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By Witness Radio-Uganda.

Armed Policemen have this morning waylaid and arrested a community land rights defender in Kawaala zone II Rubaga division, Kampala district, Witness Radio-Uganda has learned.

Mr. Kabugo Micheal is a renowned community land rights defender who advocates for fair compensation of the community land on an ongoing project of Lubigi drainage channel expansion funded by the World Bank and implemented by the Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA).

According to eyewitnesses, the defender was at Mr. Kasozi’s home (one of the community defenders) before setting off for a community meeting between the residents, Witness Radio – Uganda, and Accountability Counsel. The meeting was to discuss issues surrounding their land interests targeted by the infrastructural project.

“As he was sitting on a Boda (motorcycle taxi driven in Uganda and other East African States), police rounded him up before his arrest. We saw him being manhandled. They (police) forced him onto one of the police bodas before he was taken to unknown destinations.” Said an eyewitness.

Another eyewitness further explained that he was arbitrarily arrested by eight (8) armed policemen on a police patrol

Mr. Kasozi Paul Ssengendo who also witnessed the arbitrary arrest of Michael said police are targeting them with arrests because of their work to resist forced eviction by Kampala Capital City Authority.

“I am currently on the run. I was a target of police but I managed to escape.” The defender told Witness Radio.

In June this year, Mr kabugo and 5 others were arrested and falsely charged with forgery, a charge they said is retaliation for their work in fighting for their land rights.

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Accountable Development To Communities

Breaking: Court dismisses a criminal case against a community land rights defender for want of prosecution.

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By Witness Radio Team.

Kiryandongo. A criminal trespass case against a community land rights defender has been dismissed over the prosecution’s failure to adduce evidence before the Chief Magistrate Court that pinned the community defender on the alleged charges.

On 27th October 2021, Kiryandongo Chief Magistrate Court charged Otyaluk David with criminal trespass and remanded him to Masindi prison. He was later granted court bail and since then, he has been traveling 48 kilometers to and from court every fortnight.

Before he was presented before a court, Otyaluk was kidnapped and illegally detained in Kiryandongo Central Police Station (CPS) cells for five (5) days for trespassing on a piece of land he (Otyaluk) had lived and cultivated since he was born.

In the afternoon of 21st October, two (2) armed men cladding Uganda People Defense Forces (UPDF) uniform and police personnel raided Otyaluk’s home and got him kidnapped to an unknown destination. UPDF soldiers guard Kiryandongo Sugar Limited plantations.

“On the day of his kidnap, Otyaluk was found praying in his house. In a blink of an eye, the defender was rounded up and bundled onto a vehicle owned by Kiryandongo Sugar Limited, forcefully evicting us off our land. We later learned that he was taken into evictor’s facilities where he was kept for some time before being transferred to Kiryandongo CPS” A family member remembers.

A family member further added that before the kidnap, Otyaluk’s family had lost about 12 acres of land to Kiryandongo Sugar Limited.

“Company workers under the protection of soldiers brought a tractor and plowed acres of semi-mature maize, beans, sorghum, and sim-sim. We were only left with a small piece of land where our house sits and we are currently trapped in the middle of a sugarcane plantation” a family member added.

Since the trial period was announced, the prosecution failed to bring witnesses to pin Otyaluk for trespassing on his land. It was only on the 19th of July, 2022 during a court session, one Adamuru Peter, allegedly to be a company manager turned up as a company representative but not as a witness.

In her ruling last week, a magistrate at Kiryandongo Magistrate court discontinued the trial of Otyaluk and dismissed the case.

Otyaluk is one of the luckiest among hundreds of community land and environmental rights defenders currently under persecution to have his case dismissed. It’s an order of the day for the community land and environmental rights defenders to be kidnapped, arbitrarily arrested, and tortured on orders of investors for their work of mobilizing the communities to desist land grabs.

Kiryandongo Sugar Limited is among multinationals forcefully evicting over 35000 local and indigenous people off their land to give way to large-scale agribusinesses.

Kiryandongo Sugar Limited is one of the many companies owned by the Rai Group of Mauritius. The dynasty owns several other companies in DR Congo, Kenya and Malawi, and Uganda. A dynasty owns companies such as West Kenya Sugar (which owns Kabras Sugar), Timsales Limited, Menengai Oil Refineries, Rai Ply, and Webuye Panpaper.

In Uganda, the Rai Group of Mauritius owns Nile Ply limited, Kinyara Sugar Limited, and Masindi Sugar Limited among others. One of its directors is a shareholder of a British Virgin Islands company, listed in the Panama Papers database recently.

The same company has fraudulently gotten a license to replace part of Bungoma natural forest with a sugarcane plantation.

“Court has shown today that the company is maliciously arresting us to keep us in jails. To weaken our hearts, wasting our time and resources. They intentionally do this because we refused to surrender the land we have lived on for years. It is shaming that the government has failed to protect the rights of the poor people.” The defender noticed.

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