Evictees encouraged to push back against land grabs

Community members leave their homes after their village was set ablaze. (All photos: Witness Radio).

Victims of land evictions in Uganda have convened the first ever meeting narrating how land grabbers purportedly connive with local and national leaders to grab their land.

The meeting that sat in Kalangala district, drew victims of land evictions from across the country including Kiryandongo, Mubende, Kalangala, Mukono and Nakifuma among others.

Speaker after speaker, the victims narrated how multinational and national companies forcibly grabbed their land.

Mr Benon Balyeija, a victim of Kiryandongo land eviction said despite the existing room for negotiation so they could be compensated, the alleged grabbers did not engage them but only forced them from their communal land.

“In Kiryandongo, we were never compensated. The local leaders were bribed and not even the security organs helped. Instead, they attacked us, and out of the over 35,000 people, we are now a few people still pushing for justice,” Mr Balyeija told the meeting.

Ms Sarah Pasikaali, who allegedly forcefully lost her land to the New Forest Company (NFC) told fellow victims as they shared experiences that one thing is clear with all the land grabs where grabbers purportedly connive with the leaders to dispossess people without any compensation or negotiations.

“Ours came with teargas and many people were beaten up. People ran for their dear lives and up to now, some are still missing,” Ms Sarah said.

The head of the Kalangala victims of land eviction said: “We just saw people surveying our land and later graders started bringing down everything on the land. We tried to run to our local leaders for help but in vain.”

Addressing the victims on land legislation in Uganda, the former Member of Parliament for Nakifuma County in Mukono district, Mr Joseph Mugambe, said the grabbers continue to thrive on ignorant communities and manipulate the law to suit their interests.

“The problem is multifaceted, the communities are ignorant of the law, the land has been commoditised, and this has been worsened by high levels of corruption in the country”.

He advised that the government focuses on supporting small scale holders to grow the agricultural industry.

The Head of the Alliance on Food Sovereignty in Africa (AFSA), Uganda Office, Ms Bridget Mugambe, said that the major purpose of holding such a meeting was to allow people to share experiences and learn from one another on how to push back on land grabs.

Earlier, speaking at the opening of the meeting, Ms Mugambe observed that since women are highly affected by land grabs since they play a big role in food security and the entire household welfare and barely speak in public, they were given a special session to share their experiences.

“Women face the gravest injustices because of land grabs and at the same time play a central role in food security and general household wellbeing. However, due to the nature of our society, they barely speak in public spaces hence the decision to have separate sessions for them”. Ms Mugambe, the Country Representative, AFSA said.

The team from Uganda also heard from members of the alliance in West Africa who advised them to lead the struggle to rescue their land.

“The battle is yours to fight. Do not look at Civil Society Organisations or leaders because it is your land. It has not been easy for us either, we were arrested, trumped-up charges brought up against us, but we stood our ground and that is how we were able to win,” said Mr Nasako Besinge, the coordinator of the Alliance in Cameroon.

There are skyrocketing cases of land grabbing by multinational companies who engage in large scale farming at the expense of native communities that are thrown into poverty in various parts of the country.

The numbers

More than 35,000 native communities have so far been evicted off the 10,000 Ha in Kiryandongo district for several agribusiness investments since multinational companies began dispossessing them in 2018.

EU visits Kiryandongo evictees

The dispossession forced the European Union (EU) Delegation to Uganda to visit and listen to the affected communities.

The visit was a catalyst to the understanding and projecting solutions to human rights violations and abuses in development projects in Kiryandongo district and Uganda at large. The interfaces that took place at both Kisalanda village and Jerusalem trading centre.

Before visiting the affected community, the EU representatives first attended court where eight land rights defenders including Mr Fred Mwawula, Mr Ramu Ndahimana, Mr Samuel Kusiima and Mr Martin Munyansia, Mr Martin Haweka, Mr Amos Wafula, Mr Eliot Talemwa and Mr George Rwakabisha are facing criminal charges.

Court adjourned the case and hearing was fixed on December 15, 2020, at 10:00 am.

Companies accused of land grabs in Kiryandongo

Since 2018, multinational companies including Agilis Partners/Asili Farms; Great Seasons SMC Limited owned by a Sudanese national based in the United Arab Emirate (UAE), Dubai; and Kiryandongo Sugar Limited owned by a Mauritius-based RAI family have demolished dozens of schools, worshipping centres, homes, closed water sources, and allegedly committed sexual and gender based violence against women and girls among others without court action, according to Witness Radio.

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

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