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The district security committee continues to defy gov’t’s directive to return locals to their land 48 days later.

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By  Witness Radio team,

10th February 2023 will remain poignant in the lives of hundreds of Kapapi residents whose livelihoods were lost in a forced eviction executed by government security forces in Hoima and private security guards attached to Magnum Security Company. The forced evictions are to benefit land grabbers and speculators from the East African Oil Pipeline project.

The evictions left over 500 families forcefully evicted from the land they had lived on for decades. The communities accuse a group of people namely; Ndahura Gafayo, Aston Muhwezi, David Mpora, Monica Rwashadika, one Agaba, Wilber Kiiza, and Moses Asimwe of masterminding the land grabbing in Waaki North, Kapapi Central, Waaki South, Runga, and Kiryatete villages in Kapapi and Kiganja sub-counties, Hoima district.

On 22nd of February, 2023, the government of Uganda, through the Minister of Lands Housing and Urban Development, Honorable. Judith Nabakooba directed all the affected persons to be returned to their land. However, the illegal eviction victims are instead forced into hiding due to constant threats of arrest and intimidation. Their homesteads and land remain inaccessible as they are tightly guarded by security guards.

In a meeting attended by victims, village leaders, police, and Resident District Commissioner (RDC), among other leaders in Rukola village, Hon. Nabakooba stated that the eviction was unlawful and directed the district security committee which is headed by the RDC to oversee the resettlement of the communities back on their land until investigations onto the ownership of the land are concluded. To date, the directive remains unimplemented.

On February 28, 2022, President Yoweri Museveni banned all land evictions in the country that are carried out without the consent of the respective District Security Committees (DSC).  “No eviction should be allowed to take place in a district without the consent and direct observation of the District Security Committee (DSC), chaired by the Resident District Commissioners/Resident City Commissioners (RDCs/RCCs) and direct consultation with the Minister of Lands” the President’s letter addressed to the Prime Minister and Chief Justice reads in part.

Witness Radio’s research reveals different forms of violence have been meted out against the downtrodden, such as beatings, arrests, stealing, and continued looting of affected communities’ animals, all targeting to weaken them to surrender their land. Witness Radio is also investigating the allegations of gang rape and sexual assaults against some women in Kapapi.

Despite the ministerial order, the poor families remain abandoned wandering in different parts of the country for survival. PAPs revealed that after the minister’s directive, police and armed forces intensified their violent land-grabbing activities and continued denying them access to their homesteads and land.

The District Security Committee tasked by the Minister on 22nd of February 2023 to resettle the communities back on their land disregarded her order.

In an interview with the assistant Resident District Commissioner, Mr. Michael Kyakashari to understand how far the committee had gone with implementing the minister’s directive. He told our researcher that he did not have an answer to the question.

According to the leaders of the affected community, the evictors are now targeting men with beatings, arrests, and unscrupulously charging them which forced many of them into hiding, leaving women to take responsibility for their families.

“Every man who would interfere with their land grabbing move would be hunted, beaten, and arrested, and then put charges on you because they are powerful and directly deal with police which forced many us to hide for fear of our lives or being put behind bars.” Kamusabe (not the real name) told Witness Radio.

Kobusingye (not the real name due to fear of retaliation), a mother of 13 had settled on her 60 acres of land for the past 27 years. On a fateful day, she claims her three houses were razed, property worth millions destroyed and some of her goats are believed to have been looted and slaughtered by the evictors. She is one of those struggling to make ends meet for her family after her husband was forced into hiding.

“I don’t know where my husband is and we rarely talk because he tells me he is being spied on. I have spent a week here at church struggling to feed myself. I also left my children at the home of my relative but they keep on calling me to pick them up because they are many, 13 of them, and hence have become a burden. I don’t know how they are, and what to do next for them because ideally, I have no other alternative.” Kobusingye told the Witness Radio team.

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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.

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

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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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