Hoima evictions: One woman’s horror
Seventy-year old Beatrice Ngonzebwa balances her frail body with difficulty as she walks through the wreckage of what has been her home for the last fifty years, finally clutching onto a door frame, the only structure left standing of her mud and wattle house.
Ngonzebwa is one of the more than 200 families in Rwamutonga village, Hoima District, who were left homeless when unidentified men, reportedly acting on the orders of a business man called Joshua Tibangwa stormed the area and brutally evicted them from their land.
She painfully recalls that sad 25th day of August when she lost her home.
She was in the kitchen preparing her breakfast when suddenly, she heard the sound of bullets and commotion outside.
A very afraid Ngonzebwa raced back into the house, and crawled under her bed for cover. Even when the sound of bullets progressively drew nearer, it never dawned on her that her house was one of the targets. In fact when she heard a loud bang outside, she thought someone was attempting to steal the breakfast she had abandoned in the kitchen.
But when the walls of her house started to shake and crumble, she realised she was in immediate danger.
“I called out to them,” narrated Ngonzebwa. “Please don’t kill me, have mercy on me, I am inside the house.”
Upon hearing her desperate screams, the plain-clothed ‘attackers’, who were in the company of armed policemen, paused briefly, allowing her to get out of the house, but only to resume the destruction as soon as she had exited.
“They did not allow me to rescue anything. They continued to break my house until they were satisfied that it was uninhabitable,” narrates Ngozebwa. “I could not believe what I was seeing. My house and what has been my life was destroyed in front of me.”
The destruction did not just stop with the house. Her garden of maize and cassava was slashed to the ground. Her banana stems were also cut down, potatoes uprooted and her dried maize and beans burnt. Even her goats were looted.
This was also the fate of all the other families in the village.
He claims he has owned the two plots of land namely Block 5 Plot 34 and Block 7 Plot 44 located in Kakoora, Rwamutonga, Bugambe Sub-county since 1972.
Company denies involvement
When Oil in Uganda contacted US-based McAlester Energy Resources Limited, the company denied any involvement in the evictions, but acknowledged entering a deal with Joshua Tibangwa to buy land on which they plan to set up an oil waste management plant.
According to Leonard Durst, the Operations Manager in Kampala, he only learnt of the evictions through the media.
“We had nothing to do with it,” he said. “Our deal was with the land owner and he has not passed the land on to us.”
Mr. Durst said he has never been to the controversial land, but revealed that his company has interest in two pieces of land in Hoima.
Local leaders riled
The evictions have angered local leaders in Hoima, who argue that the exercise was carried out unlawfully.
District Chairman, George Bagonza, acknowledges that a court order was issued prior to the incident, but quickly notes that it was done wrongfully because the community had already filed a petition contesting the ownership of the land.
“How can people be evicted in such a manner? I am a strong supporter of oil activities but I cannot support my people to be evicted from their land for the construction of a waste treatment plant,” he added. “How can you replace people’s lives with waste?”
He questioned the justification for issuing a court order when there were pending cases in the Masindi court over the same issue. “This is strange to me because the matter is before the judge. So how can the court registrar, Jessy Byaruhanga, issue a court order over the same matter?”
Some Civil Society leaders have also come out in a show of solidarity to challenge the eviction, which they say is unlawful.
“Any such eviction should have come with due notice and adequate compensation for interests on the land,” argues Global Rights Alert’s Winnie Ngabirwe. “Tibangwa and this waste management company are therefore violating the rights of the indigenous people.”
Ms. Ngabirwe notes that the eviction is an immediate threat to food security and the livelihoods of the more than one thousand people, particularly women and children.
“When they took refuge at a nearby school, security operatives attacked them, beat them up and chased them away. People who try to access the area are continuously beaten and thrown off their land,” she said.
The situation remains tense to date, with private security guards deployed on the land to block any attempts by the residents to re-possess it.
Report by Shifa Mwesigye, Communication’s Officer at Global Rights Alert firstname.lastname@example.org
Additional reporting by Oil in Uganda