‘They cut me, left me for dead and took my land’
From atop any of the rolling hills that give Butolongo sub-county its undulating beauty, an enchanting serenity seems to spread out as far as the eye can see.
But that’s only the view from the top. Walk down to the plains and valleys of this green expanse in Mubende district, and the story changes. Shadowed by the hills and forests are horrific tales of intensifying battles for land which cost men their livelihood and women their dignity.
In Ngabano village, Sam Ssenkinga has spent the last two months nursing life-threatening injuries from a vicious attack by neighbours and friends who he says attempted to end his life because of 13 acres of land. Ssenkinga limps to our meeting point in wooden crutches with his left leg, which he keeps off the ground, in a heavy black cast that cost him Shs 250,000 from Mulago hospital.
“I am in this situation because I refused to sell my land,” the father of 12 and husband to two wives starts.
Describing that situation causes Ssenkinga to break down in tears at least four times. He displays a double cut to the head whose scar now forms an ‘X’, a cut to his left palm and the heavily-casted leg whose bone was broken and almost ripped into two by the machete (panga) that caused the damage.
Ssenkinga says his woes started when Formasa Tree Planting company, a Chinese-owned company, came to the area to grow pine trees. In a bid to secure more land, the company has been trying to buy off many of the tenants and landowners in the three villages of Kyedikyo, Nakasozi and Kicucula.
According to Ssenkinga, when Formasa officials approached him sometime last year, he told them that he valued his land at Shs100 million.
“I told them to give me Shs 100 million in exchange for the land because I had already done a lot on it; there were seven acres of coffee, four and a half acres of eucalyptus trees, and my banana plantation. When they said they couldn’t buy it for that amount, I refused to sell,” he narrated.
Because of his stand, Ssenkinga says, he received some veiled threats from workers at the farm, but he ignored them – until March 17, 2016, when they escalated to violence.
On that day, Ssenkinga was heading to the trading centre when three friends who used to drink alcohol from his place approached him. Because he knew them, Ssenkinga stopped to hear from them, despite knowing that they are labourers at the company that wanted his land.
“When I saw they wanted to attack me, I threw down my motorcycle and ran away. They chased me until they caught up with me and then started cutting me up,” he recalled.
Ssenkinga’s attackers left him for dead. He was only rescued by passers-by who heard his cries for help. They called his relatives and friends. One of those friends, 40-year-old John Ssemike, describes what he found at the scene as horrific.
“I was called that Sam had been chopped up and was dying. When I reached Sam, I found that he was in a bad state. His leg was in two pieces,” he says.
The officer-in-charge of criminal investigations at Muduku police station, where Ssenkinga reported the case, Benson Ampaire, said they registered an attempted murder case given the gravity of the injuries. Ampaire adds that their investigations found the cause of the incident was not a land dispute but a love wrangle over a woman.
“They [Ssenkinga and family] wanted to associate this case with land, but it was a fight which started from a bar over a woman. It was revenge,” he said.
Abel Turwaneho, a manager at Formasa, also told The Observer in an interview that Ssenkinga’s injuries were because “they fought in a bar.”
However, Ampaire says they have not arrested anyone because Ssenkinga and his family are not cooperating. They are not revealing the names of the attackers.
“If Sam comes and says so and so attacked me, we are very much willing to arrest him,” Ampaire says.
SALE UNDER DURESS
In hospital, Ssenkinga was visited by two managers of Formasa, Abel Turwaneho and a lady only identified by locals as Anna. Turwaneho offered Ssenkinga Shs 200,000 while Anna offered Ssenkinga Shs 500,000 for treatment.
A few days later, according to Ssenkinga, the Formasa managers were back with a proposal. They wanted to purchase his land so that he could use the money for medication.
“While I was in hospital, people from the company came and said: ‘We are going to value your land and tell you how much we will pay you.’ Then they came and gave me Shs 16 million. I had no choice. I accepted the money,” he says, wiping away tears.
To this day, however, Ssenkinga believes he got a raw deal under duress. “You can’t value all my land and what I had planted there and give me that kind of money and yet I had also built my houses on that land,” he argues.
Ssenkinga’s father, Francis Sseninde, is equally unhappy with the deal and circumstances under which it was negotiated. He tells The Observer, “That company really squeezed us. When buying our land, it gives us very little money. However, Turwaneho described the statements made by Ssenkinga and his father as lies.
“The problem of those people is that they are lying,” he said by telephone. “For us, we are compensating, we are not grabbing. We have the pictures, we have the agreements.”
Turwaneho said his company had fully compensated Ssenkinga not just for the land but also for the injuries he sustained in the incident involving their workers.
“We have already compensated him with Shs 21 million. The Shs 21 million also included damages for his injuries,” he said.
But Ssenkinga says the attack has left his family in dire straits, given that he can no longer fend for them and has to prioritise the money given to him for treatment.
“I used to earn between Shs 500,000 and Shs 1 million [per month] from my land and I would be able to take care of my family. But now this has left us helpless,” he said, wiping away more tears.WIDESPREAD CASES
Cases of Mubende residents coming under threat are numerous. One lady, who declined to be named, says she was repeatedly raped by employees of Formasa as they sought to drive her away from her family land.
In one case, which reached the office of the deputy resident district commissioner (DRDC) Evelyn Kizza Tinkamalirwe Jimmy Ssegujja complained that Formasa was grabbing his land. On May 5, 2015, Tinkamalirwe wrote to the manager of Formasa, Stephen Tumwine, in a bid to resolve the dispute.
“The abovementioned (Ssegujja) has petitioned this office that you are grabbing his kibanja which he has already been allocated by the District Land Board,” she wrote. “You are, therefore, requested to halt developing the disputed part until relevant authorities intervene and settle the dispute.”
When contacted at her office in Mubende, Tinkamalirwe told The Observer that she had intervened in the matter because land matters are “a security concern.” She says she sought to mediate between the two parties.
According to Tinkamalirwe, it was not the first case she has had to resolve where Formasa was accused by locals of using violent means to get the upper hand in a land dispute.
“The name of that company also surfaced in Nakasozi. They called me at night that the workers of Formasa were uprooting their gardens, slashing their cassava and I also called police. When they went there, they arrested those people,” she said.
“I called Stephen [Tumwine]and told him, ‘if you bought their land and they are not aware that you bought their land, because they are complaining, don’t go back there’.”
Tinkamalirwe says when she met Formasa manager Tumwine, his response was that it was not the company’s policy to harass landowners. He said their workers could have taken matters into their own hands and those found to have done so would be disciplined by the company.
By Edward Ssekika
As government gets close to concluding negotiations with a Russian-led consortium of investors to build an oil refinery in Hoima district, the quite tetchy matter of compensating peasants to pave way for the project won't go away, writes EDWARD SSEKIKA.Government has denied any wrongdoing in a court case where 12 persons protested against being evicted to pave way for the construction of an oil refinery in Kabaale, Hoima district.
The case, Wandera John Bosco and 11 others Vs Attorney General was filed last year in the High court, Kampala, land division. The affected persons sued the attorney general with the help of African Institute for Energy Governance (Afiego), a civil society organization in the oil and gas sector. The case is before Judge Eva Luswata.
The hearing of the case was expected to kick off on Monday, May 9, 2016 but flopped because the judge was not around. In the case, the affected persons claim a violation of their rights to fair, adequate and prompt compensation during the acquisition of the 29 square kilometers of land in Kabaale.
Francis Elungat, a land officer in the petroleum directorate, explains that four of the plaintiffs have already been compensated and, therefore, have no claim against government.
According to the affidavits, the plaintiffs argue that government’s inordinate delay to compensate or resettle them is a violation of their constitutional right to fair, prompt and adequate compensation enshrined in the constitution. In particular, in his affidavit, Wandera John Bosco avers that he opted for relocation but three years down the road, he has not been relocated.
“..During assessment, the compensation rates used in determining the value of my property including land, crops, trees and other properties were not of 2012 but 2010 and therefore were obsolete to ensure I get fair compensation,” he said.
In the Resettlement Action Plan, the ministry of energy through its contractor, Strategic Friends International, set August 2012 as a cut-off date, where developments on land after that date couldn’t be valued. Project-affected persons were advised against planting permanent crops since they took long to mature.
Wandera says that the cut-off date created fear in the entire village and as a result he stopped using the land for development. “As a result of the delay in compensation and the cut-off date, I failed to cater for my children to the extent that the majority had to abandon school.”
In the affidavit, Wandera also alleges that in June 2013, all the project-affected persons who opted for compensation in cash were asked by the ministry of energy to sign that they had received money from government and that they had transferred all their property to government yet they had not received any pay.
He also alleges that the compensation rates used were signed by the Hoima district valuer yet he is not a member of the Hoima District Land Board, and therefore had no power to approve the rates. He further avers that the Land Acquisition Act requires the ministry of land to put in place regulations to provide for assessment and payment of compensation.
Failure to implement these regulations creates room for government to acquire land with impunity. Godfrey Byaruhanga, another plaintiff, contends in his affidavit, that he was told that those who would opt for relocation would be bought land within the same area on a case by case basis. He has since learnt, however, that government plans to place them in a ‘camp’.
Christopher Opio, one of the plaintiffs, in his affidavit, claims that as a result of failure to use the land where he used to generate school fees, he has failed to go back to school for two years.GOVT RESPONDS
In reply, the attorney general denies all the allegations. In his reply dated April 27, 2016, Francis Elungat, the lands officer in the ministry of energy attached to the petroleum directorate, explains that government didn’t use the 2010 compensation as alleged but used the 2011/2012 rates. He explains that the compensation rates reflect the prevailing market rates in the area.
He says government compensated an acre of land between Shs 3.5m and Shs 4.5m, and yet the prevailing market for an acre of land is Shs 3m. He noted that government bought land in Kyakaboga, Nyakabingo parish Buseruka sub-county, at the same rate.
In addition to being compensated at the prevailing market rates in the area, project-affected persons were paid a disturbance allowance of 30 per cent in accordance with the law. Elungat said that since December 2013, a total of 2,595 project-affected persons, more than 90 per cent, have been paid.
“There is no project-affected-person with a complaint regarding compensation who has been threatened with eviction, been evicted or will be evicted until he or she is duly compensated,” he said.
Elungat denies that the cut-off date stopped people from using their land. He also denies that the applicants were deprived of the means to support their families since they had not been evicted from the suit land, explaining that government has no intention of evicting them until they are either fully compensated or resettled.
In his affidavit, Elungat contends that project-affected person’s harvested crops were compensated for and others are freely going on with cultivation without any hindrance.
“All project-affected persons who opted for relocation will receive land titled in their names of the same acreage as the one they had in the refinery area,” he said.
He denies that government is relocating the affected people in ‘a camp’. Instead, he notes that government is adhering to the Physical Planning Act by relocating the affected persons to a planned settlement.
Both the affected persons and attorney general want court to decide whether or not the compensation rates were adequate, fair or prompt and grant appropriate remedies.
Development partners have tasked government to equitably distribute across the country proceeds from oil extraction to avoid an ‘oil curse’ seen in most African oil-producing countries.
Speaking on behalf of the Democratic Governance Facility (DGF), an umbrella of eight donor countries last Friday, the Norwegian ambassador to Uganda, Susan Eckey, said whereas oil extraction, if properly managed, “will create jobs, spur innovations and bring investment and infrastructure’’ these must be equitably distributed.
“Experience elsewhere shows that without sound oversight of the extractive sector and fair distribution of the benefits accruing from it, its impact can be potentially negative on livelihoods, community relations and the environment,” Ms Eckey, said.
She was speaking at the launch of the Albertine Graben Oil and Gas Districts Association (AGODA), an association of 10 districts in the oil area that seeks to, among others things, oversee compensation of locals affected by oil extraction and creating other survival alternatives. The association is headed by Mr Patrick Okello, the Nwoya District chairperson.
Ms Eckey also asked the government not to overly rely on oil as the sole solution to the country’s poverty alleviation initiative but learn how to manage expectations since oil, on its own, will not transform Uganda and will not make its entire population rich.
“This must be understood from the start so that the government is allowed to use this once-off windfall wisely to invest in a strong, sustainable and diversified economy that benefits not just this generation but that of your children and your children’s children,” Ms Eckey, said.
Mr Okello, said the association will be used as a lobbying tool to cause fairness, transparency and information sharing between authorities and the local communities.
Uganda is expected to start extracting oil in 2019 and it has been looked at as a game changer for the country’s development financing needs. Recently, Tanzania and Uganda agreed to construct a $4b (Shs13.3 trillion) oil pipeline with the aim of connecting Uganda to the Indian Ocean through Tanga Port for exportation purposes.
By Kamese Geoffrey
The National Association of Professional Environmentalists (NAPE) participated in this year Sixth special session of the African Ministerial Conference on the Environment (AMCEN). The Sixth special session, of the African Ministerial Conference on Environment (AMCEN) was held in Cairo, Egypt, 16 - 19 April 2016 under the theme; "Agenda 2030 and Paris Agreement: From policy to implementation in Africa".
AMCEN discussed three key issues that are very important to the people of Africa in relation to the environment, energy and other development issues of the African people. The meeting among other things discussed;
Also important to note, is the observations that was made that indicates that the plundering of African resources has been going on over a long period of time. This plunder is facilitated by the export from the continent of unprocessed resources.
The PACJA led CSO Meeting:
As part of the CSO engagement of the African Ministerial Conference on Environment (AMCEN), there was a session organized by PACJA in collaboration with UNEP. This meeting was officially opened by a representative of Hon. Dr. Khaled Fahmy the AMCEN Chair/ Minister of environment, Egypt.
It was noted in Cairo that that the 3rd United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA 3) was going to convene in May 2016 to discuss about climate change, health and environment. The special focus at UNEA 3 was to be on environmental health factors. UNEA is the main governing body of UNEP and plays the following functions:
Some of the Key highlights/outcomes from the meeting;
A committee of 10 people selected by region (North Africa, East Africa, West Africa, Central Africa and Southern Africa) was put in place to continue with the work of influencing the AREI processes and to mobilize other stakeholders on the continent.
By Edward Ssekika
As Uganda moves closer to signing an agreement over the construction of an oil refinery, some of the people who were displaced to make way for the project are still not happy, writes EDWARD SSEKIKA.
After a day’s work, Donald Opar rests under the shade of a mango tree in his compound to shelter from the scotching sun. He stares at his mud-and-wattle grass-thatched house in a pensive mood.
“Where am I going to get money to construct a modern house?” he asks rhetorically after a long pause. The 57-year father of six is a resident of Nyahaira village, in Kabaale, Hoima district. His story is a tale of betrayal at the hands of his own government.
Opar’s family is one of the 93 families in Hoima waiting to be resettled after their land was compulsorily acquired by government to pave way for the construction of the proposed oil refinery. The families that have been waiting for resettlement for the last three years now accuse government of backtracking on its earlier commitment to build all of them modern houses, where they would be relocated.
In 2010, government selected Kabaale parish in Buseruka sub-county, Hoima district to host the proposed oil refinery, a project that has since displaced at least 7,118 people from their land.
Consequently, in 2012, the ministry of Energy and Mineral Development through its contractor – Strategic Friends International (SFI) - conducted a Resettlement Action Plan (RAP), an exercise that valued and documented each project-affected person’s property and preferred mode of payment.
During the RAP exercise, project-affected persons were given two options of compensation – either cash payment or resettlement. Opar explains that Strategic Friends International officials told residents that anyone who would opt for relocation would get an alternative piece of land and a modern house, among others.
The RAP report makes a similar promise. It reads: “...Only 27 affected households [The number has since shot up to 93 households] chose the option of resettlement. The rest preferred cash compensation to resettlement. It is, therefore, recommended that land is identified in the neighbourhood of the refinery project on a case-by-case basis to construct houses and provide land for farming as part of full resettlement package.”
The report further asks government to provide land titles to the resettled people.
“So, I weighed the option of cash payment with its associated risks, and opted for resettlement,” Opar explains.
Since 2012, the 93 families have been waiting for their full resettlement package – an alternative piece of land and a modern house for each household but most of that has been in vain.
Richard Orebi, the chairperson of Resettlement Committee, a local association of the affected families pushing for timely and full resettlement package, says in addition to alternative land and modern houses, government also promised to build for them schools, health centers, extend electricity, safe and clean water and other social amenities.
Yes, government has purchased 553 acres of land in Kyakaboga village, Nyakabingo parish in the same Buseruka sub-county, Hoima district, where the affected families are to be resettled. The land is located approximately 15 kilometers from Kabaale; so, the affected families are going to be resettled within the same refinery area as earlier recommended.
However, not everyone is smiling. Opar explains that in April this year, government officials convened a meeting in Hoima, in which they announced that only 46 out of the 93 families would get houses.
“I am one of those that will not get a house,” he says.
Orebi warns: “As a committee, we still maintain every household should get a house as promised; short of that, we shall not even accept the land. This is betrayal,” he says.
Aggrieved by all this, the 93 families petitioned the president in their letter dated July 9, 2015 to intervene. Government thereafter contracted Samadhura Company Limited to construct at least 46 houses.
But which criteria is government using to allocate houses? Government argues only families whose houses were affected in the refinery land will get houses in the resettlement area.
“We had three modes of compensations: we had cash compensation, land for land and resettlement. Those who had land and houses will also get land and a house; those who had only land are entitled to land only [Land-for-land],” Dozith Abeinomugisha, the assistant commissioner in the petroleum directorate, argues.
But Opar hits back: “I have a house here, but I am on the list of people who will not get a house,” he wonders, pointing at his mud- and-wattle grass-thatched house.
Like Opar, Fausta Tumuheire, a widow of four children, owns a semi-permanent house, but she too is among the families that will not get a house. Winfred Ngabiirwe, the executive director of Global Rights Alert (GRA), a civil society organisation, notes that there are nine households of elderly persons who opted for cash compensation to enable them move with their caretakers and relatives. However, ministry of energy officials categorized them as vulnerable and, therefore, must instead be resettled. They are among the households with land, but will not get houses.
“This worsens their situation since their caretakers have already left and moved to other locations,” she argues.
Government plans to turn Kyakaboga, where the 93 families are to be resettled, into a model modern village city. According to the plan, titled, “Ministry of Energy and Mineral Development: Details of Central Areas for Resettlement Plan for PAPs 2015,” the 533 acres of land in Kyakaboga has been divided into a residential area known as resettlement area and a farmland.
Government wants people to stay in a residential area and then go and do their agriculture in their farmlands. The physical plan shows that in the resettlement area, each of the 93 families will have a plot of land, where they will build a house for those without shelter. The 46 houses will have three bedrooms, with a toilet, kitchen and bathroom outside.
The modern residential area will have a commercial centre for shopping with 11 commercial plots, a police post, two open public spaces, a health centre III, a nursery and a primary school, two churches, water sources, a community centre, and a public cemetery, among others.
However, the project-affected persons have rejected the plan, arguing that it is unsuitable for their rural setting and lives. Innocent Tumwebaze describes the plan of cramming them up into a residential or resettlement village as “turning us into refugees on our land.”
Opar says grass-thatched houses will not be accepted in the residential area because they will defeat the idea of a modern village, yet he doesn’t have money to construct a modern brick house. He says he was compensated seven million shillings for his land, although he has since used all the money.
“If government doesn’t build all of us houses, they should forget a modern village, I will build my grass-thatched house,” he says.