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Livelihood, Land 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

Livelihood, Land And Investment

Land grabs: Officials in Mubende district are colluding with economically powerful and politically connected people to grab local communities’ land.

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By Witness Radio Team

Justine Nakachwa (not her real name) had never thought of losing land she and her family had happily lived on for decades. Her dream of owning farmland had come true.

The land passed down to generations of descendants from the late 1970s was now being claimed by a renowned businessman. She got staggered.

“I was shocked by this news because I have spent most of my life here. Am wondering how he could acquire the land without the knowledge of the whole village.” She painfully revealed this while speaking to a Witness Radio-Uganda reporter.

The sixty-year-old is one of the community members of over 800 smallholder farmers in the three villages; Biwaalwe, Kabaale, and Kyagaranyi in Kanyogoga parish, Butologo sub-county in Mubende district currently facing eviction by Tubikaku Uganda Limited, a company owned by City businessman Desh Kananura.

The smallholder farmers have been practicing subsistence farming on this land to earn a living since the 1970s.

Intending to secure ownership and legalize it, they conducted a search and due diligence, which revealed that the land had no encumbrances.  In 2012, they applied for a lease. Sadly, the Mubende District Land Board declined to grant their request and instead awarded the lease of 906.4 hectares to a ghost company Tubikaku Uganda Limited.

The economically powerful and politically connected to grabbing the downtrodden land with the assistance of land board officials is rapidly growing in Uganda. With the aid of district land boards, cartels are increasingly disposing of smallholder farmers. This practice is now predominant in many districts in the country, especially Mubende district.

It is alleged that the District Land Board has previously leased people’s land to tycoons without following proper legal land acquisition procedures.

Seven years ago, a community’s land in Lwebigajji village in Mubende district of 226.5 hectares were grabbed by a local investor with the help of district land board officials. The community had lived on their land for over 30 years.

When the community showed interest in acquiring a leasehold on the land, the district land board of Mubende hurriedly offered the title to one Deo Semwogerere Mutyaba, a local businessman, who does not even own a decimal on the land.

Consequently, over 2000 families were affected. “In 2014, we requested the Mubende district lands board for a lease on this land, got surveyed using our efforts and resources, however upon returning the leasehold title in 2015, it had Semwogerere’s names as the owner of the land.” Grace Nantubiro, one of the community leaders said.

Samuel Wambi Mamali, a local businessman was also helped by the Mubende district land board officials to allegedly steal local community’s land covering three villages. These include Kyamukoona, Kijojolo, and Kalagala in Mubende District that have been occupied by locals for decades. The villages accommodate over 800 families.

The villagers indicated that Maamali fraudulently acquired a lease title he never applied for, did not consult community members on the land, nor at parish, or sub-county land committees that should have advised and guided on whether the land was lawfully being occupied and cultivated.

The few listed cases above are among several cases of grabbed land by wealthy and politically connected people in the Mubende district.  The trend of district land boards facilitating land grabs has left many local and indigenous communities landless.

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Livelihood, Land And Investment

A community of over 300 smallholder farmers conned as their land is sold to a local investor without their consent.

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By Witness Radio Team

As foreign agribusinesses take over Kiryandongo communities’ fertile land, other local investors are also eyeing the remaining land occupied by the poor families in the southwestern district of Uganda to grab their land.

A community of over 300 smallholder farmers in Ranch 22, Nyamuntende village in Kiryandongo district is being evicted by a local businessman Maseruka Robert who claims ownership of the land some have lived on for decades. Mr. Maseruka connived with some leaders in the community to grab land from the poor.

The evictions that started in August this year have caused the displacement of over 50 households so far on land measuring over 2000 acres without consultations or being fairly compensated. Crops belonging to residents, and houses were razed.

When evictions by multinationals soared in Uganda, the community acted swiftly to protect the interest on the land and avert a land grab. And in 2015, they applied for a lease of 49 years on the land from the Kiryandongo district land board which was granted to them.

However, unbeknownst to them, schemers would take advantage of this opportunity to grab their land. Earlier, the residents whose land is located on Ranch 22 Block 8 Bunyoro Ranching Scheme entrusted Wilson Sikhama, Ochema Richard, and a few other community members as their leaders in 2016 during the requisition of the land.

According to the residents, initially, the application processes unfolded as they had planned, however, Sikhama and Ochema allegedly connived with other people not known to the community to drop the names of some of the community members whom they had entrusted and replaced them with Julius Isingoma, Gerald Tumusiime, Messanger Gabriel Wabwire, Musokota William John and Simon Mwesige.

Residents further added that the land was titled in the names of the seven people who excluded the villagers. In 2019, when the community expected the location forms of the land per person, they understood that the land they had acquired was sold to one Maseruka Robert without their notification by Sikhama and the group.

In the same year 2019, the community ran to court seeking its intervention to regain the ownership of their land. The community was led by one of their own Mbabazi Samuel. In a blink of an eye, Mbabazi allegedly reached an agreement with the aforementioned group. On the 22nd of October 2020, he allegedly sold the said land to a group of people (Mr. Sikhama’s group) at One Hundred Million Shillings (100,000,000 equivalent to USD 26,483.79) without the approval of the community he represented.

After completion of the sale, the group of schemers sold the land to Maseruka who is now evicting the community.

In our interview with Maseruka, he failed to explain how he acquired the land but, insisted that he wanted the community to leave his land. “These people should leave my land because I want to use it, this is my land.” He maintained.

Some of the evictees whose houses were destroyed had relocated to their neighbors’ homes for fear of what would befall them. A 42-year-old widow and a mother of 10 said Maseruka’s accomplices destroyed her house leaving her destitute.

“These people wanted to give me 700,000/= (185.39) for the 15 acres of my land. When I resisted, they began destroying what they found including my house. They told me the money they were giving me was enough for me to vacate.” She explained.

The chairperson of the affected community, Mushija Caleb said his people are being forcefully evicted because they refused the peanuts given to them as compensation. He reiterated that his people don’t want to leave their land.

“They should not think of compensation irrespective of the amounts they are willing to offer because people are not interested in surrendering their land,” he added.

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Accountable Development To Communities

A self-claimed landlord who caused the imprisonment of six community land rights defenders on false charges was aligned before the court and charged with 28 counts.

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Naava while entering court cells at  Mubende.

By Witness Radio Team

A magistrate court at Mubende has charged a self-claimed landlord with 28 counts plus murder. Naava Milly Namutebi caused the arrest of six community land rights defenders, falsely accused them of murder, and got imprisoned for three years without trial. 

Naava’s appearance before the court followed shortly after the Director of Public Prosecution (DPP) dropped murder charges against six community land rights defenders. These include; Tumusiime Benjamin, Bagirana Innocent, Habana Domoro, Miyingo Gerald, Byangaramani Charles, and Byekwaso Fred.

Naava was charged along with Bulasio Musoke, Richard Mugagga, Henry Kaaya, among others. They were not allowed to answer any charges as the court had no power to make legal decisions and judgments on charges read to them.

The prosecution alleges that Naava and others still at large, committed offenses in areas of Mubende and Kampala districts between 2006 and 2021.

From 2012 to date, Naava got help from the senior army, police, and other public officers in Mubende orchestrated violence and committed human rights violations/abuses while forcefully evicting over 4,000 people off their land. 

The land being targeted measures 3.5 square miles covering villages including Kirwanyi central, Kirwanyi East, Kirwanyi West, Nakasagazi, Kituule A, Kituule B, Kibalagazi A, Kibalagazi B, Kakkanembe, Bukyambuzi A, Bukyambuzi B, Kisende, Mulanda, Kituule central, Kirwanyi A, and Butayunja in Kirwanyi and Kituule parishes in Butoloogo Sub County in Mubende district.

Naava and others accused were remanded to Kaweeri prison until 19th/July/2022. 

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