By Witness Radio Team.
For over a decade now, a forest regulator, National Forests Authority (NFA) has donated tracts of land for indigenous and local communities to commercial tree growers/investors with funding from International Financial Institutions (IFIs) to offset carbon emissions in the global north.
With a lot of money for carbon offsets, individuals in NFA officials sacrificed the lives of poor communities. The land for the community is lost without following due process by NFA and its agents and investors. In all areas visited by Witness Radio – Uganda, non of the carbon offset projects have expressed views from victim communities, were never consulted, never sensitized, compensated, or offered alternative resettlement before forced eviction.
Since the early 2000s, NFA land giveaways are characterized by violence that has left hundreds of farmers tortured, arbitrarily arrested, and illegally imprisoned as others have lost lives. Evictions have been carried out by government soldiers, police, and security guards from private firms in the name of accommodating investors.
As a result of NFA land giveaways, hundreds of children have dropped out of schools and gotten into early marriage, evictees have to hire out land to bury their loved ones, some have been forced into refugee camps, and others have been reduced to laborers from landlords.
The latest victim of the NFA land giveaway is the 158 hectares of farmland belonging to over 1000 smallholder farmers which were given out to local investors for planting trees in the Llera ‘forest reserve’.
According to Odongo Martin, the Llera community chairperson said NFA violent forced evictions started in 2008 despite being resisted by the local communities.
“Our forefathers lawfully occupied and cultivated this land since 1930 but no one was informed about the existence of a forest reserve in the area until around 2008 when some unscrupulous people started saying that this is a forest reserve. Where was the government for all those 89 years?” Mr. Odongo Martin asked.
Before the Llera eviction, NFA since 2015 has violently evicted over 700 families off their 1174 hectares of land which was their source of food, shelter, and survival. The grabbed land by NFA is located in Yandwe village, Butuntumula Sub-County in Luweero district.
NFA said the evictees were encroaching the Mbale forest reserve. Some evictees told Witness Radio that their relatives lived on the land since 1915. The evictees remain dumped in destituteness, and their former land is turned into a eucalyptus forest belonging to some officials in NFA.
Around 2014, over 10,000 villagers were forcefully evicted by the NFA off their 500 hectares of land in 13 villages occupying the Bukaleba forest reserve in the Mayuge district. The NFA leased the land to the Norwegian Forest group, Green Resources. The evictees had occupied the land for over 30 years.
In the central region of Uganda, Namwasa and Luwunga ‘forest reserves’ in Mubende and Kiboga districts, close to 20,000 smallholder farmers got evicted by NFA. They allocated their land to New Forests Company, a UK-based company planting pine and eucalyptus trees. The evicted communities struggle to make ends meet up-to-date.
Section 5 of the NFA Act states that the Minister may, on the advice of the Board, after consultation with the local council and the local community in whose area the proposed forest reserve is to be located; and with the approval of Parliament signified by its resolution by statutory order, declare an area to be a central forest reserve. However, while gazetting communities’ lands, no consultations are carried out to seek landowners’ consent before land giveaways.
A reference filed by CSOs against the planned construction of the East African Crude Oil Pipeline (EACOP) is set for hearing.
By Witness Radio Team
Four East African Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) have petitioned the regional court of justice, seeking both temporary and permanent injunctions against the planned construction of the East African Crude Oil Pipeline (EACOP)
The reference submitted by the Center for Food and Adequate Living Rights (CEFROHT), Africa Institute for Energy Governance (AFIEGO), Natural Justice-Kenya, and Center for Strategic Litigation in Tanzania highlights significant issues including threatening local livelihoods, food security, public health, biodiversity and the global climate that have failed to be addressed by both the governments of Uganda and Tanzania.
According to the reference filed on the 6th of November 2022, the governments of Uganda, and Tanzania and the Secretary General of the East African Community have violated environmental laws, human rights obligations, and regional agreements, in authorizing French oil giant, Total, to build a massive oil pipeline from Hoima, Uganda to Tanga, Tanzania.
For years, communities and civil societies have echoed concerns over the impacts of the East Africa Crude Oil Pipeline (EACOP) project which has affected thousands in Uganda and Tanzania. Human rights organizations claim French energy giant Total and its partner China National Offshore Oil Corporation involved in the $3.5 billion EACOP have failed to fully address concerns raised by the project to host communities.
The 1,443km people crude oil export pipeline which is expected to impact over 118000 people will transport Uganda’s crude oil from Hoima in Uganda to Tanga port in Tanzania.
The project will cross through 10 districts in Uganda, a distance of 296 kilometers, and 25 districts in Tanzania, covering eight regions, and 25 districts is estimated to be the longest electrically heated pipeline in the world.
Its impact has largely been witnessed by the PAPs, leaders, and human rights activists opposing the project including land grabbing, harassment, and arrests of community leaders and rights activists.
“Construction of the pipeline will destroy farmland, disrupt livelihoods and exacerbate food insecurity. Thousands of people are to be displaced and have already been told not to set up or plant any long-term structures or crops and yet they have not been given any compensation yet. These impacts are set to cause major social disruption and erode social cohesion, leading to increased poverty in areas affected by the EACOP in Uganda and Tanzania.” The reference reveals in part.
The reference further adds that the pipeline will traverse protected forests, such as the Wambabya and Bugoma reserves, and endanger numerous water sources of great importance to millions of people in East Africa, including Lake Victoria. The pipeline passes along the Lake Victoria basin which is a major water source for millions in not only East Africa but the whole of the African region. This risks and exposes Lake Victoria and River Nile to danger through oil spills and pollution. The EACOP will also significantly impact biodiversity and put numerously vulnerable and endangered species native to Uganda and Tanzania at risk, including elephants, lions, and giraffes.
The EACOP has been widely criticized by civil societies and other actors advocating for the rights of affected people expressing the unaddressed concerns the project is likely to expose to the host communities.
On the 14th of September 2022, the European Union Parliament passed an advisory resolution to suspend the oil pipeline for a year citing disastrous human and environmental rights violations associated with the project.
According to the resolutions by the European Parliament legislators, the oil pipeline has caused the displacement of people from their land without fair compensation, caused harassment, criminalization, intimidation, and arrests of human rights defenders, and closure of NGOs, and is likely to endanger the nature reserves and habitats.
The case is scheduled to be heard in Kampala on the 11th of November 2022.
The private sector, civil society organizations, government bodies, and development partners are to meet and discuss how to strengthen responsible business conduct in Uganda.
By Witness Radio team.
For years, victim communities, and community land and environment defenders in Uganda have been facing negative impacts and reprisals arising from business investments. These investments often require large sizes of land and the government occasionally takes the responsibility to acquire land for these investments. However, the acquisitions or allocations of public or community land tend to leave the communities past retrieval.
Communities are faced with devastating impacts ranging from environmental challenges such as pollution of air and water, forceful evictions, and unfulfilled pledges such as good jobs that not only cause damages to their lives but also to the future generations.
Recently, a government entity the Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA) wanted to expand the Lubigi drainage project with funds from the World Bank. But, during the initial stages of land acquisitions, the KCCA hid under the public health Act, Cap 281Act, to evict the people and then smoothly expand the drainage channel. This happened without sensitization, compensation, or resettlement of the project-affected persons.
According to documents seen by Witness Radio Uganda and testimonies from the affected communities, they had lived on the land for many years and were surprised to face eviction threats.
Continuously members of this community continue facing retaliation for their resistance to the land grab for the infrastructural project. Ever since the project began, community land defenders have been persecuted for their works and subjected to false charges including fraud, simple robbery and currently continue to report at police and courts over the charges. In contrast, others are on run for their dear lives.
Similarly in the Mubende district, a Chinese company has rendered thousands homeless over since it started its tree planting activities in 2011. Formosa tree planting company is planting eucalyptus and pine trees within the district. Over 12 villages have suffered the worst of this so-called development. These include; Butoro, Kyedikyo, Nakasozi, Namayindi, Kitebe, Kisiigwa, Namagadi, Mukiguluka, Busaabala, Ngabano, and Kicucuulo located both in Maduddu and Butoloogo sub-counties and those that resisted continuing to face violent threats from the company and its workers.
At least seven community land rights defenders since 2018 are languishing in jails for crimes they did not perform. According to the residents, the Formosa Company is responsible for false charges against the defenders. They were arrested for 15- 35 years.
“Wounds caused by Formosa to me can never heal. In 2017 my two sons; Sam Serugo and Yona Sejjombwe were arrested and imprisoned for 34 years over the same struggles. And again they came threatening to kill us if we did not move off our land. We have lived and occupied this land for decades.” Cecilia Namawejje revealed this to Witness Radio researchers.
Communities still grapple with these related outcomes, sadly those who advocate for their rights are arrested for sabotaging the projects. These and other related issues are expected to be discussed by participants in a two-day 4th symposium on business and human rights on November 9th and 10th 2022.
The 4th annual symposium that will be held at Imperial Royale Hotel Kampala will bring together more than 100 stakeholders across Uganda and beyond to advance responsible business and human rights agenda in the region.
The symposium organized by Resource Rights Africa (RRA) and partners will bring together private sector players, government actors, academia, media, civil society, and local community representatives from Karamoja and Tooro regions to explore how accountability and remedy mechanisms for business-related human rights abuses can be enhanced to advance respect for people and the planet in the next decade.
The symposium is based on the theme “Strengthening Responsible Business Conduct in Uganda to advance respect for people and planet in the next decade.”
NFA land giveaway bonanza turns Luweero farmers into destitute.
By Witness Radio Team
Land evictions in Uganda spiral and are a thorn in the lives of many poor Ugandan communities whose entire livelihood thrives on substance farming.
The government, and its agencies, especially the National Forest Authority (NFA), have been singled out by communities for aiding forced evictions to give way for land-based investments by the untouchable wealthy local and foreign investors.
The insatiable thirst for carbon credit schemes has left many smallholder farmer communities grappling with the life-threatening effects of violent land grabs masterminded by the National Forest Authority and fueled by unpoliced and loitering international funding.
The continuous evictions have left millions of indigenous and local smallholder farmers homeless and landless. Uganda’s National Forestry Authority has been cited in several cases for donating land occupied by communities to investors (both local and foreign) for planting trees in the name of reforestation of depleted forests for carbon credits.
Over 2900 acreages in the Luweero district belonging to residents were donated to investors to grow eucalyptus and pine trees while part of the said land is occupied by a goat farm.
Every time a conversation about NFA crops up, Topi Nalwoga is a taken-back to the 2015 eviction by NFA in Yandwe, Butuntumula Sub-County, Luweero district. It disintegrated her community and deprived her of human interaction. What used to be homes to friends and relatives is now littered with trees. Neither was she spared. Her home is in the middle of a tree plantation.
Nalwoga said before the evictions would harvest coffee, maize, matooke, and mangoes from six acres of land to educate and provide for her family of 7.
This practice is not different in other parts of the country. On a fateful day of 18th May 2019, in Luweero, Yandwe village woke up under the invasion of armed soldiers and police who burnt houses and razed down their gardens claiming they were illegally occupying Mbale Central Forest Reserve land.
A 49-year-old, former landlord is now a casual laborer on nearby plantations to put food on the table for her family. In a day, Topi earns 5,000 Uganda Shillings (equivalent to 1.31 USD) explaining that it cannot meet all her family’s needs. Before, she was earning about 1,000,000 Million Uganda Shillings (about 262.62 dollars) from her proceeds in a season.
“I spend my daily wages on food. My children no longer go to school because we have been turned into slaves in our own country,” she revealed.
Her settlement on the land has a lineage bond. Her grandfather Mr. Kosia Katula occupied the grabbed land in 1921 before its gazettement as a forest reserve. Later in 1944, her father was born and inherited the land.
The NFA gazetted the Mbale Central Forest Reserve in 1967 when people had already settled on it. This accordingly meant that the community had to be consulted, compensated, or resettled before the evictions.
Her story is not different from the other 700 community members who lost their source of livelihood in NFA evictions in the same area.
Some of the residents that have resisted the forceful evictions were barred from using the land. About 9 families have their houses trapped in the middle of the tree plantations laboring elsewhere to feed their families.
Mr. Wilson Kabiira who had 20 acres says he was denied access to his land. He said the NFA employed gangs to beat people who had refused to vacate the land.
“My family is starving because I have nowhere to work from, when they find you attempting to do any work on the land, they beat you and raze down your crops,” he added.
He added, “Our young girls have been married because ideally, they dropped out of school, families do not have food and many of them have separated as a result.
During the evictions, people lost property worth millions. The community says the NFA did not consult, or compensate them for their land.