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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

Breaking; Lands Minister directs police chief to arrest armed mobs involved in forced and illegal land evictions.

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By Witness Radio team

Uganda’s Lands Minister Judith Nabakooba has directed the Inspector General of Police (IGP), Martins Okoth Ochola to arrest all organized and armed mobs involved in forced and illegal land evictions.

The directive is the second one from the same minister to the police chief in three (3) months due to widespread forced and illegal land evictions in Uganda.

On February 28, 2022, President Yoweri Museveni came out and banned all land evictions in the country that are carried out without the consent of the respective District Security Committees (DSC).

The latest directive was triggered by violent scenes that occurred on the 19th of March 2023 when armed groups of men with graders invaded the St peter’s Church of Uganda’s land in Kibiri and started destroying crops planted on the church land. The armed group whose employer is not yet established claims the church is occupying someone’s land illegally.

In an attempt to stop the unlawful eviction, Church leaders, led by Reverend Maxwell Ssebuggwawo and some faithful tried to intervene but in vain.

According to eyewitnesses, the armed group immediately attacked the Clergyman and other Christians causing severe bodily injuries. In the scuffle, Rev. Maxwell Ssebuggwawo’s vestments were torn by the mob, whom the community believes was being targeted.

In response to the violent attack against the church leader and congregation, the minister observed that many land grabbers have resorted to using organized and armed mobs to evict people from their land. She further describes eviction as illegal and unacceptable since the government has capable security agencies that can effect lawful evictions.

“We have noted incidents where some crooks employ mobs to evict people yet we have security forces that can do this concerning the law. This is wrong. I have therefore directed the IGP to arrest everybody involved in these illegal acts and be brought to book”, the Minister added in an interview with the local media.

Witness Radio in the recent past has documented incidents where organized and armed mobs are participating in violent land evictions.  For instance, a recent eviction of a 99-year-old Hellena Namazzi in Numugongo in Kira Municipality in Wakiso district by Sema Properties boss, Ssemakula Sulait, another ugly case involved a violent eviction of over 2000 people off 328.1 hectares by one Moses Karangwa and Abid Alam in Kassanda district among others.

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Livelihood, Land And Investment

Over 500 Kapapi families in Hoima district remain stranded after the district security committee fails to resettle them back on their land as directed by the minister.

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By Witness Radio team.

Hundreds of families, violently evicted from their land in Kapapi and Kiganja sub-counties in Hoima district are still pondering their next moves as efforts to return to their grabbed land remain ambiguous.

The directive came after Hoima district police and private guards from Magnum, a private security company raided people’s homes in Waaki North, Kapapi Central, Waaki South, Runga, and Kiryatete villages in Kapapi and Kiganja sub-counties, Hoima district on 10th of February 2023 at 1:00 am.

The violent scenes left hundreds of children with scores of injuries, houses were torched, and property worth billions was destroyed.  The animals such as goats, sheep, and cows were butchered and others were looted.

On 22nd of February 2023, the Minister of Lands, Housing and Urban Development, Honorable Judith Nabakooba while addressing a meeting in Rukola village Kapapi sub-county, Hoima district directed the security committee to return the victim villagers back to their land.

She considered the eviction unlawful since it was conducted at night and without a court order.

In that meeting, area leaders, Hoima district police and Hoima Resident District commissioner, Mr. Rogers Mbabazi, Deputy Resident District Commissioner, Mr. Michael Kyakashari were in attendance.

The victim community accuses a group of people including Ndahura Gafayo, Aston Muhwezi, David Mpora, Monica Rwashadika, Agaba, and Wilber Kiiza of being responsible for the land grab.

The grabbed land is situated at the shores of Lake Albert adjacent to the Kabaale parish in Buseruka Sub-county where the greenfield oil refinery is to be established. In April 2018, the government selected the Albertine Graben Refinery Consortium (AGRC) as the private sector investment to finance, develop, construct, and operate the Greenfield oil Refinery estimated to cost $4b.

According to the Witness Radio research team, ever since the directive was made instead, there’s increased human rights violations including arbitrary arrests, detentions and threats, and intimidation against victims of residents encamped at Rwenyana Church to vacate.

The evictees report that after the minister’s directive, three community members include; Mbombo Steven, and Kalongo Steven have been arrested, charged, and remanded to Hoima government prison.

“Our families encamping at church and waiting to be resettled back as directed by the Minister are facing further threats and intimidation to go away. They say they don’t want us at the church. Some of us are currently in hiding for fear of arbitrary arrests or kidnaps.” A community member who preferred to be called Enos due to fear of retaliation told Witness Radio.

He further added that the community is living at the mercy of God, with no food, or shelter, and predicted an uncertain future for their children since they are not attending school.

“Families are scattered in different centers while others continue to live with their relatives. However essential services such as shelter, food, health services, and education for their children remain a challenge. These people found us on land and started claiming ownership of this land. Imagine when we went for a search at a land registry, we found out that they only have a title of 2 acres but everyone knows we have been on this land for over 30 years. We have people who were born on this land.” He added.

Witness Radio contacted Mr. Rogers Mbabazi, Hoima Resident District Commissioner who heads the district security committee, to understand how far the committee had gone with the implementation of the minister’s directive. He instead referred us to his Deputy Mr. Michael Kyakashari.

Mr. Michael Kyakashari, when asked about the status of the directive, told our reporter that he did not have an answer for him before he hung up.

“I don’t have an answer for you” He repeatedly said.

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Livelihood, Land And Investment

State House Anti-Corruption Unit nets a surveyor implicated in Mubende district land-grabs

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Mr. Mafumu Paul and his accomplices at police after their arrest.

By Witness Radio Team,

The State House Anti-corruption Unit has arrested an alleged landgrabber in Mubende district whose evictions have rendered masses homeless.

Mr. Mafumu Paul, a Mubende based surveyor is accused of using police and conniving with some officials in the Lands ministry to issue forged titles that have been instrumental in illegal land evictions in the districts of Mubende, Kiboga and Kyankwanzi.

The alleged land grabber has been arrested alongside two of his farm workers who include Ssenyondo Ronald and Sseruyange Ben.

The arrest follows complaints of grave human rights abuses to the State House Anti-Corruption Unit and the minister for lands housing and urban development. In response, the Minister of Lands, Housing and Urban Development, the Hon. Judith Nabakooba Nalule, visited the families whose crops were sprayed with chemicals by Mafumu’s workers. She later requested the State House Anti-Corruption Unit to intervene and investigate circumstances under which forged certificate of land titles are issued and used to forcefully evict local communities off their land. She further directed the Mubende Police to oversee the arrest of the Mufumu.

He has been implicated in instigating unlawful arrests, beating people, denying communities to access clean water sources, razing-down people’s houses and gardens, fly-grazing, and spraying their crops with chemicals in order to evict them from their land.

In one of the recent cases, on the 14th of January 2023, violence was meted out on the residents in Nalyankanja village, Kyenda Town Council in Mubende district. Mafumu is said to have ordered his workers to spray their crops, an act they believe has escalated hunger in their area. The crops sprayed with chemicals included: sweet potatoes, pineapples, coffee, bananas, and Cassava.

According to Witness Radio research, Mafumu has been accused of violently evicting over 17 families since 2018 from their land measuring approximately 248 acres.

The alleged land grabber and his accomplices are currently being detained at Mubende Police.

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