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Bodies pile up as Rwamutonga evictees await Court ruling

At least 27 people have died from diseases and starvation two years after being violently evicted from a disputed chunk of land in Rwamutonga, Hoima District.

Some of the children in the make shift cap in Rwamutonga. (Photo: F. Mugerwa)

Some of the children in the make-shift camp in Rwamutonga. (Photo: F. Mugerwa)

Over 250 families were evicted in August 2014 after the ‘owner’ of the land, Joshua Tibangwa, leased it to an American-based waste management firm, McAlester, to set up an oil waste treatment plant. The transaction collapsed but the locals have never regained their land and they have been living in a make-shift camp ever since with little food, medicine and other basic needs.

Now, according to some of the residents in the camp, the body count is increasing by the week as the grueling living conditions and starvation take their toll on the evictees.

“About 20 children and seven old people have died because of diseases and starvation,” says Latim Alex as he points at nine graves in the centre of the camp.  He explained that the owner of the land on which the temporary camp is situated had allocated a small portion of it to serve as burial grounds but it is already used up.  “Now they don’t even have anywhere else to bury their dead,” adds Latim.

Another victim, 55-year old Justina Fambe, told Oil in Uganda that her husband had succumbed to injuries he sustained during the brutal August 2014 eviction leaving her to fend for their seven children. She blames oil for her grief.

“All this suffering is because of the discovery of oil,” she said. “If oil hadn’t been discovered, that company wouldn’t have come to set up a [waste treatment] plant.”

Forty-year old Ocher Bitum lost his son during that eviction as well. He was only one and a half years old at the time.

His other two kids have since died from hunger.

“My children wouldn’t have died if I had stayed on my land,” he laments. “What hurts most is that during the eviction, we saw government officials and security people wielding guns and beating us up. This was our government evicting us. The same government officials are now calling us Congolese, who don’t deserve to stay here.”

Court process

The evictees are now anxiously awaiting the outcome of Court that will sit on 8th December 2016 to decide their fate.

In October last year, the Masindi High Court ruled that the eviction was illegal but fell short of restoring the evictees to the land.

“The Eviction was unlawful and should not have happened in the first place because at the time of the execution of the warrant of vacant possession, there was an ongoing suit to determine true ownership of the land,” ruled Justice Simon Byabakama.

Court went ahead to award costs of the application to the residents, but declined to restore them on the land until the main suit was determined.  “What if the respondents have already carried out developments on the land? What if the main suit is determined against the applicants?” Justice Byabakama questioned as he read the ruling.

The evictees are hopeful that the upcoming judgement can halt their suffering and return them to their land.

“That is the only hope we have,” says Atichi Nelson, their leader.

Report by Haggai Matsiko

editor@oilinuganda.org