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Trauma and Land Loss: New Study Focuses on Mental Health of Evicted Indigenous People

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Kenyan security forces evict Ogiek people from the Mau Forest Complex in the  Rift Valley Region.

NAIROBI – At the foot of Kenya’s Mount Elgon on the border of Kenya and Uganda, the little-known indigenous community of Ogiek is living scattered in recently-built thatched huts and timber houses that belie not only their poverty but also the impermanence that followed their eviction by the government a year ago from their native lands on the mountain.

From a life in the forest, this community of just over 50,000 people can no longer access their land to hunt small game, gather wild fruits and medicinal herbs or practice beekeeping, as their forefathers did.

They have instead been forced to eke out a living through subsistence farming and keeping livestock – a lifestyle borrowed from agrarian communities. As such, they are unable to afford school fees and sometimes even sufficient food for their children.

The Ogiek community has been fighting a longstanding battle with the Kenyan government which claims that the evictions were necessary to conserve indigenous forests.

However, Daniel Kobei, the executive director of the Ogiek Peoples’ Development Program (OPDP), blames the evictions on the destruction of the forest by multinational companies and uncontrolled encroachment in the Mau Forest Complex. The OPDP is a Kenya-based NGO that promotes the recognition and identity of the Ogiek indigenous community and its culture.

As recently as July 2020, the Kenya Forest Service (KFS) personnel, with protection from the country’s security forces, have been driving the eviction process in defiance of a 2017 ruling of the African Court of Human and People’s Rights which recognised the Ogiek peoples’ right to their ancestral land, by evicting the community.

The community now finds itself thrust into an unfamiliar environment with their way of life grievously disrupted, making it difficult for them to cope – financially and emotionally.

Little Attention to Mental Strain of Evictions

Ogiek community members ponder on what to do next following their eviction from the Mau Forest Complex by Kenyan security forces.

While some local Kenyan and international groups have protested the evictions, the stress and mental health effects of the displacement have received little attention.

“When we talk about environmental changes, we often ignore the mental aspect that comes with it,” noted Billy Rwothungeyo of the Minority Rights Group International (MRG) told Health Policy Watch.

MRG is a human rights organisation that works to secure the rights of marginalized and indigenous communities around the world. It works in 150 countries, with its Africa office based in Kampala. It has a presence in Kenya, Uganda, Cameroon, Congo, Gambia, Ethiopia, Tunisia, and Egypt.

New Global Research Initiative Examines Mental Health Stress of Indigenous Communities

The Ogiek people are part of a new research initiative that will look into the mental strain faced by indigenous communities around the world facing evictions.

Indigenous communities in East Africa, Finland, Northern Thailand and India will participate in the global research project that looks at the emotional effects of environmental changes experienced by the world’s indigenous groups.

Dubbed Land Body Ecologies Research Group, the research will involve the Ogiek, the Batwa in Uganda, the Sámi in Finland, and the Pgak’yau in Northern Thailand. Communities living in the buffer zones of the Bannerghatta National Park in India will also take part.

The two-year research project, due to start in October, will involve human rights activists, mental health researchers, scientists and artists in a bid to understand solastalgia, a phenomenon defined as the emotional or existential suffering caused by environmental change. It is also commonly described as “the feeling of homesickness while still at home.”

Funded by the  Wellcome Trust Hub Award, the initiative will be led by Invisible Flock, an award-winning interactive arts studio based in London and MRG. The final project will take the form of an art exhibition in London.

“The space will be used to showcase results from the project, which will be open to the public, academics, media and other stakeholders,” explains Rwothungeyo.

“With around half of the world’s languages having no written form, art can act as a vehicle to bring forward alternative modes of expression not limited to human speech,” according to Victoria Pratt, artist and creative director of Invisible Flock in a press release

Pratt said that their approach is to tell multiple global stories at once, with the hope that through this process, solutions, answers, and meanings would be collectively conjured in the act of listening and retelling.

Indigenous Communities Continue to Lose Land.

A hut belonging to one of the Ogiek community members still smouldering following evictions carried out by the Kenyan security forces.

Indigenous communities all over the world have lost and continue to lose their ancestral lands due to encroachment from other communities and state-sanctioned evictions under the guise of forest conservation. This has brought with it environmental changes, which indigenous communities have had to live with, but whose mental and psychological toll is still not well understood, hence this new research effort.

To make matters worse, the minority groups say the global call to turn 30% of the world’s surface into protected areas by 2030 will displace hundreds of millions of indigenous peoples and traditional landowners.

Through the solastalgia research, the team aims to understand the lived experiences of land trauma on marginalised and indigenous communities.

Added to the food insecurities caused by environmental changes, indigenous communities also suffer increased incidence of diseases such as malaria, malnutrition, stomach disorders and respiratory diseases.

Involve Indigenous Communities More

“This research is supposed to inform such stakeholders as government and civil society to come up with more targeted measures to help marginalized communities, who are often overlooked in public policy,” added Rwothungeyo, maintaining that the study will also shed light on how these communities are being left behind and why governments should involve them more.

The OPDP’s Kobei said that even though the core objective of the research is to understand the mental predicament of indigenous communities brought on by environmental changes, they were hopeful that a learning center for the Ogiek culture will be established, following this study.

“If you talk to a 70-year-old Ogiek about the forest they have lost, he will talk in a very emotional manner,” said Kobei. “He will tell you of the kind of honey we used to harvest in the forest that is no more, the kind of hunting we used to undertake in the forest that is no more, the kind of herbs and clean water we used to get in the forest that are no more.”

Image Credits: Ogiek Peoples Development Program.

Original Source: Healthpolicy-watch.news

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Accountable Development To Communities

A self-claimed landlord who caused the imprisonment of six community land rights defenders on false charges was aligned before the court and charged with 28 counts.

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Naava while entering court cells at  Mubende.

By Witness Radio Team

A magistrate court at Mubende has charged a self-claimed landlord with 28 counts plus murder. Naava Milly Namutebi caused the arrest of six community land rights defenders, falsely accused them of murder, and got imprisoned for three years without trial. 

Naava’s appearance before the court followed shortly after the Director of Public Prosecution (DPP) dropped murder charges against six community land rights defenders. These include; Tumusiime Benjamin, Bagirana Innocent, Habana Domoro, Miyingo Gerald, Byangaramani Charles, and Byekwaso Fred.

Naava was charged along with Bulasio Musoke, Richard Mugagga, Henry Kaaya, among others. They were not allowed to answer any charges as the court had no power to make legal decisions and judgments on charges read to them.

The prosecution alleges that Naava and others still at large, committed offenses in areas of Mubende and Kampala districts between 2006 and 2021.

From 2012 to date, Naava got help from the senior army, police, and other public officers in Mubende orchestrated violence and committed human rights violations/abuses while forcefully evicting over 4,000 people off their land. 

The land being targeted measures 3.5 square miles covering villages including Kirwanyi central, Kirwanyi East, Kirwanyi West, Nakasagazi, Kituule A, Kituule B, Kibalagazi A, Kibalagazi B, Kakkanembe, Bukyambuzi A, Bukyambuzi B, Kisende, Mulanda, Kituule central, Kirwanyi A, and Butayunja in Kirwanyi and Kituule parishes in Butoloogo Sub County in Mubende district.

Naava and others accused were remanded to Kaweeri prison until 19th/July/2022. 

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Defending Land And Environmental Rights

Six community land rights defenders from Kawaala have turned up at police for interrogations but, failed to take off

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By Witness Radio Team.

The six community land rights defenders from Kawaala zone II and the local leader that were summoned to appear at the Old Kampala Regional Police Headquarters have turned up, however, the interrogations did not take off due to the absence of the head of investigating team.

The six community defenders were required to report back to police for further investigations into alleged crimes that have not yet been officially disclosed to defenders’ lawyers. They were supposed to appear before the police investigation team today the 06th of July 2022 at 10:00 AM.

The defenders include; Kasozi Paul, Busobolwa Adam, Kabugo Micheal, Serugo Charles, Ssemanda David, Sserukwaya David, and the area vice-chairman Patrick Kato Lubwama.

While appearing before police for the first time last week on Wednesday 29th, the Deputy Assistant Inspector of Police (D/AIP) Domara Patrick who heads the investigations team casually said the defenders and the local leader are being investigated for obtaining money by pretense and forgery, which charges are not mentioned on police summons.

Since the first COVID outbreak in 2020, the victim defenders and others have been leading a pushback campaign to stop forced eviction by a multimillion dollars Kampala Institutional and Infrastructure Development Project (KIIDP-2) being implemented by Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA). The drainage channel construction is financed by the World Bank.

This project first impacted Kawaala Zone II around 2014, when a channel diversion was constructed. The current planned expansion will widen that channel and require forced evictions across an area at least 70 meters wide and 2.5 km long.

Witness Radio – Uganda has established that the Deputy Resident City Commissioner (RCC) in charge of Rubaga Division, Mr. Anderson Burora is among the complainants. Resident City Commissioner is a representative of the president in the Capital City at the division level.

Witness Radio – Uganda believes that police are being used to harass and intimidate defenders to back off the justice campaign for people negatively impacted by the drainage channel.

The defenders and the local council leader have been booked to report back to the police on Monday, the 11th of July 2022 at 9:00 AM local time.

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Defending Land And Environmental Rights

A self-claimed landlord who masterminded the imprisonment of six community land rights defenders for three years has been arrested.

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Naava being arrested by police.

By Witness Radio team.

A joint team of investigators from the office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) from Kampala and the Mubende police arrested a self-claimed landlord who falsely accused six community land rights defenders of murder and led to a three years imprisonment without trial.

Naava Milly Namutebi was arrested at her farm in Kirwanyi in Mubende district with other alleged land dealers namely Bulasio Musoke, Richard Mugagga, and Henry Kaaya.

Naava’s arrest occurred a few days after the DPP dropped charges of murder against six community land rights defenders who had spent three years without trial. These include Tumusiime Benjamin, Bagirana Innocent, Habana Domoro, Miyingo Gerald, Byangaramani Charles, and Byekwaso Fred.

Since 2012, Naava with the help of senior army, police, and other public officers in Mubende have orchestrated violence and committed human rights violations/abuses against over 4,000 people to evict them off their land. The land is measuring 3.5 square miles covering villages namely Kirwanyi central, Kirwanyi East, Kirwanyi West, Nakasagazi, Kituule A, Kituule B, Kibalagazi A, Kibalagazi B, Kakkanembe, Bukyambuzi A, Bukyambuzi B, Kisende, Mulanda, Kituule central, Kirwanyi A, and Butayunja in Kirwanyi and Kituule parishes in Butoloogo Sub County in Mubende district.

According to locals, Mubende police acting on Naava’s orders arbitrarily arrested and unlawfully detained dozens and dozens of land owners at different police stations in the district. Several victims allege they had to pay colossal sums of money to be released.

For many years, Mubende district has been one of the forced eviction hotspots where families are forced off their land with compensation or being offered settlement. Witness Radio’s one-year research report released in 2017 revealed that over 60% of the total grabbed land in the district was stollen by local investors.

Witness Radio – Uganda research indicates that Naava is involved in multiple land grabs with the help of government security apparatus. In 2017, residents namely Ruhobana Dombo, Samuel Ndekezi, and Chleopus Zariwa from the Butoloogo sub-county in Mubende district were arbitrarily arrested and detained on Naava’s orders by Mubende police.

The victims and other residents lawfully occupied and cultivated their land for decades but got shocked to hear that Naava was claiming ownership of their land.

The trio had gone to their gardens to plant maize on August 17, 2017, when Naava’s stick-wielding laborers attacked and severely beat them.

Naava is currently held at Mubende Central Police Station, with 28 charges including murder, attempted murder, forgery, and others preferred against her.

 

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