NAPE APPLAUDED FOR CREATING CONFLICT RESOLUTION CHANNELS BETWEEN REFUGEES AND HOST COMMUNITIES

National Association of Professional Environmentalists (NAPE) has been hailed for creating mechanisms to solve conflicts between refugees and host communities in Kyangwali refugee resettlement camp in Kikuube district.

Jolly Kebirungi, the Refugee Desk Officer that coordinates Kyangwali and Kiryadongo refugee camps with the district officers, says the influx of refugees has continuously put pressure on existing natural resources and services, sparking conflicts between the refugees and the host communities.

“The refugees have increased from 35,000 in 2017 to over 350,000 currently and when they come they are integrated in the host communities leading to competition over resources like land, water and firewood and services like health services,” says Kebirugi.

Kebirungi, however, notes that the formation of Local Peace Committees and building the capacity of its members has played a big role in bringing both the host communities and refugees to solve conflicts through dialogue and mediation.

“When they sit together, the host communities appreciate that the refugees need to be accommodated and the issues are mediated; not only with the host communities but also conflict arising from the refugees himself,”Kebirugi said.

She also appreciated the involvement of women in peace building since they are the most affected by the conflicts.

“Women involvement in peace building is helping to build women’s confidence in mediating and also reporting the cases,” she added.

Nelson Atich, the Bugambe sub county speaker in Kikuube district also noted that the Local Peace Committee in Rwamutonga has helped communities report the cases at no cost.

“When one reports a case at the LC1, they charge you some fee for committee members and it’s always bribery at play. So many people end up abandoning cases due to lack of money. However, with the LPC, people are getting their cases resolved at no cost,” Atich says.

The local area leader for Kijayo village that hosts Kijayo IDP, Edward Tumusiime, says the LPC has engaged Hoima Sugar company leaders in dialogue over pollution of water and poor roads and they are positively responding to their challenges.

Oil Refinery Project Affected Persons in the Uganda Oil Region Get the long waited Land Titles

The government of Uganda has handed over 127 land titles to persons affected by the Oil refinery project in Hoima district western Uganda. These are part of the 133 titles that are supposed to be issued to the oil refinery project affected persons-PAPs.

In 2012 the government of Uganda acquired 29 square kilometres of land for the construction of the Oil refinery in 13 villages in Kabaale parish in Buseruka sub-county in Hoima District western Uganda.  More than 7,000 people were displaced and some of them resettled to Kyakaboga village in Buseruka sub-county where the government acquired 533 acres of land and constructed permanent houses.

However, since then, the project-affected persons -PAPs have been demanding their land titles in vain despite the government committing itself that the titles would be issued before they are resettled.

The titles were on May 19 given to the Oil Refinery Project Affected Persons-PAPs in Kyakaboga village in Buseruka sub-county by Peter Lokeris, the State Minister for Energy and Mineral Development.    

Lokeris said the processed titles are a guarantee to the PAPs to genuinely own their land without interference. He added that the handover of the titles is yet another key achievement made in the implementation of the Refinery Resettlement Action Plan- RAP.

The minister cautioned the beneficiaries to take the titles very crucial and warned them from the sale of their land.

Innocent Tumebwaze, the chairperson of Kyakaboga sustainability school under National Association of Professional Environmentalists (NAPE) attributed their activism to pursue the land titles to empowerment and amplification of their voices from NAPE.

“Some of us who were actively following up the issue of land titles have been the target of persecution from government. They always wanted to intimidate and silence us but NAPE kept amplifying our voices through the radio and video documentaries and empowering us through trainings,” said Tumwebaze.

He, however, noted that there are still irregularities where some PAPs did not get the land titles because they did not sign the transfer forms while others got titles for only the house but not their entire land. He said they will continue to push for it.

Grace Gipatho one of the project-affected persons said her title will give a big boost to the protection of her land.

NAPE’S LOCAL PEACE COMMITTEE CURBING CONFLICTS IN KYANGWALI REFUGEE CAMP

“We ran away from conflicts in Democratic Republic of Congo so we need sanity and peaceful co-existence here in a refugee camp,” said Maria Godance, the Vice chairperson of Local Peace Committee in Kyangwali Refugee camp in Kikuube district after resolving a land conflict case.

The case was reported by Maombe Esther a 26 year old mother of three who claimed that her small plot of land given to her by the Office of the Prime Minister was grabbed by her neighbor, Wimana Thereza. The long standing feud between the two parties began in 2017, when Maombe was hospitalized at Hoima Regional Referral Hospital for three months. Upon her return, she found when Wiman was already cultivating her land.

However, Maombe’s efforts to seek assistance from their local leaders at Refugee Welfare Council One (RWC1) yielded no results as the leaders constantly demanded her money to solve her case which she did not have. The conflict was resolved and the two reunited in April this year after the intervention of the Local Peace Committee established by National Association of professional Environmentalists (NAPE).

According to Maria Godance, the trauma of violence, loss and displacement that was experienced by the refugees back in their countries was felt by many and people’s needs in the camp make them easily irritated.

The case that was resolved is among over 50 cases that have been reported to LPC members; some of which have been resolved, others referred while others pending hearing.

According to the Local Peace Committee members, most conflicts are related to poverty, fetching water at water points, inadequate land for cultivation and domestic violence which are affecting women and girls.

Fredrick Buankela, one of the Committee member says Local Peace Committees is one of the mechanisms where such conflicts and tension in the camp are resolved.

The LPC consists of men and women who serve as mediators and spread messages of peaceful co-existence and use of non-violent conflict solving.

“Back home, before the war, life between men and women was better, our husbands had money and could take care of families. After we lost everything, things became difficult in the families. Through the local peace committees, men and women learn about forgiveness and being patient,” said Buankela while counselling couples who had reported a case of domestic violence.

Nyegenya Vincent, the NAPE’s Kyangwali Peace Hub focal person says Local peace committee also works with police in handling cases that go beyond the structure of local peace committees.

He also notes that peace-building work needs to ensure that refugees can live in dignity and look beyond merely serving the next day and for this case income generating activities such as knitting are part of the project.

“Women are engaged in knitting and basketry so that they can get income and reduce the conflicts,” says Nyegenya.

KAISO FISHING COMMUNITY AFFECTED BY FLOODS ALONG LAKE ALBERT DECRY LACK OF ACCESS TO CLEAN WATER AS THE LAKE IS TURNED INTO A TOILET

Fishing communities in Kaiso fishing village along Lake Albert in Hoima District, Western Uganda are struggling to access clean water.

Kaiso area LC1 chairperson, Henry Irumba says that Kaiso has about 120,000people that depend on only one bore hole for clean and safe water.

Irumba says those who cannot stand the long queues have no choice but to use the lake which is the main source of water.

 He however notes that lake water is not safe as people have turned it into a toilet due to lack of sanitation facilities.

 He says the area had only one public toilet that got full and many people, especially new entrants at the shores have no latrines.

“People largely depend on lake water but it’s not safe.  One has to be patient on the long queue in order to get clean water.  Open defecation is common in the lake as latrine coverage is low. The shores are littered with faeces while other people use polythene papers and throw in the lake” said Mr. Irumba.

The residents say the situation has been made worse by raising water levels that evicted over 250 families from the lake shores and pushed them further in upper areas of community wild life area where they have to trek for over 12 kilometres to the nearest water source.

“And for people evicted by floods, accessing water from either the borehole or the lake has become a night mare. One has to spare a day meant to trek for a jerry can of water,” Mr. Irumba added.

Ms. Sylvia Kemigisa, the chairperson of Kaiso Women’s Group in Kaiso village says trekking long distances for water has affected mainly women who no longer engage in productive work.  She says a 20-littre Jerrycan of water at the landing site costs between 1500 to 2000 Ugandan shillings which most households cannot afford

“Women do most of the house chores including collecting water. A woman wakes up very early in the morning to beat the long queues at the borehole. By the time she returns home, it’s already midday and raising 2000 shillings per day for a jerry can or two in unaffordable for women here whose livelihoods were affected by COVID-19 pandemic,” said Kemigisa.

Ms. Kemigisa says absence of public toilet has encouraged defecation in all open places at the fishing site and the residents use polythene bags and later dump wastes in water yet they also use it for home use. There is also a lot of littering on the shores by the community.

As part of the celebrations to mark world water day, the women engaged in cleaning the lake shores while raising awareness on the need to increase safe water access at the shores. They also called upon communities to improve hygiene practices so that the lake water is safe for human consumption.

They were also supported National Association of Professional Environmentalists (NAPE) to appear on Community Green Radio Kiboga to raise awareness on issues affecting them.

Atukwatse Peruth, the program officer for climate change at National Association of Professional Environmentalists (NAPE) says access to clean water is a right to every Uganda.

She says flooding that happened last year on most of the lakes is a clear indicator that climate change is real.

Ms. Atukwatse opines that government needs to prepare early enough for the affected communities and improve access to clean water by constructing boreholes and rain water harvesting tanks as well as adequate sanitary hygiene facilities for the fishing communities, lest a serious disease outbreak awaits these communities.

This year’s theme is celebrated under the theme, “Ground water: Making invisible visible”

NAPE CONDUCTS AN ADVOCACY TRAINING FOR OVER 300 GRASROOTS WOMEN IN THE FIGHT AGAINST HUMAN RIGHTS ABUSES AND GENDER BASED VIOLENCE IN UGANDA’S OIL REGION

BY PRECIOUS NATURINDA

In a move to protect the rights of grassroots women affected by expanding oil and gas extraction and COVID-19 pandemic, National Association of Professional Environmentalists (NAPE) conducted a 6 days’ advocacy training for over 300 grassroots women in the districts of Buliisa, Kikuube and Hoima.

The advocacy training activity is under a two years project, ‘Deepening grassroots women rights, participation and economic livelihood opportunities in the era of expanding oil and gas extraction and the COVID-19 pandemic in Uganda,’ supported by European Union.

Rajab Bwengye, the Project Manager says the project aims at protecting the rights of grass root women by digging deep to explore sustainable alternative livelihood options to their food and income needs, set up safe and strategy spaces for those facing human rights abuse and Gender based violence and these can be achieved if women come together for collective actions. The project will further amplify voices of the targeted vulnerable communities through a “Community Green radio Model”.

During the training, held from 28th February to 6th March 2022, the women were training on movement building, women’s rights and gender-based violence advocacy and how to use the media to advocate for their rights.

Peruth Atukwatse, the region-based field officer during the training told women that there is power in women working together for a change. She said the 300 women trained are the key mobilisers of the grass root women movement and that by the end of 2 years, 12,000 women are expected to have joined the movement.

The women decried land rights abuses fuelled by oil and gas expansion in the region which have in turn increased cases of gender-based violence. They also noted that COVI9-19 pandemic has affected people’s livelihoods leading to poverty which has too resulted into sexual and gender-based violence that has worsened the plight of women, young girls and children.

“When our land was affected by the pipeline, my husband started harassing me. He knew that when compensation comes we have to share equally since I am his legal wife. But he started beating me and not involving me in pipeline compensation issues for me to give up. I am happy for this training, I feel empowered that I will be able to stand up for my rights and I believe that once we form a group, together we shall fight,” said Emily Facham from Ngwedo in Buliisa district.

Others said women’s rights have been violated by their spouses because they are not empowered enough to know where to run to for justice.

“Many women in Kijyayo are still denied access to phones by their husbands. My husband is a catechist, but he has been denying me access to the phone. He says when he gives me access to the phone, I will use it to date other men. This has always been our source of conflict despite being church leaders. I believe with this project of ending gender based violence, we shall bring sanity to our homes by being empowered,” said Florence Mujoogo from Kijayo village in Kikuube district.

Bearice Rukanyanga, the training facilitator, said women need to build a women’s movement with one voice and work collectively to improve their economic livelihoods to be able to protect their rights.

After the trainings, the women agreed to mobilize more grass root women and youths to be able to fight for their rights together under a united and strong movement advocating for the plight of all women facing abuses arising from displacements, covid 19 restrictions, ecosystem depletion, and climate change and biting poverty.

RWAMUTONGA RESIDENTS STILL WAITING FOR JUSTICE FOR THEIR LAND AFTER 7 YEARS OF EVICTION

For the past seven years, residents of Rwamutonga village in Kikuube district have been traveling back and forth between Hoima and Masindi seeking justice for their land in the High court.

The residents, who still carry the trauma of August 2014 forceful eviction that woke them up with gunshots and teargas and left them homeless to pave way for a US based oil waste treatment plant, have not yet got good news in any of their trips to court on the  status of their land ownership.

According to the Bugambe sub county speaker, Nelson Atich, over 200 affected residents were, before eviction, living on the land for years without any legal document. However, two businessmen; Robert Bansigaraho and Tibagwa Joshua processed and included the residents’ land in their illegal land title after getting a deal with the waste treatment plant.

 After eviction in 2014, they stayed in the camp for internally displaced people for about two and a half years. However, in early 2017, court declared the eviction unlawful and they returned back to their land while waiting for a court ruling on the ownership of land.

On 8th March 2022, during a dialogue on land issues that was organized by National Association of Professional Environmentalists (NAPE) for the Rwamutonga evicted people with the Area Land committee, District Land Board and the local leaders, they identified the postponement of court dates, lack of enough lawyers for legal representation and lack of transport to facilitate their travels to the high court in Masindi as some of the major setbacks in obtaining a justice over their land.

Lucy Ongera, one of the affected people says the court case progress is slow and most of them can no longer afford transport to Masindi court to follow it up. She says their hopes are in their court representatives and they have fear of losing their land again.

Atich, blamed the then area land committee and the Hoima district land board for having not done enough to protect the residents who had no land titles leading to the two businessmen, Robert Bansigaraho and Joshua Tibagwa to enclose them in their land title.

Alice Nyangoma, the former member of Hoima district land board said corruption, lack of funding and failure by area land committees to conduct field visit have fuelled land conflicts as rich people connive with the committee members to take advantage of innocent people with no land titles.

She said the local communities still lack enough sensitization on land tenure security and hailed NAPE for the dialogue. She advised people to endeavor to process land titles to be secure on their land.

Joanne Akiiza, the NAPE Senior Gender and legal officer says article 237 of the constitution states that land belongs to the citizens of Uganda and Article 26 protects the right to own property either individually or in association with others like people who hold land communally.

She notes that the land tenure recognized in Uganda include customary, freehold, lease and Mailo land.

She, however, noted that the oil influenced land injustices in the oil region  has led to lack of respect for customary land owners as land grabbers illegally process land titles.

She called upon the area land committees and district land boards to ensure that they help the local people in protection of their land against land grabbers and also urged the residents of Rwamutonga to be interested in getting updates for their case and following up court proceedings.

ACQUIRING LAND TITLES, A MYSTRY TO CUSTOMERY LAND OWNERS IN BUNYORO REGION

Rev. Fred Musiimenta, a resident of Butimba village in Kiziranfumbi Sub County in Kikuube district has for the last eight years been struggling to get the land title for his customary land in vain.

According to Musiimenta, the process of acquiring land title from the village level to the district was simple after getting a private surveyor and some money to push the process. However, the documents got stuck at the Ministry of lands Zonal Office in Masindi that keeps bouncing him back.

“Every time my surveyor visits office, he is told that the registrar of lands has not yet signed on my land titles. It’s now 8 years while I am processing my land title in vain,” said Rev. Musimenta.

The story is not different from Jane Atuhura, a resident of Walukuba village in Butiaba Sub County in Buliisa district.  She says she has now spent almost seven years trying to process her land title but she is stuck because the Buliisa district land board is requesting a lot of money to have her documents processed.

The increasing land grabbing in the oil region has sparked the trend of conversion of land from customary to formal land tenures like freehold. This is because, however much the government recognizes the legitimacy of customary land systems, it does not come into reality. 

However, this trend has not benefited the local communities with little resources due to corruption and frustrating processes of acquiring land titles.

Atich Nelson, the speaker for Bugambe Sub County in Kikuube district says land grabs are made possible because of how simple it is for the land title owner to easily accuse the customary owners of being squatters on the land. He says local people are currently finding it hard to process the land titles.

“When two business men acquired land titles, it was easy for them to accuse the 250 families that were evicted in 2014 in Rwamutonga village in Bugambe district as squatters on the land. This is because, they had no document to show proof of ownership because they were staying on the land customarily,” said Atich Nelson during a focus group discussion for evaluation of NAPE’s Sustainability School work that was conducted by ROSA Luxemburg in February 2022.

In December 2021, the Minister of state for Lands, Mario Obiga Kania ordered for probe into alleged corruption by the district land boards in Bunyoro sub region after establishing that several officials are issuing the land titles to the rich at the expense of the poor.

According to the minister, the land boards are also frustrating efforts by the poor to acquire land titles for their land by demanding a lot of money to have their land documents processed.

Besides corruption, others think the delayed land title processes in the region could be a deliberate move by government so that they can find it easy it terms of compensation while acquiring land for various oil projects.

“In Buliisa, the district council passed land ordinance in 2018 that had land reforms protecting local people on customary land. However, the solicitor general has since failed to sign it. I believe this is a deliberate move by government to restrict many people from getting land titles since they have been finding trouble with title owners when it comes to compensation,” said a government official from Buliisa district local government who preferred anonymity to protect his job.

Fred Lukumu, the Buliisa district chairperson says government should offer free land titles to the people in the Albertine region to prevent them from oil-influenced land injustices.

He also said there is need to put stringent measures to protect communities on customary land.

INTERGENERATIONAL LEARNING HELP PEOPLE AFFECTED BY EVICTIONS IN ALBERTINE TO EXPLORE PATHWAYS TO CONFLICTS RESOLUTION

With the aim of promoting knowledge transfer and learning on land and domestic conflict resolution, National Association of Professional Environmentalists (NAPE) held an intergenerational dialogue for women and men in mediation under Local Peace Committees and the young generation in Kikuube district.

The dialogue tackled causes and solutions to gender based violence and land conflicts through panel discussions, group work and storytelling led by women and men in 50s and above to the young people.

Some of the causes of land conflicts that were raised during the dialogue include lack of knowledge on land rights, cohabiting partners, increasing population and development that has put pressure on land which has fuelled land grabbing, lack of land titles and failure to make wills for the land transfer by elders leading to conflicts.

“A woman buys land with the husband but he keeps putting the land in his names excluding the wife. When conflict arises, a woman loses it all due to ignorance on her land rights,” said Doroth Mwaakali, 62, a member of Land Committee from Kyangwali Sub County in Kikuube district.

They advised that people should endeavour to secure land and their titles to be safe on the land, make wills to protect their family from land conflicts and also get more knowledge on land rights especially women.

On gender based violence, they raised some of the causes as poverty, lack of patience in marriage, drug and alcohol abuse and lack of preparation when joining marriage.

“These days, the young girls don’t prepare enough for marriage. And when they interface challenges like alcohol abuse and poverty, they are not patient enough. On the side of young men, they don’t want to work yet they want money for alcohol and drug abuse,” said Onzima Alozyous, the 62 year old member of Local Peace Committee in Rwamutoga village in Kikuube district.

They called upon the young generation to always focus on making their life better before they rush for marriage.

Joan Akiiza, the NAPE’s senior Programme Officer Legal & Advocacy said NAPE is using intergenerational learning as an innovative way of transferring knowledge to the young generation so that they can be change agents of peace building and conflict resolution.

EVICTED OIL HOST COMMUNITIES WORRY ABOUT MISSING ON OIL OPPORTUNITIES AS UGANDA SIGNS FINAL INVESTMENT DECISION

As Uganda signs the Final Investment Decision (FID) that puts the oil projects into construction phase, host communities are worried that they might not benefit from the economic opportunities due to forced evictions.

Uganda, Total Energies and China National Offshore Oil Corporation (NOOC) ltd on 1st February 2022 took the Final Investment Decision (FID) on Uganda’s crude oil development.

The two oil giants reached a deal to invest US $10 in development of Kingfisher and Tilenga fields and the oil export pipeline at a function that was presided over by Ugandan President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni in Kololo Kampala.

This development will create over 160,000 jobs according to the Minister of Energy and Mineral Development, Ruth Nankabirwa.

However, the host communities in the Albertine Graben say evictions are already obstructing them from the opportunities that are coming with the developments.

While appearing on Community Green Radio on the day of singing the FID, the people affected by eviction in Rwamutonga village in Hoima district said the forced evictions have left them ill-equipped and unprepared to meaningfully tap into economic benefits of oil pipeline construction.

“These oil opportunities require us rural women to organise ourselves into groups and start supplying food to huge workforce in the oil sector. But the forced evictions in 2014 that pushed us in camps for Internally Displaced People (IDPs) for three years left us in extreme poverty and setback. We are now starting from scratch,” said Betty Kusemererwa, one of the residents of Rwamutonga village who were evicted from land by land grabbers in 2014.

Joan Kansiime, another resident says the forced eviction forced many youths to drop out of school at lower levels.

“Government is giving opportunities to the youth to learn hands-on skills like welding and driving to be able to work in the oil companies but most of us dropped out of school at primary levels. We ended up opting for early marriage for survival,” she said.

Esther Turyaheebwa, a resident of Kigyayo Camp for internally displaced people in Kizirafumbi Sub County in Hoima district says evictions have left them landless and unable to tap into oil opportunities.

“Our children dropped out of school after evictions so they have not been able to go to technical schools to work as oil workers during the construction. As women, we have nowhere to farm to be able to at least supply food. Therefore, those jobs will be taken by other people as we are here in the camp languishing in poverty,” says Turyaheebwa, who is among people in Kigyayo IDP that were evicted by Hoima sugar limited to pave way for sugar cane growing in 2015.

Besides forced evictions, undervaluation and delayed compensation have dominated the land acquisition process of the oil project.

Joan Akiiza, the Senior  programme Officer legal & Advocacy at National Association of Professional Environmentalists says conflicts over natural resources in the Albertine have affected women’s ability to tap into oil opportunities so that.

She says NAPE is training women in entrepreneurship skills to ensure that they reduce conflicts within the camps and get organised to benefit from oil opportunities.

FISHERMEN ALONG LAKE ALBERT ON TENSION OVER LOOMING EVICTION FROM COMMUNITY LAND BY INVESTORS

Residents in five villages along Lake Albert in Hoima district are threatening by looming eviction from community land by investors.

The villages affected are Kaiso, Tonya, Kijangi, Mbegu and Kanda all located in Kabaale Sub County in Hoima district that sit on 107 square kilometres Community Wildlife area.

According to Hassan Kugonza, the chairperson of Kabwoya-Kaiso-Tonya adjacent communities’ wildlife association, three investors have already shown interest to carry out activities on part of the community land.

He identifies some investors as Kaiso-Kembogo Dairy Farming Association, Kaiso-Mbegu Community conservation association and one more interested in giraffe ranching scheme. He notes they all need more than 30 square kilometres of land each.

Kugonza explains that the investors recently held a meeting with the association and Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) in which they showed them agreements indicating that they have been approved by the local leadership in the areas and the Hoima district leaders. 

He adds that the meeting resolved that the investors should have consent from the residents with signatures.

However, the residents say the investors are using the LC1 leadership in the area to hoodwink them into signing the documents of land give away.

Kassim Agaba, a resident of Kaiso village says the area LC1 chairperson is using money-minded people to sign on the documents brought by investors and holding indoor meetings against the will of the residents.

He laments that they have been using the land for firewood, getting materials for houses construction; and in the recent evictions resulting from rising lake water levels people have relocated to other places within the community land.

He wonders where people will go after the land is taken over by investors calling on the government to intervene.

Kugonza, who is also Kabaale sub county chairperson, says the land should remain in the hands of the local communities and wonders how the district authorities gave the investors a go ahead without the consent of the residents.

Allan Kalangi, the Sustainability School Manager at National Association of Professional Environmentalists (NAPE) called on the communities to stand up and resist abuse of their rights.