The big farm investors, both foreign, and local, are said to be beating up villagers, dragging them to court, displacing them and fixing illegal mark stones on their land.
The Catholic Archdiocese of Gulu has issued a damning report of mistreatment and eviction of villagers in Nwoya, Amuru, and Lamwo by big farmers undertaking large agricultural projects in Acholi, northern Uganda.
The report carried by the Association for Catholic Information in Africa (ACI Africa) says the big farm investors, both foreign, and local, are beating up villagers, dragging them to court, and forcing them off their land.
The report by the Justice and Peace Commission (JPC) of the Catholic Archdiocese of Gulu, says the foreign and local investors have also created conflicts as they fix illegal mark stones without following proper procedures on land acquisition.
This news website could not readily access the full report, nevertheless, the communication coordination office of JPC of the Catholic Archdiocese of Gulu said the ACI Africa article was an accurate summary of their main report.
The ACI Africa article titled, ‘Catholic Diocese raises alarm over massive displacements by multinationals in Uganda’, was published on August 31, 2022, but did not name the so-called powerful multinational companies involved in the large agricultural ventures.
Nonetheless, the article quotes the JPC officials as saying, “In Gulu Archdiocese, many community members whom we have been in contact with, especially in Nwoya and Amuru districts, are all saying the same thing that their land is being taken away from them by the investors.”
The ACI Africa article cites a similar report last year by Denis Hurley Peace Institute (DHPI) of the Southern African Catholic Bishops Conference (SACBC). The DHPI report says, “The situation is getting worse as the populations of entire districts people are being forcefully removed from their land.”
DHPI says the forced evictions in Northern Uganda are followed by mass deforestation where ancient forests are being cut down for wood to be exported to China.
DHPI is investigating and documenting the growing human rights violations in Uganda in partnership with the Catholic Archdiocese of Gulu.
ACI Africa quotes the DHPI report as saying the “foreign firms acquired large areas of natural forests and farmland from the government under the pretext of development and employment.”
DHPI cites a cotton processing firm in Gulu, which was cultivating people’s land with an Army General in charge. “With the support of the army, the management of the cotton firm is said to have forcefully removed the people from their homes before embarking on its activities,” DHPI reported.
The report also incriminates an unnamed former Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) rebel commander who is said to have chased away a whole Catholic Parish in Apaa. The DHPI report says the area has now been made a game reserve.
The organisation says growing human rights violations heightened during the COVID-19 lockdown.
“The abuses intensified during the COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic gave a lot of opportunists an advantage to easily access millions of hectares of land with the backing of the government and influential politicians in the country.”
Northern Uganda, which comprises Acholi and Lango, is considered a potential breadbasket for the country. Only recently, President Museveni approved a July 13, 2022 plan by agriculture minister Frank Tumwebaze and directed both the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM) and the Ministry of Finance to assist big farmers in northern Uganda and other areas engage in large-scale food production.
Government argues that the provision of agricultural machinery, seeds, fertilizers, and equipment for irrigation would boost food security in the country and offset hunger and related deaths reported Karamoja sub-region. The plan prioritises food security crops such as maize, beans, soybeans, sorghum, cassava and potatoes.
But the DHPI report says the activities of such big farmers are leading to the grabbing of land in northern Uganda and have also led to environmental degradation.
“A vast number of shea nut trees have been cut. One of the areas where trees have been decimated is Adilang Sub-County [in Agago District], where close to 500 people from the different parts of the country have been camped in the area.”
Local reports confirm that in places such as Kalongo in Agago District, farmland is rented by such people to grow bumper crops, including cabbage, which they sell back to the locals and nearby Labwordwong army barracks.
ACI Africa says the August 31 report by JPC also highlights problems created by the Palabek refugee settlement camp, which was set up in April 2016 and hosts upwards of 50,000 refugees, especially from South Sudan. The report blames the refugees for indiscriminate cutting down of trees, theft of livestock, and fighting the host communities.
Relatedly, the Ayu clan in Palabek County have also written to the UN refugee agency, the UNHCR, accusing the OPM and the Prime Minister of Ker Kwaro Palabek of forcefully and illegally settling the refugees on land belonging to the Ayuu clan in Anaka Parish, Palabek Gem Sub-county, in Lamwo District.
The clan says their land was trespassed on and cut up for refugee settlement without consent or binding agreement with them, their council and elders. They say the illegal intrusion has deprived them of rights to their land and property and that the refugees have destroyed crops, gardens and trees and should be evicted. The UNHCR and OPM offices in Lamwo, and local leaders have acknowledged receipt of the complaints dated August 25, 2022. The Ayuu clan says the UNHCR has since suggested for meetings to settle the matter.