‘We live like animals’, Former Rwamutonga refugees speak out
The current situation for the over 200 indigenous families (1500 people) formerly evicted from Rwamutonga, Hoima District, is characterized by major problems, and it has been thus, since their return on their land in February this year, the residents claim.
A recent visit by a team from ActionAid Uganda found a suffering hungry humanity, sleeping under tattered shelter made of tarpaulin, and crying babies who appeared malnourished while many seemed to have gone hungry for days
In August 2014, families were evicted from their land of over 485 hectares on which they had lived as squatters for years, hence becoming owners. The land, whose alleged rightful owners are Robert Bansigaraho and Joshua Tibangwa, was leased to an oil waste management firm MCalester Energy Resources. In the process, the residents were evicted and left homeless and these were only saved by a good samaritan who allowed them to elect a camp on his land, to find shelter there as they awaited justice to prevail.
Recently, more than two years after the eviction, a bright light shone on the residents when justice prevailed and the long awaited judgement was made in their favour. Thanks to the court order, the local leadership, the people’s zeal and support from one of the landlords Mr Basingaraho as well.
The court ruled that the people were wrongly evicted, and there was need for fresh negotiations with the owner. Mr Basingaraho accepted the residents to return on the land arguing that he did not own the entire land, but just part of it.
And even more recently, the 1st Deputy Prime Minister Gen. Moses Ali supported the cause. He stayed police from any further re-evictions of the Rwamutonga residents unless court states so.
No water, food or medicine
Whereas the good news is that families are trying to establish themselves exactly as they were before the eviction, the darker side of this is life is very tough for them. Life here is no fairy tale.
Mothers carry their babies on the back whole day and move home to home in search of food. There are no smiles there, everyone looks angry, frustrated and lifeless – blaming it on hunger.
“The major issues at the moment are lack of food, no water, or medicine,” Gladys Ougyumoti told Oil in Uganda during the visit in early March, “We are like wild animals, we just move from place to place in search of food.”
Worse still, they are just getting back to their gardens (which have turned into bushes in the last two years) to plough, but the fruits are far from reach since the ploughing just started.
Worse still, there is hardly any permanent shelter here, as many are using tattered tarpaulin to cover the houses made of sticks. The houses get socked in water when it rains, and they are open to mosquitoes and wild animals since there are hardly any doors.
“We are drinking water with the baboons. We are living a baboon live, “Mr Rashid Amora a resident here told Oil in Uganda
And the health of everyone does not brighten up the day either. Almost everyone is coughing, and mosquitoes do not spare them either. Malaria has become a part of them; the infants are testimony to this. Many lie almost lifeless, suffering from malaria yet with no access to medicine. Reports show that an effort to access treatment from the health centres has been in vain as they are chased away by medical workers: “They look at us like dirty (filthy) people who are homeless. They tell us not to disturb them when we ask for medicine,” Ms Lucy Alungat said.
“We are living like how we lived in the camps. In fact, the camps were better because people would send us food, bags of posho and beans. But here, we do not receive free food anymore. We do not receive medicine,” Ms Alungat revealed.
Furthermore, Ms. Gladys Ougumort added that long distances to any kind of treatments are just some of the problems that women face.
A grime future ahead
According to Betty Kosemerwa, who is still breastfeeding her infant son, it is very difficult to give much thought about the future under the current circumstances. One thing she is certain of is that the discovery of oil will have bad effect on many people in Uganda, and the eviction in Rwamutonga is a clear example of this.
Ms Kosemere whose husband was blinded by tear gas, thanks to the fights with Police and their current landlord over this land, is responsible for the entire household, which is a big burden to her. She is therefore more concerned about getting more basic and urgent needs now.
Ms Kosemerwa requested civil society to talk to government and convince them that people, like the wrongfully evicted families in Rwamutonga, have rights over the land. “Government has to come and understand where people are and how they live,” she added.
ActionAid Uganda’s Project Manager Ivan Mpagi retaliated Ms Kosemerwa’s statement, urging government to play its part. He urged them to support the legal process to ensure that the evictees see full justice and regain back their land.
By Preben A. Martensen-Larsen and Flavia Nalubega