Land grabbing is slavery of its kind in Uganda. Land grabbing occurs when land that was previously used and owned by local individuals/communities is leased or sold to outside investors, including corporations and governments. The land grabbing situation is getting worse as people are becoming slaves in their own country. The forced evictions of people from their land in Gulu started around 2002 but during the pandemic, the land grabbing became worse. It was apparent that the COVID–19 pandemic gave a lot of opportunists time to forcefully remove people from their own land.
Multinational companies are taking advantages of community high level of ignorance to easily access millions of hectares of land with the backing of state and influential politicians including private individuals. Museveni’s government is enabling foreign firms to acquire large areas of natural forests and farmland under the pretext of development and employment.
Day 1 – Sunday 25 April 2021.
The meeting was with some team members. Meeting was started with a prayer by John, followed by introductions.
The meeting was attended by three JPC staff members; Mr Ouma Jacob John a J&P long term member from the Cathedral, Mr Kidega Charles a member from Patong parish and Mr Yasinto Okot who is the Coordinator for the Archdiocesan Justice & Peace Commission also from Patong parish.
The team shared the JPC work in the Archdiocese of Gulu. The JPC is involved in various programmes such as:
- Sensitizing the community about Human Rights,
- Creating awareness about gender-based and domestic violence,
- Sensitizing people about the importance of planting trees,
- Counselling programmes for prisoners, youths and the sick,
- Engage in mediation processes regarding customary land and land grabbing issues by private individuals,
- And also intervene were invited or concerned on parishioners squabble issues.
Other issues shared was the fact that JPC wanted to participate in the elections early in the year but was not accredited and this was for the first time being refused to monitor the elections. This came as a surprise and a concern to the organisation that has been monitoring the elections for so many years. The team also raised the concern of refugees increasing in the country where they are put in camps by the government. Most of the refugees come from South Sudan, DRC, Somalia and Eritrea.
They also indicated that there’s a number of street kids rising and as an organization, they do not have enough resources to also engage on the issues of refugees and street kids.
The COVID-19 pandemic is there but has not been a major hit in the country and most people have adhered to the restrictions as per the government restrictions and lockdown.
The challenges they are facing are lack of resources, production of the quarterly newsletter which was the main source of information sharing and advocacy tool.
Day 2 – Monday 26 April 2021
The meeting was attended by the rest of the team members. Meeting was started with a prayer by Charles, followed by introductions.
The attendees were: Mr Kidega Charles (project Officer focus as a researcher and data collector), Mr Yasinto Okot (Coordinator), Mr Okello David Roger (accountant), Ms Wibke Angelike from Germany (Technical Adviser), Ms Jesca Seila Acko (Project officer focus on GBV), Jimmy (driver), Lucy (office assistant) and Jeanette Lesisa (DHPI).
The meeting started with a presentation by Jeanette Lesisa explaining what DHPI is and with reference to the partnership between DHPI and JPC.
The JPC areas of priority are human rights and gender-based violence. An ongoing process is in place in terms of research and assessment of violation of rights especially on the unlawful land grabbing and gender-based violence. Most activities are at parish level with 207 activists and they work in 8 districts, 2 vicariates and active in 3 of the 6 deaneries.
The outcome of the two presentations was to look at the recommendations from the “report on the alleged land grab in Amuru, Pabbo and Awuch sub-counties”. Land in Uganda is fertile with natural resources and of vital importance and land grabbing has been happening in various areas, among which some are hotspots.
There are so many prominent people who have been reported to have been engaged in land grabbing and forceful eviction of local people from their own land. There are many investors interested in the land including the government, some soldiers and individuals. There’s also has been many feuds amongst family members fighting for land.
There have also have been a lot of influx of refugees especially those from Southern Sudan who have been camped by the government in allocated areas whilst some are hosted by the local people.
The meeting was followed up with a field trip to Amuru areas 50 to 65 km away from Gulu city. In Amuru there was a meeting with a team of 5 J&P members (Cyprian – mediator and an activist; Lucy community leader and a counsellor; Denis – paralegal; Alfred – paralegal and Bernard – community leader ) who were ward councillors but were booted out at the last elections.
They are also are engaged more in counselling and mediation regarding land grabbing. One of the member’s (Cyprian) brother is a sellout who is also taking land from people and selling it to investors.
They indicated that the Ommei Farm in one of the villages of Amuru had up to 3000 households who were forcefully removed from their land and are now internally displaced elsewhere.
The Acholi West Union started cultivating the peoples land with one of the Army Generals in charge and forcefully removed the people. Maima Madekai Iyowo a former Lords Resistance Army (LRA) commander is also an opportunist who chased away a whole parish in Apaa area which is now a Game Reserve. Soldiers were deployed during the lockdown to force people from their homes by burning their houses and arresting some who were resistant. Another piece of vast land is owned by Bruce Martins from South Africa and acquired that land as a hunting sports facility which is called Lake Albert Safaris in Hoima.
Another area in the North, is where Cyprian is currently involved in a dispute with his brother who is a retired Ugandan Resistance Army (URA) who have sold their ancestral land and now up to 70 households are displaced. His brother also takes land forcefully from people and lease most of it to private investors. Most people who have also lost their customary land are widows. Some family members use the culture of the brother taking over his brothers wife and kids as his own and when the women refuse they are chased away and their land taken away from them to be sold.
In the meeting, the group expressed that in some parts they have assisted people, especially widows to retain their land from relatives who took it by force but had to be shared with those very relatives. The only problem is providing both certificates of customary ownership and title deeds. However, during mediation processes, people were encouraged to plant trees which were a signed truce and also to separate the acres of land from relatives and widows but the tree planting is not enough as there’s no paper trail to the agreement and thus the widows are continually manipulated.
The meeting ended with a field visit to Ommei Farm.
Later on in the evening, we had a very brief meeting with the Archbishop – Dr John Baptist Odama who expressed his gratitude for the support of DHPI and acknowledged the good work that JPC is doing.
The Archbishop shared his insights about UBUNTU and how people have lost the sense of being a people because of others since we are all created in the image and likeness of God.
Day 3: Tuesday 27 April
In the morning together with the JPC team we discussed the way forward and the following was the outcome:
- JPC to organise capacity building for parish groups on human rights and language of law
- Assist with mediation and access to customary land
- Conduct workshops for police and the army on human rights
- Engage with local government leaders who are willing to assist JPC to identify land grabbers and take them to court
- Start a process of negotiating for compensation from land grabbers to the victims who lost land forcefully
A meeting with “Our Trees We Need Answers” (OTWNA) team took place. Present in the meeting was Mr Arthur Owor, Mr Nelson Obol, Mr Ochira Emmanuel and Mr Yasinto Okot from JPC joined us later.
A presentation about DHPI was shared with the OTWNA team and they then shared what their organisation is all about.
Then the OTWNA shared the work that they do, mainly around mitigating massive destruction of traditional/native tree species in the Acholi Sub-Region by creating awareness and naming and shaming perpetrators. The region is now witnessing the destruction of the shea nut tree which is a sacred tree among the Acholi and over 100s acres are being cut by these illegal dealers and these sacred trees risks becoming extinct because it has been cut by perpetrators of environmental violence.
One of the hot spot areas where the trees have been drastically cut is Adilang Sub-County, where close to 500 people from the different parts of the country have been camped in the area where child labour is being deployed and rights of children being abused in the production of charcoal. Marriages are also being broken by these perpetrators as men in the area are kept in a drunken stupor to allow for massive cutting of trees.
OTWNA expressed that their work is evidence-based and thus have to meet with people affected by the loss of trees in their areas including those who have been forcefully removed. The team also works and gets support from the Resident District Commissioner in the district. OTWNA has a preliminary report based on their type of work (which is evidence-based). They have to meet directly with the people affected so as to get complete evidence of abuse and loss of land.
This meeting ended with the following outcomes:
- OTWNA expressed the need for funding support as most of the areas where they meet with people are in extremely remote areas where perpetrators choose to hide and evade authorities.
- People are ignorant about the issues of charcoal especially with regards to cost pricing/charcoal value chain. There is wide scale exploitation of the local people on whose land the trees exist. Poverty is a further challenge. Charcoal from them is bought cheaply and sold off very expensively at the end destinations.
- They still need to meet with and interview people to verify the information given so that they are able to use evidence when they engage in their advocacy programmes,
- Organise and conduct capacity building training for people in various communities as most people also lost land signing documents not knowing that the documents are signing off their land.
- OTWNA is to formalise her registration and to establish a bank account to enhance the smooth running of the organisation.
The partnership with JPC is going well and OTWNA would be happy for continued support and working relationship with JPC.
The political elites and the government who are facilitating the land grabs in Uganda want everyone to believe it is a development. Lack of international awareness about the land evictions and environmental destruction during the COVID-19 lockdown was appalling. Rich people manipulate the poor in taking their land and the government also has an interest in the land grabbing by promising people compensation that never happens. Relatives also take land from widows forcefully using culture as a means of abuse and some families are in dispute as greedy family members sell land or lease ancestral land without their consent.
Land is sacrificed in Uganda and local ownership is gradually lost along with human sovereignty.