· “I hoped to be a teacher but to find myself in marriage”
· “I wanted to be a lawyer but I am languishing in an IDP camp”
When one casts an eye around the office of the Kikuube Resident District Commissioner (RDC), elderly persons, teenagers and young children are seen in misery.
They have no choice but to squeeze up in makeshifts for accommodation. Tarpaulins used to set up tents are worn out after almost one and a half years living in the camp. Fear wedges whenever nimbus of impending rain surfaces in the skyline.
Their stay in this informal Internally Displaced People’s (IDP) camp commonly referred to as ‘RDC camp’ has watered down the dreams of children especially teenagers.
They hoped that camping at the presidential representative’s office could quicken the process of addressing their issues, which has not come to pass.
The two-phased eviction has bred far-reaching socio-economic challenges to the nearly 2,000 victims in this camp alone, they say. Some stay in neighbouring villages and towns but still call it home.
These evictees are part of the about 70,000 dispossessed from Bukinda land in Kyangwali sub-county, Kikuube district who started scattering across the country for survival in 2013.
“My dream was to become a lawyer and I worked hard to achieve it but the period in the camp here has killed all my dreams,” says Ahumuza Businge.
Businge, 20, completed Senior 4 amid personal struggle following the second phase of eviction in 2020 that coincided with the COVID-19 pandemic restrictions. Since he had a single parent, when life turned worse while at Kagadi Senior Secondary School, he started spending much time looking for any job around him to buy scholastic materials.
He thinks about his young brothers and sisters that similarly dropped out of school but unfortunately before completing even primary level. According to him, they are more vulnerable living in Uganda today without the capacity to speak English, read or write.
“My brothers and sisters were taken by some relatives in Kagadi to prevent them from camp life. It is not helping that they will get education and progress. It is just lifesaving to get food and accommodation,” he explains.
Businge says that they are currently about 100 youths living in this camp.
“We were about 500 youths by the time we camped here but the rest have left for casual labour, some girls have married, others are working in bars and some are house maids in town,” he says.
He adds that many had dropped out of school earlier with the 2013 eviction when times were hard in another informal IDP camp at Kyangwali sub-county headquarters.
Some hope returned after the president directed them to be returned to their land in 2016 and later frustrated by re-eviction in 2020.
“You cannot think of education when food and shelter is a problem to think about every second that ticks. I would be going to university,” adds Businge.
Before the second phase of eviction, Businge thought he would acquire a degree and get a job so he could return to help his mother to educate his younger siblings.
They were allegedly evicted by the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM) that accused them of purported encroachment on Kyangwali Refugee Settlement land.
An alternative land was provided for evictees in Kyeya but many of them rejected it on the grounds that it was arid and lacked social amenities.
Asaba Aheebwa’s education journey was cut short by the eviction and ended up stopping in primary five after which she decided to marry for survival in the IDP.
“We are not marrying that because we want to. We would like to be at school but the environment in the camp here cannot allow us. We stayed in the camp with no soap, no salt and no food and when life continued becoming hard, I decided to marry in this camp. To my dismay, suffering has continued even after marriage because we sleep in makeshifts and struggle to get food. My husband wakes up every morning to search for a casual job and when he doesn’t get any, we spend a night hungry,” narrates Aheebwa.
Aheebwa says when she was in her18th year of age, she had heeded to her parents’ advice to delay marriage and sexual relations but she was defeated.
“As we talk, there are another four girls of my age married in the past three months. Men are deceiving them with as little money as Shs1,000 for food and they end in marriage,” she adds.
“I pray the government helps us to regain land where our livelihood depended. It could lessen the troubles we are going through and the risk that awaits our younger sisters and brothers in the camp,” she says.
Ms Oliver Kaburara, a mother of seven, says she gave up on the education of her children as she had to concentrate on searching for food.
“Some of them left me here in the camp and scattered to look for survival on landing sites and towns,” she says.
She calls upon the President to order for the return to their land as it happened in 2016 to save the perishing future of innocent Ugandans.
Ms Beatrice Kajumba, in her 80s, is found sickly and miserably living in a tent alone. She has information that her granddaughters disappeared from the relatives she had sought protection after eviction.
“I have been told that they (granddaughters) disappeared including a 17-year-old girl. I do not have money to go there to get details,” she says.
Mr Peter Banura, the Kikuube District Local Government Chairman, says the district authorites are lobbying from non-governmental organisations also to consider supporting the communities of evictees without leaving out a proposal to start running classes at the camp to keep children busy.
He acknowledges the problem is continuously spilling social impacts.
The population of school dropouts adds to the statistics of poor education standards and levels in the Bunyoro region which was the most affected by colonial injustices.
While at the launch of the Kingfisher oil rig at the beginning of this year where President Yoweri Museveni was the guest of honour, Kikuube district leaders presented the Bukinda eviction as one of the critical issues calling for presidential attention.
In response, the president directed the area Resident District Commissioner (RDC), Mr Amlan Tumusiime, to coordinate with the relevant State House team to have the matter addressed.
When contacted for the latest, Mr Tumusiime said he was in touch with the line State House Departments to help the campers regain their land rights.
He highlighted the need to reconsider the 1998 survey of the refugee settlement land conducted by Makerere University that was ignored by some officials from the OPM.
However, Mr Charles Bafaki, the Principal Settlement Officer in the OPM, said the government does not consider any previous surveys as genuine save the 2013 that bred an eviction.
He insisted it was done to protect government interests.
The OPM had initially branded the campers at the RDC’s office as politically motivated and their action as uncalled for.
A week after camping Mr Hillary Onek, the Minister for Disaster Preparedness and Refugees, warned Kikuube leaders including the RDC against inciting the evictees to pitch camp which tarnishes the image of the government.
The Kikuube District Community Development Officer (CDO), Mr Nelson Atumanya, says the Bukinda eviction is just one of the major ones that have left numerous community challenges with women and children being the most vulnerable.
Ms Florence Natumanya, the Kikuube district woman Member of Parliament, says she had noted with concern that more than 500 children who dropped out of school following a separate eviction in Kiziramfumbi sub-county after a controversial land transaction between the late Prince Herbert Kimera Rwakiswaza and Hoima Sugar Limited – the current recognised developer.
Another similar figure was also affected by the Rwamutonga eviction in Bugambe sub-county at around the beginning of the past decade.
Human rights activists say these evictions are connected with the high demand for land induced by the discovery of oil in the Albertine region in 2006.