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land, livelihood and investment

The Agony of a Tree-Planting Project on Communities’ Land in Uganda

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Some mothers who lost children due to the lack of food after New Forests Company’s evictions. Ph: witnessradio.org

The large-scale plantations from UK-based New Forests Company (NFC) have meant violence, forceful evictions and misery for thousands of residents from Mubende, Uganda. More than 15 years after the company began its operations in Uganda, affected communities still confront the long-lasting and severe damages.

Misery is what fills the hearts of the residents of seven villages in the Mubende district where the New Forests Company illegally evicted close to 1000 households from their land.

The UK-based New Forests Company (NFC) was founded with the vision of creating “sustainable timber products” in East Africa amidst rampant deforestation NFC plantations are also a carbon project, which generates additional profits for the Company from the selling of carbon credits. The first tree was planted in Mubende, Uganda, in 2004. Since then, the Company has rapidly expanded with four new plantation areas in Uganda as well as in Tanzania and Rwanda.

The expansion has however come with unimaginable pain to hundreds of households and gross human rights abuses, mainly in the Mubende district. Between 2006 and 2010, more than 10,000 people were evicted from their lands in the district of Mubende, in some cases with the use of violence, to make way for the NFC plantations.

NFC and the World Bank, one of the Company’s financial supporters, were once in dialogue with their evictees but abandoned them. According to documents seen by Ugandan media platform witnessradio.org, NFC was dragged into dialogue with its evictees after a critical report exposed in 2011 the lack of respect for communities’ human rights in the name of a carbon credit project. (1) The reportwhich was released by the NGO Oxfam, accused NFC and its security agents for committing human rights violations/abuses with impunity. The World Bank appointed a mediator from the Office of Compliance Advisor/Ombudsman (CAO). The CAO handles complaints from communities affected by investments made by the International Finance Corporation, the private sector arm of the World Bank.

By 2011, NFC had attracted investment from international banks and private equity funds. These include the European Investment Bank (EIB), EU’s financing institution, that had loaned NFC five million Euros (almost US 6 million dollars) to expand one of its plantations in Uganda. The Agri-Vie Agribusiness Fund, a private equity investment fund, focused on food and agribusiness in sub-Saharan Africa, had invested US 6.7 million dollars in NFC. Agri-Vie is in itself backed up by development finance institutions, notably the World Bank’s private sector lending arm, the International Finance Corporation (IFC). But the most significant investment came from UK bank HSBC (around US 10 million dollars), which gave HSBC 20 per cent ownership of the Company and one of the six seats on the NFC Board. All these investors have, in theory, social and environmental standards in order to maintain and manage their own portfolios.

Long-lasting suffering and violence

After a15-months long dialogue facilitated by the CAO, evictees were offered very little compared to what they owned before. The little payments were not based on the results of any valuation exercise to assess what the evictees had lost due to the violent and forceful evictions.

Witnessradio.org has uncovered that during the dialogue, NFC forced evictees to establish a Cooperative club if they were to get any payment from the company. Also, evictees were forced to pay subscription fees to become a member of the club and benefit from the company’s contribution. Many could not afford this fee, but the handful of people that managed to pay their subscription fees to the Cooperative, were at the end of the day given an acre of land each (less than half an hectare). Only 48% of the 10,000 evictees received this piece of land.

Our investigations indicate that after NFC paid 600,000,000 Uganda Shillings (close to US 180,000 dollars) through the Cooperative club’s account for 8,958 hectares of land and other damages suffered by the evictees, the stakeholders involved abandoned the evictees to suffer the anguish.

The Company’s plantations have shuttered lives and caused irreparable damages to the affected communities.

According to the evictees, NFC’s plantations have caused a big number of deaths among children due to malnutrition. At the time of the evictions, all children dropped out of schools and married at a tender age. Further, many families of the evictees began to live in refugee camps after failing to obtain food to feed their families, while hundreds of families broke up. And the list of long-standing impacts goes on.

The testimonies of forceful evictions and lack of due compensation overshadow the social development projects that the company flags whenever it talks about its achievements.

Shantel Tumubone, aged 50, and her family, was evicted 10 years ago from their ancestral home in Kyamukasa Village, Kitumbi Sub-county, Kassanda District. They were promised compensation that would enable them to find alternative land for their settlement.

She moved to a nearby village as she looked for land in anticipation of receiving compensation. “I have waited for the money to date. There is no single coin that we have received as compensation and we don’t know if it will happen” Tumubone, whose hope is fading away, tells witnessradio.org.

After waiting in vain, Tumubone managed to get casual employment on a farm in the Kabweyakiza Village, which is a few kilometres from where she used to live with her family. Having lost everything during the eviction, Tumubone later lost her husband because they could no longer afford the medical bills. Even worse, she did not have where to bury her husband and, thus, a swap deal was made between her and the plantations company: in exchange of her carrying out casual work in the plantations for eight months, the Company would give her a piece of land in her former village valued at 1 million Uganda Shillings (around US 270 dollars) so that she could bury her husband.

Tumubone is one of the many people who have been driven into poverty and landlessness by the New Forests Company. People who used to own land for cultivation and survival have been turned into beggars, while several others have become labourers at the Company working on what used to be their land.

Many of the people that Witnessradio.org spoke to dispute reports of due consultation and of compensation for alternative land.

“We were never consulted or agreed to what the New Forests Company did. We have been reduced to paupers and who would choose such a life. I personally used to own 15 acres [6 hectares] of land where I planted a variety of crops,” said one of the residents who is now a casual labourer at the Company’s plantations.

Despite all this, in its 2011 report to the UN, the New Forests Company claims that the people vacated their land voluntarily and peacefully, which does not tally with the situation at hand when you talk with and listen to the affected communities.

FSC: Certifying devastation

What is also striking is that NFC managed to obtain an FSC certification for its plantations, which allegedly vouches for a company’s “socially beneficial” practices. The FSC certification is supposed to ensure that products with the seal come from responsibly managed plantations that provide environmental, social, and economic benefits.

In an audit report conducted in 2010, FSC declared regarding the evictions that the company had followed peaceful means and acted responsibly.

With the situation in the areas where the New Forests Company is implementing its tree planting projects, there is no doubt that the company is flouting the certification company’s standard criteria in acquiring land. In consequence, many homeless people have been left with limited hope of returning to their land and homes.

The chairperson of the displaced households, Mr. Julius Ndagize, has said that several meetings with the managers of the New Forests Company have not been fruitful.

“The Company only managed to resettle a few families after we managed to secure 500 acres [200 hectares] of land in Kampindu Village, where each family managed to get an acre of land and the rest are landless”. Says Mr. Ndagize.

Background to the increasing large-scale investment

Following the spike in commodity prices in 2007-2008, investors expressed interest in 56 million hectares of land for agriculture and timber production, and Sub-Saharan Africa accounted for 2/3 of this expressed demand. Despite the poor record of large agricultural investments in Africa and parts of Asia, the global median project size of 40,000 hectares implies that these investments could have major implications for rural land rights and existing land users, especially smallholders.

Alarmingly, countries with weak legal frameworks for recognizing rural land rights as well as poor environmental regulation for business operations are most likely to be targeted by large-scale investments.

The Ugandan constitution states that “land in Uganda belongs to the citizens of Uganda”. But stories of non-compensation for over ten years point to gross abuse of the Ugandan law and total abuse of the citizens’ rights to whom the land belongs.

Forced evictions also constitute gross violations of a range of internationally recognized human rights, including the human rights to adequate housing, food, water, health, education, work, security of the person, freedom from cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, and freedom of movement.

The impacts of forced evictions go far beyond material losses, leading to deeper inequality and injustices, marginalization, and social conflicts.

With the evictions happening in Uganda unabated, there is no doubt that the margin between the rich and poor is widening on top of gross abuse of human rights.

The Witness Radio team, Uganda
witnessradio.org

(1) WRM Bulletin 171, Uganda: New Forests Company – FSC legitimizes the eviction of thousands of people from their land and the sale of carbon credits, 2011; and Oxfam International, The New Forests Company and its Uganda plantations, 2011

Original Post: wrm.org

land, livelihood and investment

In memory of land and investment women victims in Uganda on the International Women’s Day 2021

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Good dreams shattered as forced land evictions breed child marriages in Hoima districts…

By witnessradio.org Team

Atimago Prisca, at the age of 11 years, was among the many children that lost their dreams of a good life when her families and the entire Rwemutonga village were invaded by anti-riot police and other security agencies and got evicted on orders of a rich man.

The evictor was Joshua Tibagwa who grabbed land to be used by an American company, McAlester Energy Resources, from Texas as a petroleum wastewater facility.

Uganda discovered commercially viable oil deposits in the Albertine Graben region in 2006. Uganda has approximately 6.5 billion barrels of oil reserves, with at least 1.4 billion estimated to be economically recoverable. In addition to producing and exporting crude oil, Uganda plans to build a refinery to produce petroleum products for the domestic and EAC markets. However, many citizens continue to ask whether oil discovery is a curse or a blessing…?

The 1000 villagers on a fateful day woke up to screaming, a hail of live bullets and teargas followed by the setting of fire onto people’s homes and looting of properties. Families fled to the nearby bush because armed personnel was threatening to kill whoever would resist vacating the land.

“Before we heard one of our neighbors screaming out loud that, please forgive me, do not burn my house, now where do you want me to go, please have mercy. At first, we thought that they were being attacked by thieves. Shortly, in less than 10 minutes, a group of more than 10 armed policemen to our home and asked us what we were still waiting for, my mum replied to them that this is our land. They ordered us to immediately leave. Our father too tried to resist but one of the armed men told him that he would be killed if we don’t leave our home” Said Atimago.

Atimago, now a single mother of one at the age of 17 years, dropped out of school on a day of forceful eviction since her parents were rendered financially weak to meet the basic needs of 10 children.

Atimago who wanted to become a midwife narrated that after surviving a deadly land eviction, a well-wisher identified as Atien Oketch offered a 40×40 piece of land where they camped as a community and built some temporary structures and life became very hard.

“You imagine a family of 10 to sleep in that small structure, it was terrible that we could not manage the situation, some of us decided to get married. “At the age of 13, I decided to go for marriage since we had nowhere to sleep, nothing to eat, and no privacy, and I hoped that marriage would give me peace but that did not come” added Atimago.

She further explained that her marriage did not last long since his husband was not caring.

“After getting pregnant he told me to leave that he had nothing to do with me. He used to beat me which forced me to leave our home to a friend’s. Up to this time, he does not offer any help which forced me to stay with my parents,” she added.

Atimago’s story is not different from over 40 young girls in Rwamutonga who lost their education because of evictions in 2014 and they have since married been off.

“We were not even served with eviction notices, we didn’t know that we were going to be evicted, and police just came with four trucks full of police officers. They started firing bullets in the air and tear gas. Police together with the deputy RDC [Ambrose Mwesigye] burnt down houses, destroyed our properties, and even looted some,” some residents claimed.

 In an interview with Nelson Atich, Bugambe sub-county Councilor and representative of the evictees, he said the eviction was an advantage to the Boda Boda men who opted to marry these girls since many did not have wives.

“Of the over 1000 people, 700 were children and 60% were girls who could not tolerate this situation. For three years we were staying in a camp which is a deadly scenario for the girl child. What is annoying is that most of them after being used or impregnated were dumped,” he said.

However, after the eviction, the victim community ran to court and in 2015, Masindi high court ruled in their favor that the eviction was illegal. “The Eviction was unlawful and should not have happened in the first place because at the time of the execution of the warrant of vacant possession, there was an ongoing suit to determine true ownership of the land,” ruled Justice Simon Byabakama.

Whereas in 2017, the evictees were resettled back to their original land, but the lost dreams of a good future will never be recovered as the court did not consider awarding them for such damages.

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land, livelihood and investment

CSOs urge banks and other IFIs not to finance E.Africa oil pipeline project… 

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By witnessradio.org Team

Kampala – Uganda – More than 260 charities on Monday, the 1st/March/2021 urged banks and international financial institutions throughout the World not to finance a $3.5 billion oil pipeline in East Africa, concerned the project could lead to the loss of land for poor communities and livelihoods, environmental destruction and surging carbon emissions.

In a signed open letter 263 charities, estimated that once the project financing is availed, it will displace 14,000 households across Uganda and Tanzania will lose their land and hundreds of families will need to be resettled as a result of the pipeline and oil development.

As currently planned, the East African Crude Oil Pipe Line (EACOP) will pass through 178 villages in Uganda and 231 in Tanzania, leading to massive physical and economic displacement.

The proposed 1,445-kilometer crude oil pipeline worth $2.5 billion will stretch from Hoima in Uganda to the port of Tanga in Tanzania and expected to carry 216,000 barrels of crude oil per day (10.9 million metric tons per year) at ‘plateau production’ 

South Africa’s Standard Bank, Japan’s SMBC, and China’s ICBC are all advising the parties behind this pipeline, and are likely to be working to arrange the project finance loan. They’ll need other financiers to join them.

However, the undersigned CSOs from across the world who stand in solidarity with the directly affected communities and local CSOs defending community rights have urgently demanded financial institutions of the project to halt its funding that would displace tens of thousands of people, endanger the critical ecosystems of the Lake Victoria basin area and also putting in danger the climate catastrophe.

 In another part of the open letter to the financiers of the project explain that the project has already caused the large-scale displacement of local communities and poses grave risks to protected environments, water sources, and wetlands in both Uganda and Tanzania, including the Lake Victoria basin, which millions of people rely upon for drinking water and food production

According to the organizations, the same company has not yet compensated over 5,000 people in Uganda whose land was acquired to develop the pipeline project between 2018 and 2019.

“These people were stopped from cultivating on their land and setting up new developments. This has left people impoverished. The impacts of this increased poverty are being felt by women, parents, children, the elderly and others who were mainly using the land to grow income-generating (cash) and perennial crops,” reads the part of the letter.

According to calculations based on the specific fuel density of the EACOP blend, the emissions from the burning of this fuel would be at least 34.3 million metric tons of CO2-equivalent (CO2e) per year. These emissions will dwarf the current annual emissions of its two host countries combined, and will in fact be roughly equivalent to the carbon emissions of Denmark.

In addition to significantly contributing to the climate crisis, the project poses serious environmental and social risks to protected wildlife areas, water sources, and communities throughout Uganda and Tanzania.

Extraction at the oil fields in Albertine Graben will jeopardize the Murchison Falls National Park, which is important for tourism as Uganda’s second most visited national park. In addition, the mangroves at the coast of Tanzania which the pipeline puts at risk support approximately 150,000 people, in addition to the ecological services they provide. The 300 permanent jobs the pipeline is expected to create will not compensate for the loss of jobs in agriculture, tourism, and mangroves.

Nearly a third of the planned pipeline (460 kilometers) will be constructed in the basin of Africa’s largest lake, Lake Victoria where more than 30 million people depend on Lake Victoria for water and food production. The pipeline also crosses several rivers and streams that flow into the lake, including the Kagera River.  Possible spills from the pipeline due to bad maintenance, accidents, third-party interference or natural disasters, risk freshwater pollution and degradation in this area – a likelihood that is even greater since the area around Lake Victoria is an active seismic area.

As a result of these risks, the project is facing significant local community and civil society resistance. 

In November 2020 in Uganda, over 877 petitioners – including 810 directly affected people – signed a petition to Total and the other EACOP project developers. They called on the oil companies to prioritize environmental conservation and community livelihoods over the EACOP project.

The CSOs, therefore, call on all banks and all financial institutions with a business relationship to Total and CNOOC to publicly commit not to participate in financing the EACOP project or associated oil projects, engage with the governments of Uganda and Tanzania and other financiers to promote an energy future for East Africa that, does not rely on oil or other fossil fuels, but rather on clean energy alternatives; and to demand that Total acts immediately to compensate people already affected by the pipeline for the impacts to their land.

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land, livelihood and investment

A government project is pushing hundreds of families off the land without re-settlement

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By witnessradio.org Team.

Lyantonde – Uganda – without any informed consultations or community engagements, the government of Uganda is constructing a world-class pre-export quarantine facility for animals on a piece of land which has been feedings hundreds of native families for more than three decades.

Once the project takes off, a source of food, employment, education, and a provider of finances to meet basic needs for hundreds of families will be no more.

According to the Ministry of Agriculture, Animal Industry, and Fisheries, the facility will act as a quarantine ground for animals before export for a specified period of time for veterinary observation, sampling, testing, and vaccination among others.

The project which targets land measuring approximately 98.2 Hectares, shall facilitate the export of animals and meat in bulk from Burundi, Rwanda, and DR Congo, and other neighboring East and Central African countries.

But, Grace Batine, 57 years and a mother of 12 children who has been deriving a livelihood from the targeted land says, the project is shattering the future of her family as it will deprive them of the right to food and other basic rights.

“I settled on the land in 1994, which has been a source of everything. When the government decided to develop it, why do they fear to consult us and whose responsibility is it to protect and care about our wellbeing? Do they want the European governments to care for us if they can’t,” a poor Batine questioned.

Benon Musinguzi, a resident of Makukulu Village, says they only want the government to compensate if not, resettle them because they have nowhere to go.

“We respect the government’s move to construct the facility but it would not be fair if they evict us from our only livelihood. We think if they have no money for the compensation they should allocate to us part of the land for us to continue thriving. We admit this is not our land but for more than 30 years we have been on this land,” adds Musinguzi a father of 8.

In an interview with the land desk officer at the Ministry of Agriculture, Bruce Turyatunga, claimed the move to evict residents is ready and the government shall not even compensate a single coin to them since they illegally occupied the land.

“This is a government land that was surveyed and we have a title on it, how do you compensate someone on your land, we are even consulting from the Attorney General and Administrator-General to see how these people can compensate us for using our land for all that time,” Mr. Turyatunga added.

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