Connect with us


Thousands of families say they have been displaced from their homes to make way for commercial farms



By Liam Taylor

KIRYANDONGO, Uganda, Aug 28 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – People came from all over Uganda to Kiryandongo, uprooted by disaster and dispossession.

In recent decades thousands have settled in the district, some 200km north of the capital Kampala, hacking away the undergrowth on cattle ranches abandoned after the fall of former dictator Idi Amin in 1979.

But thousands of families who had settled on the vacant land are now being displaced from their homes to make way for commercial farms, land activists warned in a report published this week.

“People are crying, people are beaten,” said Richard David Otyaluk, a resident who said he was born on the land and would not make way for a sugar plantation. Those who have left, he added, are now “roaming like weeds”.

Tensions often arise on abandoned land concessions in Africa, researchers and activists say, with landless people settling in these areas, only to be moved out when new owners acquire the land.

Farming accounts for more than 20% of GDP, with about three-quarters of Ugandans working in the sector, according to the International Labour Organization.

A report by civil society group Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa, Barcelona-based charity GRAIN and Ugandan NGO Witness Radio accuses three foreign agribusiness firms of “violently evicting people … without notice, alternatives or even negotiations”.

“Small farms that once fed local communities and even the markets of Kampala are being destroyed to make way for plantations owned by foreign companies,” Susan Nakacwa of GRAIN in Uganda said in emailed comments.

One of the companies is Agilis Partners, a U.S.-owned producer of grains and oilseeds, which received an award last year from the U.S. government for building “a thriving agriculture business in Uganda” that pays above-average wages and provides training for workers.

The others are Kiryandongo Sugar, a Kenyan-owned sugar business, and Great Season, a Sudanese- and Ugandan-owned grower of coffee, maize and sesame, among other produce.

All three companies, which operate separately, deny any forced evictions or human rights violations and say they bought the land legally.

People left voluntarily after receiving compensation for crops and buildings, the firms told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Agilis said in an emailed statement that its investment in Kiryandongo has created 75 permanent jobs and more than 400 temporary ones, and that it sources supplies from 15,000 local farmers.

It described the report as “lies” which are “an abomination to Agilis’s core values and mission”.

Ramadoss Rajasekaran, a manager at Kiryandongo Sugar, said it employs 2,000 people, which will rise to 6,000 once its factory opens.

Hilaria Nyiranteziyalyo, who is an internally displaced woman, sits in her makeshift home inside a classroom at Alokolum primary school in Kiryandongo District, Uganda, on July 24, 2020. Thomson Reuters Foundation/Isaac Kasamani


In Kiryandongo, a history of migration and miscommunication created confusion about the status of the residents, according to locals.

Some say they have lived there since the 1930s, but most arrived after the failure of state-backed ranching projects in the 1970s, and some only in the last few years.

In 2013 a government team visited the area and concluded people should stay on the ranches until the cabinet had made a final decision on the matter, according to a government letter seen by the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

But another letter from the land minister in 2017 said that the government had allocated four of those ranches to Kiryandongo Sugar, while Agilis had bought two others from a private owner.

Altogether the three companies have acquired more than 70 square kilometres of land in Kiryandongo, according to interviews and statements they gave to the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

The companies say that a few thousand people have left the area since 2017, while NGOs put the number at about 35,000.

Charles Ntairehoki Amooti, the elected district chairman, said the abandoned ranches had been settled by both “fraudulent” and “bona fide” squatters, and the latter were compensated by the companies.

There are conflicting accounts of how compensation was done.

Agilis said in a statement that it “generously compensated the affected individuals” after completing a digital census and using local government valuation rates.

There was a redress process for those who objected, and some households still remain on the land until compensation is agreed, it added.

But Joseph Walekula, a leader in an association of former residents, said he received just 2.2 million Ugandan shillings ($600) from Agilis for his house, banana plants and eucalyptus trees – an amount he said was paid late and left people in “a desperate situation”.

Agilis said that Walekula had “voluntarily accepted this compensation” and his assets had been “confirmed by an independent surveyor”.


Nearly 30 displaced people have filed cases before a Ugandan High Court in May, accusing all three companies of human rights violations, which they deny.

The cases do not focus on the ownership of the land but on the manner in which people were moved off it, said Eron Kiiza, a lawyer representing the communities.

For example, court documents state that last year Great Season sent 60 men with sticks, machetes and bulldozers to demolish homes, whether occupants had been compensated or not.

“There has never been any kind of eviction of people,” said Wycliffe Birungi, a lawyer for Great Season, adding that the company had prevented people displaced by other farms from moving onto its land.

The case against Kiryandongo Sugar states soldiers were deployed to support evictions and beat those who refused compensation, according to the documents.

“The whole process was haphazard, was sporadic, but most important was violent,” said Kiiza.

An army spokesman said soldiers are not involved with evictions, although they do “provide security to investors against attacks by the locals, some of whom want to grab investors’ land”.

No dates have yet been set for the hearings.

Lucy Akot, 32 years old, poses for a picture with her family on her compound which used to be over 15 acres of land in Kiryandongo District, Uganda, on July 24, 2020. Thomson Reuters Foundation/Isaac Kasamani


Some families still live on the Kiryandongo Sugar plantation, where they report ongoing intimidation.

Akot Lucy Auma, who rejected compensation and still lives in Kiryandongo with her seven children, said her father settled in the area in the 1970s.

Now, she has nowhere to go and says she is afraid to walk around in the evening because workers on the surrounding plantation threaten women with rape.

Otyaluk, who lives nearby, said company workers drove a tractor to clear his crops in March, accompanied by four soldiers who fired warning shots.

When he protested he was detained for nearly a week in a crowded police cell, even as a COVID-19 lockdown began.

Rajasekaran of Kiryandongo Sugar said he had not heard any allegations of rape or beatings by his workers.

He added “there were no complaints” during the main relocation phase in 2018, when more than 2,500 people were compensated or resettled, and that the few who remain are living “without disturbance”.

The army spokesman said he had no information on Otyaluk’s arrest.

The district police commander described reports of violent evictions as “malicious propaganda”.

Most people have now left the land, but face hardship.

Near Agilis’ soya fields several families shelter in a school, closed since its pupils left. Drying clothes hang on desks, while pigs oink in an empty classroom.

Hilaria Nteziryayo, who sleeps there with her children, said she came to Kiryandongo four years ago from the south-west, where “there was no land”.

After losing their home her husband went north, looking for more land. Months later, she is still waiting for him to return.

Continue Reading
Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


Breaking: A missing community environmental defender was found dumped by the roadside.



By Witness Radio team.

An environmental human rights defender abducted five days ago while in Kampala has been found abandoned on a roadside in Kyenjonjo district, Witness Radio has confirmed.

Speaking to Witness Radio, a member at the Environmental Governance Institute (EGI) revealed that Stephen Kwikiriza was discovered at around 8:30 pm yesterday, abandoned on the roadside in Kyenjojo District. He added that the defender was severely beaten and is currently receiving medical attention at one of the hospitals in the country.

“We learned from his wife, whom he called, that he had been dumped in Kyenjojo. She informed one of our colleagues. We, therefore, had to find a means of rescuing him. He, however, was badly beaten and is not in good health,” he added.

Stephen Kwikiriza, a member of the King Fisher Project Affected Community, also working with the EGI, was abducted in Kampala by plain-clothed men, believed to be from Uganda Peoples Defense forces (UPDF) on 4th of June 2024 Tuesday morning.

According to sources, upon his (Stephen) abduction, he managed to send a text message to one of his colleagues at the Environmental Governance Institute (EGI), a local organization supporting project-affected persons, which reported a missing person.

The Kingfisher project is an oil project in western Uganda on the shores of Lake Albert, developed by the Chinese company China National Offshore Oil Company (CNOOC), of which TotalEnergiesis the main shareholder. The project will extract oil and be transported by the East African Crude Oil Pipeline (EACOP).

According to a statement from the Stop EACOP Coalition members, Stephen had been receiving various threats from UPDF officers deployed in the Kingfisher area. The coalition members believe these threats are retaliation for being outspoken against human rights abuses and the threats to his community’s livelihood posed by the Kingfisher oil project.

His abduction comes barely a few weeks after the forceful arrests of the seven environment activists namely Barigye Bob, Katiiti Noah, Mwesigwa Newton, Byaruhanga Julius, Ndyamwesigwa Desire, Bintukwanga Raymond, and Jealousy Mugisha.

On May 27th, 2024, the seven were arbitrarily rounded up by armed police in Kampala outside the Chinese Embassy in Kampala, Uganda while delivering a protest letter to the Chinese Ambassador to Uganda calling for his government not to fund a disastrous project.

On June 8, 2024, over 115 international civil society organizations wrote a statement in response to Kwikiriza’s abduction calling upon the Ugandan authorities to ensure the immediate and unconditional release of Stephen Kwikiriza.

In the statement signed by Both Ends, Bank Track, and SOMO among others, they called on Ugandan authorities to cease all forms of harassment of civil society organizations and community members living in and speaking out on the EACOP Kingfisher project and all other related oil projects, including the Tilenga project, and guarantee in all circumstances that they can carry out their legitimate human

Continue Reading


Seven Environmental activists against EACOP have been charged and released on police bond.



By Witness Radio team.

Jinja Road police have preferred a charge of unlawful assembly against the seven environmental activists brutally arrested on May 27th, 2024, by armed police in Kampala for protesting against the intended financing of the East African crude oil pipeline project (EACOP) by the Chinese gov’t.

Section 66 of the Penal Code Act Cap. 120, states that any person who takes part in an unlawful assembly commits a misdemeanor and is liable to imprisonment for one year upon conviction.

The seven include Barigye Bob, Katiiti Noah, Mwesigwa Newton, Byaruhanga Julius, Ndyamwesigwa Desire, Bintukwanga Raymond, and Jealousy Mugisha. The group got arrested outside the Chinese Embassy in Kampala, Uganda in an attempt to deliver a protest letter to the Chinese Ambassador to Uganda calling for his government not to fund a disastrous project.

On May 27th, seven protesters chose to sit outside the embassy, vowing not to leave until embassy officials received their protest letter, which contained grievances and demands. However, this did not happen. Instead, the police swung into action, brutally rounding up the protesters before throwing them into a police patrol and taken to Jinja Road police. The arrest occurred before any embassy officials had engaged with the protesters.

According to activists, the EACOP project has caused severe human rights violations, poses significant environmental risks, and will contribute to the climate crisis.

The EACOP is a project spanning 1,443km from Kabaale, Hoima district in Uganda to the Chongoleani Peninsula near Tanga Port in Tanzania. It aims to transport oil from Uganda’s Lake Albert oilfields to global markets via the port of Tanga.

According to Uganda’s State House website, President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni on Thursday, April 4th, 2024, received a letter from the President of the People’s Republic of China, His Excellency Xi Jinping, expressing his unwavering support for the East African Crude Oil Pipeline Project (EACOP).

“Your Excellency, I received your letter, and I am very happy to let you know that I am in full support of EACOP. I believe that it will enhance socio-economic development for the region. I am confident that with the strong cooperation between our nations, this project will be a success,” message President Museveni on his X platform read in part.

On Saturday last week, Civil Society Organizations advocating for energy just transition, climate and environmental conservatism, and land justice addressed the media and appealed to the Chinese President to drop his interest in funding the EACOP pipeline after several banks and insurance companies had abandoned the Total-led project.

The government of China has now joined the list of entities, including Total Energies, in funding the controversial and potentially disastrous project that has continued to criminalize those who speak about its negative impacts.

The seven activists will report back to Jinja Road police station on June 4th, 2024.

Continue Reading


Breaking: Over 600 attacks against defenders have been recorded in the year 2023 globally- BHRRC report.



By Witness Radio-Uganda.

The attacks and criminalization of land rights defenders, environmental activists, and climate activists have become common tactics employed by the authorities in the world to silence, suppress opposition, and perpetuate impunity against those that protect the climate, environment, and land rights.

The escalating scale of attacks against people defending our rights and climate from business-related harms, according to the report by Business and Human Rights Resource Centre in 2023 titled People power under pressure: Human rights defenders & business in 2023 shows the failure of governments to protect human rights and illustrates how voluntary action by companies and investors is insufficient to prevent, stop and remedy harm.

The report documented 630 instances of attacks directly affecting an estimated 20,000 people, raising concerns about business-related harms in the whole World where over three-quarters (78%) of these attacks were against people acting to protect the climate, environmental, and land rights.

According to the report, many attacks involved collusion between state, private sector, and other non-state actors occurring in contexts where there are high levels of impunity, adding that the direct perpetrators of attacks were largely state actors, with police and judicial systems being the most common perpetrators, followed by the military/armed forces. The highest number of attacks were connected with the mining (165), agribusiness (117), and oil, gas & coal (112) sectors.

According to the Resource Centre, Brazil leads the tally in the World with the highest number of attacks on HRDs challenging corporate harm in 2023 with (68) cases followed by, India (59), Mexico (55), Honduras (44), the Philippines (36), USA (27), Iran (24), and Colombia (22), among others.

In 2023, 86% of the cases we tracked were non-lethal including arbitrary detention (157), physical violence (81), intimidation and threats (80), strategic lawsuits against public participation (38), and others. The Resource Centre also recorded 87 killings of defenders speaking out about business-related harms in 2023. Additionally, the Centre has revealed most attacks – both lethal and non-lethal against HRDs go uninvestigated and unpunished, promoting a culture of impunity and fueling further attacks.

In Africa, Uganda has recorded the highest number of cases, with 18 incidents reported. The East Africa Crude Oil pipeline stands out as a focal point for most of these attacks, with individuals opposing this major infrastructure project being targeted by the state.

The report revealed one of the incidents where the Police officers refused to let the students enter parliament. Most were chased away, but four students, including Kajubi Maktom, were caught by police and allegedly kicked, punched, and beaten with wood, and brutally arrested. They spent the weekend in Luzira prison, where Maktom contracted tuberculosis, before being charged with public nuisance and released on bail. Since then Maktom has continued to receive threats from unknown persons.

Several reports including those of Human Rights Watch, Frontline Defenders, and Witness Radio among others have published reports describing patterns of arbitrary arrests, threats, office raids, and intimidation against individuals who have raised concerns about EACOP and other oil developments in Uganda.

The 630 instances of attacks against people raising concerns about business-related harms recorded in 2023 only are part of a consistent, ongoing pattern of attacks against HRDs protecting our rights and planet globally, with more than 5,300 attacks recorded since January 2015 by the Resource Centre.

The report calls upon States to fulfill their duty to protect the rights of HRDs and for business actors to respect the rights of HRDs by taking immediate action on these recommendations.

Continue Reading

Resource Center

Legal Framework




Subscribe to Witness Radio's newsletter


Subscribe to Witness Radio's newsletter