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Accountable Development To Communities

The New Forests Company in Uganda: Villages Evicted, Deceived and Dumped into Poverty

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In the early 2000s, neighbouring villages envied Kanamire, a village located in the Mubende district, in the central region of Uganda. It had made a name in farming, and its story of success was spreading like a wild bushfire. Its inhabitants had set a high bar for anyone who practiced small-holder farming. The arable land and farming practices was the magic behind their success.

Kanamire’s villagers used to spend the entire day either tilling their gardens or weeding their crops in anticipation of a bountiful harvest.

“The population in the village had surged and was now entirely thriving on farming. Bigger and sprawling shops were everywhere. Houses made of baked brick were replacing the grass thatched ones. We proudly called it home,” 54-year-old Obutu Danial reminiscences about the heydays.

As a norm, amongst the rural women, there is an unwritten creed of maintaining peace with your neighbours. The first person to harvest, at least, shared part of the harvest with the neighbours. This belief had stood the test of time and Kanamire’s women were no exception. “We had enough land. We grew enough food for the families. We would give yields to our neighbours, for example beans, and in return, they would also do the same when theirs are ready. And [we would] also sell the surplus to cater for other needs”, a woman farmer reveals.

Twenty years down the road, the exemplary village no longer exists. Acreages of banana, coffee and maize crops, among others, were razed down, and families were brutally evicted by the London-based New Forests Company (NFC).

New Forests Company and the carbon market

NFC was founded in 2004 with the “vision” of producing “sustainable” timber in East Africa amidst rampant deforestation. It was funded by Agri-Vie Agribusiness Fund, a private equity investment fund, and UK-bank HSBC Private Equity. The East Africa region in which Uganda lies is one of the most fertile regions and thus, it was chosen for the plantations business.

In 2005, the tree plantations company signed a deal with Uganda’s National Forestry Authority (NFA) to develop 20,000 hectares of tree plantations in the Namwasa and Luwunga forest reserves under the carbon trading program, a market-based approach to privatize the carbon dioxide stored in trees for selling it as carbon credits to polluters. This generates additional profits for the Company.

NFC is currently also benefiting from a new project supported by the Dutch Fund for Climate and Development (DFCD); a 160 million euros (more than 185 million dollars) from Dutch government fund that aims to mobilize private sector finance into carbon projects. The DFCD is managed by investment manager Climate Fund Managers (CFM), NGO Worldwide Fund for Nature Netherlands (WWF-NL) and NGO SNV, and it is led by the Dutch Development Bank, FMO. (1)

On august 2020, DFCD approved a 279,001 euros (around 327,000 dollars) grant and WWF technical assistance package for The New Forests Company (NFC), with the aim of developing the final business investment proposal for carbon certification in Uganda, for sustainable smallholder growth and timber market diversification. This in reality would translate into generating carbon finance to support expanding their monoculture plantations and land grabbing.

The Kanamire village’s eviction

The National Forestry Authority (NFA) is a Government agency established under the National Forestry and Tree Planting Act of 2003, as a corporate body responsible for the so-called “sustainable development,” the management of Central Forest Reserves (CFRs) and the provision of technical support to stakeholders in the forestry sub-sector.

Between 2006 and 2010, more than 10,000 people were evicted from their lands in the district of Mubende to make way for the NFC plantations. Despite this, in 2008, the Uganda Investment Authority, which is mandated to “advise Government on appropriate policies conducive for investment promotion and growth” (2) named NFC an ‘Investor of the Year’ for planting monocultures of pines and eucalyptus while villagers miserably live on a barren and crowded piece of land.

In February 2010, residents of Kanamire woke up to a hail of NFC representatives and graders, who were under the protection of the Uganda People’s Defense Forces (UPDF) and the Uganda Police Force (UPF), which in turn were under the command of the then Mubende Resident District Commissioner Nsubuga Bewaayo. They destroyed the villagers’ properties worth billions of Uganda shillings before the forced eviction, to give way for a NFC monoculture plantation.

The others villages that suffered forced eviction in the Mubende district due to NFC plantations are Kyamukasa, Kigumya, Kyato, Kisita, Mpologoma, and Bulagano villages.

Three years after the evictions, NFC agreed to resettle victims after fretful engagements with human rights activists and other villagers’ supporters addressing the violence that locals experienced during the evictions.

In an agreement signed by the company and the villagers of Kanamire, NFC agreed to pay them a total of 1.2 billion Uganda Shillings (around 340 thousand dollars). And residents were requested to form and join a cooperative society, which would allocate half of the money to buy land and the other half to cater development projects, such as boreholes and schools. Evictees were forced to pay subscription fees to become a member. Those that had no money by then to join the cooperative, were not included in the resettlement process. (3)

“We formed Bukakikama Cooperative Society and 600 million [Uganda Shillings] for land was wired on the cooperative account,” (around 170 thousand dollars) Mr. Bakesisha William, the former cooperative chairman said.

Mr. Bakesisha said the 600 million Uganda Shillings bought land equivalent to 473 acres (around 190 hectares) in the Kampindu village, in the Mubende district. Out of the 901 families, 453 were allocated 1 acre (less than half an hectare) of land. The remaining 448 families haven’t been compensated or resettled up to date.

Everyone in the cooperative had to pay 30,000 Uganda Shillings (around 8.5 dollars) to join. There were additional payments victims had to make, namely: 3,000 Uganda Shillings (almost one dollar) for having a share in the Cooperative and 5,000 Uganda Shillings (1.42 dollars) as the initial saving pot. Upon the fulfilment of the above required payments, the cooperative chairman would issue identification numbers.

And only those who had met such requirements would be registered as an eligible member of the cooperative to benefit from one acre of land to resettle.

In Kampindu, the place where the evictees from Kanamire were ‘resettled’, malnourished children in tattered clothes wandering all over the village are your first sight. The angry, hungry and mean-looking youth and their fatigued elders are crowded in makeshifts and muddy houses. Others with hoes on their backs and dirty feet reveal their destitution.

Even those that received one acre of land are not in any way better than those that did not receive it. They too are wallowing in poverty. They were resettled on a barren piece of land.

It has been established that even what is supposed to be claimed as resettlement has not been met. No relief support was offered, like basic housing, foodstuffs, water or clothing. They were dumped and abandoned by the UK-based multimillionaire company.

“Both groups are living poor lives. Those that got a chance to resettle on an acre of land are suffering. The land is too small to cultivate. It is located in hilly areas that can’t either be built in or be farmed. And the others that had no chance are starving and working as labourers on other people’s plantations for survival. About 5 cases of fatality resulting from the displacement have been recorded in the areas,” a researcher at Ugandan media platform Witness Radio noted.

Mr. Rwabinyansi Charles is one of those that were allocated land in Kampindu. The 75-year-old father of 11 cannot forget the ruthless manner in which NFC grabbed his land and threw him at Kampindu, a place he describes as hell.

“It is as if I don’t have land. Look, it is filled with stones hard to build in or farm. When you plant crops, they dry. Look at the maize that was planted last season,” he said while referring to a piece of land he had received from NFC.

11 years back, Mr. Rwabinyansi was a happy villager. Before his eviction, he had 30 acres (around 12 hectares) filled with crops of coffee, bananas, cassava, among others. Besides this, he also practiced animal husbandry on his land.

“On a good season, I would harvest over 30 bags of coffee, 20 of maize, and 15 of cassava. I would sell them while my wife at home would grow what fed us. We also sold the milk from our four cows, so it was indeed a good life,” he narrated.

Now, on a well-wisher’s piece of land in Kampindu, stands a makeshift tent that Mr. Rwabinyansi and his family call home, but that is just the tip of the iceberg. Not even death will relieve the eviction-related pain because even in death, the eviction has continued to haunt them.

“I cannot build on that land. It is not safe for me. I cannot also build here, because any time, the owner may want to use it. I recently lost my daughter in law and I had nowhere to bury her”, he reveals.

When someone dies, among the Baganda indigenous, a condolence message is accompanied with a decent burial and a farewell message to the deceased, “Wummula mirembe” which is akin to “Rest in Peace”, however, this was not the case for Mr. Rwabinyansi’s daughter in law. “We struggled to get where to bury her. But finally, God had mercy on us. A nearby friend gave a portion of his land to lay her to rest,” he added.

The chairperson of the affected communities for NFC, Mr. Julius Ndagize, faults the criteria that informed the processes of allocating the evictees the one-acre piece of land.

“Firstly, the land is too small to accommodate all of us, and the procedures of first buying shares and savings in the cooperative were also not favouring my people since they had no money. People including those who got land to have nothing to eat. Imagine a family of 15 children, all have grown and built on the same land, where will they dig. The only benefit that the group which got land has ahead of those that did not get is that they have where to bury their beloved ones,” he explained.

The pain of losing a promising young generation to an eviction

The evictees are now grappling with shocking eviction-related consequences, including child pregnancies, child labour, and school dropouts.

“Cases of early marriages and child labour are high in the area, children no longer go to school because ideally if a parent lacks what to eat, can he educate a child. And people are dying because they have no money to go to the hospitals” he further said.

Mr. Ndagize said the smallholder farmers are now working as casual labourers. “Given the fact that the land is small and infertile, these people go and work in the neighbouring farms to get what to eat,” he added.

Smallholder farmers’ contribution to the national food basket remains unrivalled, but when you speak to them, they believe they have been let down by their government, and thrown under the bus by multinationals like NFC.

“If agriculture is the backbone of Uganda as they say, why do they take the small we have, we were not starving, and neither were we begging anyone. But look at me now. Next time you will either find me on the streets begging or dead in my house,” depressed villager Rwoga Nyange concludes.

Efforts to talk to the Corporate Social Responsibility Programme Manager from New Forests Company, Mr. Kyabawampi Alex, were unsuccessful, as he did not respond to Witness Radio’s emails by press time.

Witness Radio – Uganda

(1) WWF, The DFCD supports in carbon certification in Uganda, August 2020, https://www.wwf.nl/wat-we-doen/aanpak/internationaal/Dutch-Fund-for-Climate-and-Development/The-DFCD-supports-in-carbon-certification-in-Uganda

(2) Uganda Investment Authority, https://www.ugandainvest.go.ug/about/

(3) Witness Radio, The Agony of a Tree-Planting Project on Communities’ Land in Uganda, in WRM Bulletin 251, September 2020, https://wrm.org.uy/articles-from-the-wrm-bulletin/section1/the-agony-of-a-tree-planting-project-on-communities-land-in-uganda/

This article was first published by WRM Bulletin 257 on 27th/Septmember/2021

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Accountable Development To Communities

The committee calls for the protection of projects’ host communities.

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By Witness Radio team

Development Banks and investors have been urged to invest in activities or projects that do not deprive individuals or communities of access to land or land-associated resources on which they depend for their livelihoods.

The negative effects arising from the projects funded by some development banks and investors have forced the Committee on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights General Comment No. 26 (2022) on Land and Economic, Social and Cultural Rights while giving its general comment on land to call on development banks and states hosting the projects to refrain from actions that interfere, directly or indirectly, with the enjoyment of the Covenant rights in land-related contexts outside their territories

In 2014, an investigation by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists revealed that some 3.4 million of the most vulnerable people were left homeless by the projects funded by World Bank. Till today, more of the bank’s funded projects continue to harm communities.

Currently, there is an ongoing mediation process between the project-affected persons of Kawaala Zone II and Kampala Capital City Authority, an implementer of a World Bank funded-project over human rights violations.  In December 2020, their houses were marked with an x as a sign of demolition and later some of the residents’ crops got destroyed.

In the Pakwach district, the Paten clan continues to experience gross human rights violations arising from the Wadelai Irrigation Scheme implementation funded by the African Development Bank (AfDB).

According to the communities, the project forcefully acquired more land for the Wadelai Irrigation Scheme project under The Farm Income Enhancement and Forestry Conservation Project-Phase 2 (FIEFOC-2). This was contrary to the earlier understanding with the community that the project would utilize 365 acres which the community had freely offered for the project. Instead, 365 hectares were forcefully acquired.

The committee while reviewing state parties’ reports, claims has encountered an increasing number of references to the negative impact on individuals, groups, peasants, and indigenous peoples’ access to productive resources, as a result of international investment negotiations, agreements, and practices, including in the form of public-private partnerships between state agencies and foreign private investors

The committee says land transfers are quite often financed by international actors, including public investors such as development banks financing development projects requiring lands, such as dams or renewable energy parks, or by private investors.

“Parties must take concrete measures to prevent their domestic and international policies and actions, such as trade, investment, energy, agricultural, development and climate change mitigation policies, from interfering, directly or indirectly, with the enjoyment of human rights that applies to all forms of projects implemented by development agencies or financed by development banks.” The committee noted.

Adding that “ there is a need to establish the necessary regulatory mechanisms to ensure that business entities, including transnational corporations, and other non-State actors that they are in a position to regulate, not impair the enjoyment of Covenant rights in land-related contexts in other countries and moving the necessary steps to prevent human rights violations abroad in land-related contexts by non-State actors over which they can exercise influence, without infringing the sovereignty or diminishing the obligations of the host States.”

The committee further emphasized the conduct of human rights impact assessments before making such investments and regularly assess and revise them. Such assessments shall be conducted with substantive public participation and the results shall be made public and inform measures to prevent, cease and remedy any human rights violations or abuses.

In addition to responsible investment, the committee directed states to take all necessary measures to respect human rights defenders and their work, including concerning land issues and to refrain from imposing criminal penalties on them or enacting new criminal offenses to hinder their work.

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Accountable Development To Communities

World Bank extends the Lubigi drainage project dispute resolution process for another six months.

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By Witness Radio Team.

The World Bank, Accountability Mechanism has granted the Parties involved in a dispute resolution case in Uganda an additional six months with expectations of achieving better mediation in the ongoing dispute resolution between the Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA) and the Projected Affected Person.

According to the brief by World Bank Accountability Mechanism Secretary, Ms. Orsolya Szekely, the DRS extended the dispute resolution process which was supposed to end in December 2022, to six months which began this January 2023. Orsolya believes the added time will help all the parties resolve their differences.

The World Bank Accountability Mechanism is an independent complaints mechanism for people and communities who believe that they have been or are likely to be harmed by a World Bank-funded project.

The extension follows the failure to negotiate between the two parties in one-year-long negotiations of the dispute resolution process which started in December 2021.

The Kampala Capital City Authority is implementing the Lubigi drainage Channel expansion project under the KIIDP-2 with funding from the World Bank.

On December 3, 2020, the Kawaala communities were shocked to find KCCA representatives in their village, accompanied by armed police officers, distributing eviction notices and informing residents that they had 28 days to vacate their homes. A few days later, for instance, in the wee hours of 05th/12/2020, the community started experiencing attacks by armed anti-riot police and workers of the construction company; destroying properties, without any prior consultation or plan for compensation and resettlement.

In a bid to find justice, in June 2021, the affected community filed a complaint with the World Bank’s Inspection Panel raising concerns about forced evictions during COVID-19.

According to the complaint filed against KCCA, the implementor of the KIIDP-2 project excluded the affected community from benefiting from the Project’s Resettlement Plan (RAP) and instead resorted to the use of force to have them evicted. Following the intervention of the World Bank, KCCA conducted another Project’s Resettlement Plan. However, according to the affected community, the process was rushed and intended to promote inequality.

The project is marred with retaliatory attacks from people believed to be project implementers against project affected community.

The Accountability Mechanism’s operating procedures allow for a one-year period for all parties to resolve, with a six-month extension period in case parties fail to reach an amicable understanding.

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Accountable Development To Communities

Festive holiday forced evictions: armed gangs linked to a Chinese tree planting company descend on a village, severely beat and wound dozens of villagers.

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By Witness Radio Team

A festive holiday is happily waited for by many people in every corner of the world. It’s a period for merry-making and family get together. In Africa, particularly in Uganda, most people travel from towns to their ancestral homes to spend that time with family members, make parties and meet longtime childhood friends.

For a community at Kicuculo village, Kiruuma Sub-county, in Mubende district was a different experience. The much-awaited season was marred with violence, anxiety, and death threats from Formasa Tree Planting company targeting the community’s land to expand its commercial trees business.

Formosa is a Chinese-owned tree-planting company planting pine and eucalyptus trees in the Mubende district, Central Uganda.

Ugly incidents started happening on December 7th, 2022 in the wee hours of that night. A group of over 20 casual workers linked to Formasa invaded homesteads, started cutting people with pangas, and beat everyone found in their houses accompanying them with threats to kill them if they don’t leave the land.

Three people were hacked with pangas and clobbered with sticks by armed company laborers in an attempt to force them off the land they have lived on for decades.

While more than seven (7) people got hospitalized after sustaining deep cut wounds during the scuffle. Mr. Byakatonda David who sustained a deep cut wound on the head narrates his ordeal. “At around 11 pm, I heard my neighbor crying for help, and decided to respond. On reaching there, I found a group of armed workers from Formosa destroying his house while others were beating him. When one of them saw me, “he said, he is also among the people on our wanted list”.

“I wanted to run but was immediately caught by the rogues. They beat me and left me unconscious with deep cuts on my head. I got back to my normal senses admitted and bandaged at Maduddu Health Center II.” The father of 13 revealed this in his interview with the Witness Radio team.

According to his relatives, they found him lying in a pool of blood and rushed him to the hospital. “We waited for someone who had gone to the neighborhood to respond to an alarm, but he wasn’t returning. Due to fear, we searched only to find him bleeding on his head and lying in blood. I called the chairman on the phone who helped with a BodaBoda motorcycle to rush him to the hospital.” His wife revealed.

Violent forced evictions in the Mubende district occurred despite a government ban on evictions during the festive seasons. The lands minister, honorable Judith Nabakooba on December 2022, ordered that no family should be evicted during the festive holiday. She directed police and Resident District Commissioners (RDCs) to respect the order.

Mr. Byamukama Yuda, an area chairman of Kicuculo village told Witness Radio that Formosa company is a threat in their village because of continuous and violent attacks on his people for refusing to surrender their land to the company to grow commercial trees.

“Ever since the company started operations in 2012, the company under the protection of the police has been grabbing people’s land, beating them, raping women and young girls, cutting them, and causing arrests to community land rights defenders. Over 2500 hectares of people’s land have been grabbed and rendered families landless. And for only 2022, over 100 people have been terrorized by angry company workers.” He added.

He further said company workers seem to have powerful people protecting them and respect or fear no one. Adding that on Christmas, a group of workers went to his home and threatened him to be castrated in front of his wife and children.

The same company in 2017 caused the arbitrary arrest, and imprisonment of 5 community land rights defenders for 15 years and 35 years on murder and other charges. The five among others include; Paul Sinamenya, Richard Ssemombwe, Fenehansi Kaberuka, Esau Hategeka, Godfrey Bukenya, Yonnah Ssebanenya, and Sserugo Sam Ssemigo

Witness Radio has since appealed against the conviction on grounds that the evidence relied on by the court was doctored.

When we contacted the Company Manager, Ms. Annah Kyoheirwe, she declined to discuss the allegations. She said she was busy attending a meeting and hung up.

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