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Uganda: A decade of land grabs with impunity



A farmer displays banana plants that were cutdown by company workers.
It is now a decade down the road since thousands of people fled their homes in fear for their dear lives. It was a nadir in their lives – the land grab was the lowest moment for the peasant communities. Arrests, charges, malicious prosecutions, convictions, and imprisonment followed.  Amidst all these, incarceration was inevitable for the poor and unrepresented accused to pave way for the tree planting company owned by Chinese “investors.”
Despite the forceful and violent evictions of their peers, some of the smallholder farmers have stayed put. Though the fear of an inhumane eviction still lurks around, they are not vacating their land, and are not ready to go down without a fight.
The year 2011 still lingers in the memories of the smallholder farmers albeit being traumatizing. With its violence and forceful evictions of smallholder farmers by a foreign company under the protection of Mubende police came. As we write, the onslaught has “gifted” it with 2590 hectares of forcefully grabbed land that was once a source of livelihood to the poor native communities.
Since then, more than 2000 people have been evicted in more than 12 villages. They include; Butoro, Kyedikyo, Nakasozi, Namayindi, Kitebe, Kisiigwa, Namagadi, Mukiguluka, Busaabala, Ngabano, and Kicucuulo located both in Maduddu and Butoloogo sub-counties, Mubende district. Thousands are still being threatened.
Civic groups, rights activists, and the victims have continuously complained over the company’s long forced evictions nothing has materialized. A clear message from their government is that it does not speak for peasants, a batch of third-class citizens.  With government backing, the company has chosen to apply both insidious and overt means to further alienate land from the poor.
As day follows night, the company continues to grow more powerful, and probably, more than the state. Its influence has eaten up the criminal justice system. They follow a carefully crafted script to aid in the land grab. After stripping the smallholder farmers of their source of livelihood – the company militarized land grab and criminalized farming activities of poor peasants.  Land defenders were arrested, detained, arraigned before court, and charged with trumped-up charges. Up-to-date they have never been released.
According to Mr. Konyenza Sakali, land conflicts between the smallholder farmers and the company led to the arrest and imprisonment of his father, Mr. Kaberuka Fenehansi for 15 years since 2018 and now fears that the company is targeting him.
“I have always resisted but what they do is to kidnap, arrest and charge you to weaken you and grab your land. My father is now 71 years but because he resisted giving them his land, he is now in jail. He was slapped with unscrupulous charges,” he revealed.
Mr. Kaberuka Fenehansi is one of the seven community land rights defenders that the Mubende High Court sentenced 34 and 15 years in jail respectively. This arose from the unending wrangles and the company’s continued violence and land grabbing that allegedly led to the death of the then Formosa farm manager.
Witness Radio – Uganda appealed against the conviction and the sentence on behalf of the imprisoned community land rights defenders. The hearing date of the appeal is yet to be fixed.
The prosecution alleged that on 17th of July 2018, Ssemombwe Richard, Ategeka Esau, Bukenya Godfrey, Ssebanenya Yona, Sinamenya Paula, Kaberuka Fenehansi, and Sserugo Sam at Butolo village, Maduddu Sub County in Mubende district, unlawfully caused the death of one Tumwine Stephen who was a manager of Formosa Forest Company.
“I have continued to receive reports of forceful eviction of my people on their land without compensation. Days ago, I called the Farm Manager asking him why these actions are continuous but he had no answer. One time I found the Formosa workers uprooting and slashing crops of the residents. When they saw me they took off,” Mr. Ngenda Paul, the Local Council Chairperson of Butolo, one of the affected villages narrated.
Residents said the company either bullyrags them to sell their land or evicts them without fair, prompt, and adequate compensation or resettlement. Through this method, the company has grabbed more land.
“What they do is to coerce some people to sell land to them, when they do it, they then grab the neighboring pieces of land. The next day you find them planting trees on land they claim to have purchased,” Mr. Mukonyeza Sakali, one of the affected residents said.
“What kind of land purchased is that without signatures of the local council leaders? How do you prove that you have bought it when neighbors are not around, what if someone cons you?” the Chairperson asked.
Part of Mr. Mukonyeza’s land was grabbed by the company after forcefully purchased his neighbor’s land. He said he was never consulted or informed when the purchase took place. The father of 10 added that his crops were all slashed, and the following day he watched helplessly as the company’s workers began planting trees.
“They said they shall use all the tactics to evict us from our land which they claim is theirs. Even when we grow crops, they are always destroyed or uprooted by the workers of the company. When we ask why they tell us we have no land. But how can a company which has just come into our country say we have no land. I am 46, and I was born on the land,” he added.
Annet Nannyonjo and a mother of 11 and a wife to Ssalongo Ssemombwe Richard, one of those that were sentenced to 34 years said the company grabbed their land shortly after the husband was imprisoned. She said workers have destroyed her garden of beans.
“We cannot eat trees. They do not want us to cultivate on our land. They steal the little food we grow on a small piece of land left. We used to grow our crops but now we can’t. Ever since my husband was arrested and imprisoned, I am struggling to feed my family,” she added.
Other affected residents added that they are holding grudges over the unending pain caused by the tree planting company.
 “Our defenders were jailed and we were left helpless. People who had land continue to wander everywhere. They have nowhere to stay with their families. They have nothing to eat. You imagine what kind of life we are being pushed in,” residents said
But the Formosa farm manager, Mr. Asiimwe Nicholas denied the allegations. He added that the company has never evicted any residents which the villagers oppose.
Original Source: Farm Land Grab


Uganda: Judicial harassment of environmental and human rights activist Desire Nkurunziza



UGA 001 / 0923 / OBS 037
Arbitrary detention /
Release /
Judicial harassment
September 5, 2023The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a partnership of the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), requests your urgent intervention in the following situation in Uganda.

Description of the situation:The Observatory has been informed of the arrest and subsequent release of Desire Nkurunziza, an environmental and human rights activist and the elected leader of Nyairongo village, Kikuube district, mid-western region of Uganda. As a member of the Save the Bugoma Forest Campaign (SBFC) community task force, Mr Nkurunziza has been calling out the local and central government authorities about the deforestation of the Bugoma Central Forest Reserve, which has been leased to the Hoima Sugar Limited company, mainly for sugarcane cultivation, by the Bunyoro Kitara Kingdom, South-West region of Uganda. This project is not only affecting the biodiversity of the forest but also the local community, which has been subjected to extortion by land grabbers associated to Hoima Sugar Limited and/or its agents.

On July 16, 2023, two cars came to Desire Nkurunziza’s home in Nyairongo trading center, one of them belonging to a supervisor of Hoima Sugar Ltd and the other to an associate of the Kikuube Resident District Commissioner, both known by Mr Nkurunziza. The two men informed him that two of his village members were arrested in the forest, now a sugar cane plantation, and he agreed to go with them to help his constituents. Upon reaching the plantation, he was handed over to armed Hoima Sugar Ltd personnel, who started beating him and then recorded a video accusing him of illegally cutting down sugar cane. He was then taken to the Kikuube police station by the same Hoima Sugar Ltd car, where he was arrested on the grounds of “incitement of violence” and “criminal trespass” under Section 51 and 302 of the Penal Code Act, respectively, and detained there by the police for two days. He requested temporary release from police bond – custody -, but his request was denied.

On July 18, 2023, he applied for Court bail, which was denied even though he fulfilled all the requirements set by the Court and no reason was provided. He was then remanded to Kiryatete prison.

After reporting back to court on July 24, Desire Nkurunziza was released on Court bail. He had to pay a cash bail of 300,000 Ugandan shillings (approximately 74 Euros) in addition to satisfying all the conditions for release, with the obligation to report back on August 31, 2023, to the Chief Magistrates Court of Hoima, which is handling the matter. During his audience, the magistrate informed him that he would need to report back once again to the Court on November 2, 2023, without providing any reasons.

The Observatory recalls that the Bugoma Forest is the second biggest natural forest reserve in Uganda. In recent years, it has been claimed by the Bunyoro Kitara Kingdom, Western Uganda, which obtained a land title through irregular ways before it leased it to sugar manufacturer Hoima Sugar Limited for sugarcane cultivation, to establish an urban centre, develop eco-tourism, and restore a portion of the forest reserve. Before leasing the land to Hoima Sugar Limited, an environmental and social impact assessment (ESIA) certificate was issued by the National Environment Management Authority, in circumstances that have been contested by the Africa Institute for Energy Governance (AFIEGO) in courts of Law. The contestation is based on the allegations that the assessment was made without consulting the local community, even though this issue clearly concerns them. A trial which aims to annul the ESIA certificate is ongoing in front of the Court of appeal.

The Observatory further recalls that this is not the first time that defenders of the Bugoma Forest are targetted for their legitimate human rights activities. In September 2020, nine environmental rights defenders were arbitrarily arrested for defending the Bugoma Forest, including Venex Watebawa and Joshua Mutale, respectively team leader and Head of Programmes of Water and Environment Media Network (WEMNET), who were first arrested on their way to a radio talk show to discuss the dangers of sugar cane cultivation in the Bugoma Forest and call on peaceful protests, as well as Sandra Atusinguza, member of AFIEGO who went to the police station to negotiate their release and got arrested herself. These various acts of harassment against environmental and human rights defenders, in addition to the numerous arrests of local residents defending their right to access their own land, show the will of the local and national governments to intimidate and silence them.

The Observatory strongly condemns the arbitrary arrest and judicial harassment of Desire Nkurunziza, as well as the other above mentioned human rights defenders, which seem to be only aimed at punishing them for their legitimate human rights activities.


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Uganda: Targeting community land and environmental defenders with criminal offenses is rising as two community land rights defenders arrested in a hotspot district of forced land evictions.



By Witness Radio team

As land and environmental rights defenders strive to better their areas, they continue to bear the brunt of defending communities’ land rights from negative impacts brought by the development projects.

In Kiryandongo District, multinationals have increasingly chosen to adopt a strategy of criminalizing activities of community defenders who are working tirelessly to protect communities’ farming fields.

This criminalization method has captured area police units and use it to cause arbitrary arrest and detention, and prefer various offenses against community land and environmental defenders. Commonly used charges include criminal trespassing on a piece of land communities have cultivated for generations and causing damage to their own property. These actions have weakened the activism charisma of defenders and deter them from continuing with pushing back against illegal and forced land evictions. These tactics do not only undermine the legitimate work of community land and environmental rights defenders but also create an environment of fear and intimidation among those who dare to resist land grabbing and environmental degradation.

On the 22nd of August 2023, two community land rights defenders were rounded up for the seventh time in a period of two (2) years by police officers attached to Kiryandongo district police, and three workers from Great Seasons SMC Limited company Limited arbitrarily arrested and dumped in the Kiryandongo district police cells.

The defenders Barumangabo Sepriano and Ramu Ndahimana rounded -up and arbitrarily arrested from their farming fields preparing for the upcoming planting season, handicapped, and subsequently taken away.

“In the early morning hours, we were suddenly confronted by a group of armed people comprised of Kiryandongo district police personnel and individuals representing the company. Swiftly and forcefully, we were pushed into a white land cruiser bearing the registration number UBF 417C, which was later identified as the property of the evictors. Initially, the captors asserted that one of the grounds for our apprehension was our alleged trespassing on the company’s land.

However, upon arrival at the police station, the officers altered their claims and stated that we had supposedly posed threats to the company’s workers, a charge we vehemently denied. Shortly after a short period of time, another accusation of malicious damage was leveled against us. Astonishingly, we were informed that we were being held accountable for purportedly setting a structure ablaze.” One of the defenders narrated when visited by Witness Radio team at police.

The two defenders are among a group of community land and environmental rights defenders who have been on the forefront advocating for land, social and economic justice of communities in Kiryandongo district whose land is targeted for large-scale farming by multinationals.

Great Seasons SMC Limited, planting coffee on a large scale, is one of the multinational companies in the Kiryandongo district that have violently deprived communities of their rights to own land, and homes, demolished community schools, cut down food crops owned community members/families, destroyed water sources, and privately-owned health centers.

Over 35000 residents have lost their family lands after violent and forceful land evictions to pave the way for industrial agriculture. In addition to the Great Seasons SMC Limited, there are other multinationals implicated in land-grabbing activities, such as Kiryandongo Sugar Limited, Agilis Partners Limited, and Somdiam Limited.

Kiryandongo district police has preferred threatening violence, criminal trespass and malicious damage to property charges against the two (2) defenders.

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Breaking: Criminal trial for seven community defenders opposed to EACOP/Tilenga project forced land eviction has been fixed.



By Witness Radio team

The Magistrate court in Hoima City has announced that the trial for seven community environmental rights defenders will kick off on the 3rd and 4th of October, 2023, respectively. The defenders are part of a larger community of 2500 locals negatively impacted by the East Africa Crude Oil Project (EACOP)/ Tilenga project. The victim community lost its land, properties, food and livestock, livelihood, and people’s rights were grossly violated/abused, and its identity through a violent and forceful land eviction without a court order or an alternative settlement.

The displacement occurred immediately after the arbitrary arrest and imprisonment of victim defenders.
Over 3500 hectares that were lawfully occupied and cultivated by the local community were earmarked for the oil EACOP/Tilenga project several years ago before the imprisonment of defenders and forced land eviction.

The Tilenga feeder pipeline corridor is approximately 95 km long originates from the Tilenga Project Central Processing Facility (CPF), about 8 km northeast of Buliisa town in Buliisa District and 5 km south of the Albert Nile.

The purpose and the need for the Tilenga feeder pipeline, according to Total Energies, is to deliver crude oil to the planned refinery in Kabaale and the East African Crude Oil Pipeline (EACOP).
Those facing trial include Kataza Samuel, Mulega Eria, Mbombo Steven, Rubyogo David, Karongo Edward, Karongo Stephen, and Rangira Stephen.

The seven face different charges shown in tables below;

File No. 1

Name Court File Number Charge
Kataza Samuel 237 of 2023 Malicious damage to property
Mulega Eria 237 of 2023 Criminal trespass
Karongo Stephen 237 of 2023 Threatening violence
Rangira Stephen 237 of 2023 Threatening violence
Karongo Edward 237 of 2023 Theft

File No.2

Name Court File Number Charge
Kataza Samuel 77 of 2023 Stealing cattle
Mulega Eria 77 of 2023 Stealing cattle
Karongo Stephen 77 of 2023 Stealing cattle
Rangira Stephen 77 of 2023 Stealing cattle

File No. 3

Name Court File Number Charge
Karongo Stephen 238 of 2023 Assault
Karongo Edward 238 of 2023 Assault
Rangira Stephen 238 of 2023 Assault

File No.4

Name Court File Number Charge
Rubyogo David 241 of 2023 Threatening violence

File No. 5

Name Court File Number Charge
Mbombo Stephen 60 of 2023 Malicious Damage to property

File No. 6

Name Court File Number Charge
Mbombo Stephen 64 of 23 Threatening violence

On 15th and 16th August 2023, the court ordered the state prosecutor’s office in Hoima City to disclose to the defense as soon as possible for preparation ahead of the trial.

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