High court Masindi district in Western Uganda has indefinitely postponed the hearing of the Rwamutonga case where more than 250 families were brutally evicted to pave way for the construction of oil waste treatment plant.
Justice Albert Rugadya Atwoki, High Court resident judge Masindi was expected to give a ruling on an application on January 19, 2017 but he informed court that he would make a ruling on notice.
According to Bashir Twesigye, Executive Director Civic Response on Environment and Development, the judge’s move to make his ruling on notice shows that the judge is not comfortable with the case hence the hesitation to make a decisive ruling.
“Hon. Justice Rugadya should not have any excuse ruling on the case because he has had six months to study the case. The judge making a ruling on notice means that he will make a decision when he feels ready” he argued.
Since the first ruling was done last year, this second ruling would give the evictees a mileage and has been pending for long.
The families were evicted in August 2014 from the two pieces of land; one titled in the names of Robert Bansigaraho and another in Joshua Tibagwa. The affected families have since been living in Kakopo Internally Displaced Persons camp (IDP) with no stable source of livelihood.
Nelson Atich, Bugambe sub county Councilor and representative of the evictees told Community Green Radio, that they were shocked by the judge’s decision to make the ruling on notice. “We are now thinking of petitioning the Principal Judge over this matter,” he stated.
“When we went to court on 19th, January, 2017, we were surprised when the clerk to the judge told us that the judge will give us the ruling on notice. We are in a dilemma, but we think we are not getting justice from courts of law,” Atich said.
He further added that the evicted families have been living in a camp for close to three years now under inhuman conditions yet the case has not been given priority.
According to sources privy to court, the ruling was meant to be given on December 8, 2016 but was postponed to January 19, 2017.
Last year, the then resident judge Masindi Justice Simon Byabakama, who has since moved to the country’s Electoral Commission as its head ruled that 53 families out of the 250 families affected were illegally evicted on land owned by Robert Bansigaraho since the eviction court order was issued in error.
“The eviction was unlawful and should not have happened in the first place because at the time of the execution of the warrant of vacant possession, there was an ongoing suit to determine true ownership of the land,” ruled Justice Simon Byabakama last year.
Justice Byabakama in his ruling also ordered Bansingaraho to compensate the evictees for the unlawful eviction. Following the immense pressure from NAPE and other civil society organizations, Bansigaraho accepted mediation by Justice Centers Uganda and handed over the piece of land to the 53 families.
In their application, the evictees, through their lawyers Iam Musinguzi of Musinguzi and Co. Advocates and Jonathan Okiria, an advocate with Justice Centers Uganda in Hoima are seeking a declaration that the families were unlawfully evicted by Tibagwa Joshua and should be awarded compensation.
In November 2016, Betty Amongi, Minister of lands visited Rwamutonga camp and appointed a probe committee to investigate and establish the rightful owners of the disputed land.
According to Isaac Kawooya, Hoima Resident District Commissioner, the committee finalized its investigations and has submitted a report to the minister. Kawooya says the judiciary should objectively look at the matter in folds to determine whether all evictees are genuine occupants.
Meanwhile over 17 children have died and close to 100 others are suffering from severe malnutrition at Kigyayo camp in Kiziranfumbi sub-county, Hoima District following a forceful land eviction two years back.
On 28th February 2015, about 5000 people were evicted from 1860 hectare piece of land in Kiziranfumbi after it was leased to an investor Hoima Sugar Limited for sugarcane plantation. Namara Scovia, a 7 year old girl is the latest child to succumb to severe malnutrition while at the camp.
Kigyayo camp is located approximately 40 km away from Hoima town and about 7 km away from Kiziranfumbi sub-county headquarters. The 4 acre piece of land where the group is currently residing belongs to Church of Uganda.
According to Buryahika Stephen, head of Kigyayo Internally Displaced People’s camp, Namara is not the only child who has lost her life due to malnutrition. Many others between the ages of one to seven years have died due to malnutrition and lack of proper feeding.
“At the camp, we depend on charity! We are now living like homeless people because everyone wants to get rich from this oil,” Buryahiko narrates, adding that the discovery has brought more harm than good.
He further adds that sadly, the 68 others including the elderly people will suffer the same fate if no urgent attention is rendered to them.
Benon Tusingwire, Executive Director Navigators of Development Association, a local community based organization notes that the camp has only two clinics which appear to be slack since the community members cannot afford UGX 30,000 to acquire treatment for their children.
According to Buryahika, the land in question is claimed by Kimera Herbert; a local tycoon (now deceased) who is using a different land title to evict them.
“Kimera claimed he owned this land but it is not true. He used a land title for some 10 ha piece of land to evict,” Buryahika revealed in a recent interface meeting when NAPE and Community Green Radio staff visited the camp.
On 4th July 2014, the High Court of Uganda issued an interim order restraining the respondent (Kimera Herbert) from “erasing, demolishing or destroying the existing gardens and structures of the applicant but is at liberty to carry out his activities on the undeveloped part of the suit land.”
The land dispute in Kiziranfumbi started in 2012 when the late Kimera threatened to evict the residents branding them as ‘squatters.’’ Further investigations reveal that the community upon receiving the eviction threats filed a court case at the Masindi Magistrate court to halt any evictions.
According to Nkunzi Tanazio, 31 and father to late Namara, the land under dispute is a communal land and has been his home for the last 16 years. According to Buryahika, the community in their file demands UGX 108bn as compensation from the investor.
In a recent report launched by Transparency International, oil based investment and its associated benefits have inspired an unprecedented amount of land grabbing in the region with powerful rich elite and District land board officials fraudulently acquiring land titles over communal lands.
Such loopholes leave bad precedents in the judicial sectors, especially when the big fish use temples of justice and police to unleash terror against innocent Ugandans.
Records in the office the Resident District Commissioner, Hoima so far indicate over 1000 households have been affected by illegal land evictions either directly or indirectly between the year 2012 and 2016.RDC Kawooya says only 30% of these victims have accessed court for justice, while others either have no access or are intimidated by their tormentors.
Story compiled by Robert Katemburura Turyomurugyendo,
Editor NAPE Community Green Radio, Hoima District
The Bunyoro Region, for a long time was known for growing indigenous food that kept families food secure. The food included different varieties of millet, beans, simsim and maize that were drought resistant. On the contrary today, many farmers are crying foul after unpredictable weather patterns that have left them with little to feed on.
It’s for this reason that the National Association of Professional Environmentalists, NAPE initiated a campaign on seed sovereignty and food security through revival of indigenous seeds that are accommodative to current climate changes.
Mr.Asuman Irumba, one of farmers in Hoima says many people have run away from traditional farming and this has not only ushered in poor yields but also inadequate food in families.
Irumba also says with the help of NAPE they are steadily bringing back these indigenous seeds through consultative dialogues with old men and women who have both knowledge and skills to revamp these seeds.
“We are slowly by slowly getting back our seeds,” Irumba said
Mr. Karugaba Isimbwa, one of the founders of Bunyoro community Historical museum associates for development says, there is need to revert to our indigenous foods if the region is to survive current climate conditions.
He noted that seeds such as millet were so resistant to hash conditions unlike today calling up on stakeholders including the kingdom to sensitize and mobilize the local communities to embrace growing of local varieties.
“To day I get surprised to see a farmer gets nothing because of climate change,” Karugaba wondered
Mrs. Scola Byaruhanga , 75 years from Kabale village in Kiziranfumbi sub county Hoima District says during harvesting season it was a must for the house wife to keep the seeds for the next season and she could make sure these seeds are preserved well in order to reach the next planting season.
“Today I don’t know what is happening, with seed banks,” Ms Byaruhanga asked
Ms Lucy Ahura of Kabale Small Holders Farmers group in Kiziranfumbi sub county Hoima District noted that it was a culture in Bunyoro every woman to have a garden of cassava locally known as Nozzimu and Mukalasa at home as remedy to food insecurity.
This was jointly done with their husbands adding that it was the Traditional role of the house head to clear the bush for the woman and this kept the home with food all the time.
“You see now days men have run way from their duties that’s why things are like this” Ms Ahura said
Ms Asha Afambe local farmer in Kabale village in Kiziranfumbi sub county in Hoima says for the case of local beans locally known as Enkuku, it was must for the every family to have them year in year out because it provided sauce to every family in difficult situations.
Mr Denis Tabaro, Natukunda officer in charge of community ecological governance at National association of Professional Environmentalist [NAPE] says there is need to conserve these indigenous seeds which are drought resistant and for seed restoration.
“People of Bunyoro need these seeds for food security and as NAPE we are here to help these communities,” Tabaro said
Mr Tabaro further explains that with support from European Union and GAIA foundation he optimistic that Bunyoro communities can revive these seeds.
“I think with these efforts am sure our seeds in Bunyoro can come back” Tabaro noted
With revival and promotion of indigenous seeds in the region communities can regain their glory of being food and seed secure and this can also go a long way in improving household income that has been identified as one of the factors that fuel domestic violence in the area.
According to Eastern and Southern African Small Scale Forum [ESAFF], Uganda study report 2015, it is estimated that Uganda has over 400,000 internationally certified organic farmers, growing cotton, coffee, sesame, as well as fruits such as pineapples, bananas, mangoes, jack-fruit, apple, passion fruits and avocado.
The products are exported to Europe, USA and Asia, among other countries.
By 2013, Uganda had around 350,000 hectares of land under organic farming covering more than 2% of agricultural land.
The story was writen by Peter Akugizibuwe, a is assistant News Editor at NAPE Community Green Radio, Hoima District
Simon Bidandi deals in snail shells and has lived at Titye- Kaaro landing site on the shores of Lake Albert in Bulisa district for over 23 years. All members of his family pick snail shells and silver fish from the Lake Albert waters and sell them to animal feed processors in Uganda, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Bidandi dips a bucket into the water, lifts, observes and then slowly tips the water out and remains with shells. His wife, Irene Namaganda, stands 30 feet away near the tarpaulin spread on the beach to select and sun-dry the shells. She says 15 years ago, the point where she is standing was covered by water, but the shoreline has receded by about 100 meters.
Fishing was not all that hard, she says, adding that today, fishermen have resorted to catching silver fish and collecting snail shells because all the breeding grounds for bigger fish (papyrus swamps) have dried up and have been turned into cattle-grazing grounds.
The silver fish and snails, just smaller than a penny, are among the few living creatures that have survived under the harsh conditions in Lake Albert.
Environmentalists weigh in
A survey conducted by the National Association of Professional Environmentalists (NAPE) in Bunyoro sub-region early February 2017, discovered that over 11 rivers, their tributaries and three swamps that flow into Lake Albert had dried up completely with no sign that there was any water body where they existed.
The rivers include River Titye Kaaro, River Kamonkole, Sambye, Wampulungulu, Wambabya and River Mutyooma. Warukanga and Kigwera swamps near Murchison falls have also dried up.
The rivers and swamps were part of the sacred sites protected by the traditional lake custodians. The cultural custodians of these sites believe the rivers dried up because their spiritual powers were weakened as people ‘misbehaved’ near the sites.
According to local mythology, permitting women to access the lake without restriction has caused the problem."Thirty years ago, women were not allowed at the landing site, except some chosen few like me; who were selected to perform rituals. Even I could not be accepted here when I was in my menstrual periods. The lake would swallow more than 10 people on a night, such a thing happened. But look now; there are women everywhere,’’ 52-year-old Margaret Kagole, a traditional female custodian of the lake in Bullisa district, says.
Wendi Kazimula, another custodian, explains: “One of the major tasks of a custodian is to visit the shrine embedded within that sacred natural site and ask the earth to forgive her people after, for example, crop fields are attacked by pests and or when there is a dry spell like it is today. We hold a traditional prayer near the lake so rain comes and rivers remain alive.
A crucial part of this ceremony is that we take seeds to ask for the multiplication of food into the coming season. We pour them in the water for the ancestors to receive and multiply them. But today, we do not even have the original indigenous seeds to perfectly perform these rituals.”
Cultural leaders in charge of performing rituals at the lake believe the surging populations at the landing sites have misbehaved, defied the traditional customs throwing the second biggest lake in Uganda into misery ’’We told new comers at the landing sites not to play sex near our potent sites but they defied our orders now the gods are unhappy and Lake Albert is slowly disappearing, killing fish and the eco-system stability. It’s an environmental mystery: A 2,000 square-mile Lake is dying, and no one bothers to avert the situation even when some elderly people know exactly why the lake is drying up ‘‘says 83 year Alone Kiiza, another custodian of Waloiza sacred natural site near Kasemene oil well in Bulisa district.
Custodians back off
The traditional custodians used to restrict communities from tampering with the ecosystem anyhow because it was considered 'sacred'.
But with the industrialization, coupled with Uganda’s surging population, the custodians have been compromised and most of them backed off their roles.
Bulisa sub-county LC3 chairperson Isaac Nkuba says even the custodians who would be guarding these ecosystems lead questionable lives in terms of morality and thus can no longer command respect within the communities.
Environmentalists believe that as the livelihood and wellbeing of rural communities depends on the health of their ecosystems, the exercise and protection of human rights depends on the protection of the ecosystems of their ancestral lands, water bodies and other natural resources. Unfortunately it has not been the case with Lake Albert.
Denis Tabaro Natukunda, who heads the community ecological governance programme of the National Association of Professional Environmentalists (NAPE), says his organization is currently supporting the few remaining traditional custodians to protect the lake and its ecosystem.
Tabaro also attributes the lake's deterioration to climate change, extensive farming, deforestation and activities of oil companies.
He underscores the importance of engaging and restoring the vital role of custodians on the lake, especially the women. According to Tabaro, NAPE, believes that engaging the locals, including the custodians can ensure that the lake is protected and restored.
Tabaro says the European Union is currently supporting efforts to restore Lake Albert and Edward to their original sizes.
Silver fish trade under threat
Like many other lakes that have been hit by the harsh climatic conditions, Lake Albert, located in the western arm of the East African Rift valley, has receded by 100 metres in some areas.
The fish catch, too, has dropped significantly, negatively affecting the livelihood of the surrounding communities. Some of the areas which used to be fish breeding grounds have been turned into grazing places.
Although scientists cite human activities and the effects of climate change as being responsible for the lake’s recession, natives living near the water body think it is the angry gods that are responsible for the situation.
The Fishermen say many aspects of the lake have been desecrated and people no longer perform rituals that used to make things right.
Background story: Climate change takes a toll on the water body.
Covering an area of 2,045 square miles, Lake Albert is the second largest lake in Uganda. It is located on the border of Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Apart from effects of climate change, the lake could face the threat of pollution from the oil drilling activities in the future.
What can be done?
The LC1 chairperson for Kigwera Southwest village in Bulisa sub-county, Fred Baguma, says plans are underway to plant broadleaved trees in the lake’s buffer zone that was initially protected by custodians before charcoal burners cut down the trees.
Environmentalists advise that for such a lake to survive, a buffer zone of 200 metres from the water's edge must be left protected from any activity because it is also a breeding area for the aquatic organisms.
Other factors Nkuba says the lake has been degraded by the herdsmen who directly push in their ever surging herds of cattle to drink water and graze on the shores.
“I call on my colleagues in other sub-county councils near the lake both in Uganda and DRC to pass ordinances blocking this,” he pleads.
Hoima district environment officer, Joseline Nyangoma, supports NAPE’s campaign to strengthen the traditional governance systems that call for the conservation of ecosystems, saying the current environmental challenges in Uganda are the result of human activity.
The story was compiled by Robert Katemburura, Turyomurugyendao,
Editor NAPE Community Green Radio, Hoima District.
Fifty three families that were evicted from land to pave way for the construction of an oil waste treatment plant by a US firm in August 2014, have finally reached an understanding with the landlord to restore them on the land. This achievement is a result of aggressive advocacy campaigns by civil society organization including NAPE.
The 53 are part of the 250 families that were evicted from Rwamutonga village, Bugambe Sub-county in Hoima District and are living in an internally displaced people’s camp.
According to NAPE, land grabbing is one of the biggest impediments to sustainable livelihoods for many communities that have lucrative mineral resources on their land.