KIKUUBE – Residents of Rwekobe and Rwembaho villages in Kabwoya Sub-County, Kikuube district have accused Hoima Sugar Company Limited (HSCL), an Indian owned company for grabbing their land for sugarcane growing.
The accusation was made by residents who on Monday stormed the offices of Kikuube district local government protesting a planned eviction from their land by the Company.
A group of over 40 residents led by their Local Council 1(LC1) chairperson stormed the district headquarters seeking intervention of the district leadership into their misery.
In 2017, Bunyoro-Kitara Kingdom offered 22 square miles for 99-years lease to Hoima Sugar Company Limited, to grow sugarcane.
National Forestry Authority (NFA) dragged Hoima Sugar Company Limited to court challenging the occupancy claiming that the land was part of Bugoma forest reserve; but on 25th April, 2019, Masindi High Court ruled that Hoima Sugar Company Limited was the rightful occupant of the 22 square miles of land.
This ruling attracted massive protests from the residents and environmental activists across the globe that included European Union (EU) Ambassadors who last year visited the forest and condemned all those behind the destruction of the forest for sugarcane growing.
Such protests forced the National Environmental Management Authority (NEMA) to deny Hoima Sugar Company Limited 13 square miles and allowed it only nine square miles out of the 21 square miles, which NEMA deemed fit for human activity since it was grassland (no forest cover).
Residents claimed that the land referred to by NEMA is theirs and Hoima Sugar Company Limited is encroaching on their land.
Flex Akankwasa, the Rwekobe village chairperson said that the sugar company management with support from Uganda Peoples Defense Forces (UPDF) officers commanded by one Col Morgan Mpeka are giving residents sleepless nights. According to him, the company took advantage of the lockdown, invaded the villages and started grading people’s gardens and homes.
He added that many of his residents are now homeless after the sugar company encroached on their land and demolished their houses.
He accused the sugar company for illegally grabbing the residents’ land adding that the land claimed by the company is not part of the land which NEMA allocated to the company.
He called for government’s intervention to ensure that the residents get back their land before they could take laws into their own hands.
“They took advantage of lockdown, when people could not be allowed to move, invaded our villages and chased people from their land, when the President lifted the lockdown on transport means, we also got a chance to come and seek intervention from our leaders,” he said and demanded government to stop the activities of the sugar company so that the residents regain their land.
Gerald Tusabomu, a resident says since last month, many crop gardens including banana, coffee, mangoes and jack fruit plantations have been destroyed by graders belonging to the sugar company.
Tusabomu, who claimed that he has so far lost 15 acres of land, wondered why the company is not using the land which was allocated to it by NEMA for sugarcane growing and decided to grab land owned by residents.
He says that the residents are living in misery due to harassment from the army deployed in the area and called for the district leadership intervention to avoid confrontation.
“We have no food to feed our families since our gardens have been graded by Hoima sugar, we request our leaders to intervene and return our land,” he cried.
Charles Twogyirwe, Chairperson of Rwebaho village said that several houses have been demolished adding that he is currently housing over 20 women and their children who were evicted from their land.
“Generally there is no peace in the area, there is a lot of harassment in the village, houses have been demolished, goats and chicken are being eaten by this group. I have 20 women and their children at my home and am thinking of bringing them to the district because I no longer have food to feed them,” Charles Twogyirwe also cried for help.
John Kabandize of Kabandize and Co Advocates, the residents’ lawyer accused the company agents of harassing and raping women and girls, denying residents access to water sources, gardens and torturing them, saying such acts of impunity should stop.
He wondered how a foreigner can use the country’s army to harass the citizens whom they are mandated to protect adding that before the eviction, the residents petitioned several offices for help but all in vain.
“We know how investors operate, this is not an investor, he is just a land grabber, and you cannot just come and invade Bataka because you’re an investor. Where should they go? We are going to use different ways; we are going to use media, the power of residents and law to ensure that people get back land,” he said.
Vincent Alpha Opio, the Kikuube district Vice Chairman condemns the illegal acts of Hoima Sugar Company Limited saying that district leaders are to investigate the matter and come up with a comprehensive report.
“We need development but it should not cause problems to our people. As district leaders, we are not ready to experience the incident of Kigyayo in Kiziranfumbi where hundreds of people were evicted from their land by the same company,” he added. He promised the residents to do the needful to address their concerns.
Joseph Twegonze the Bunyoro Kitara Kingdom land supervisor says that it was wrong for the company to start cultivation without opening boundaries to ascertain where the company land begins and ends.
He demanded the government to halt the activities of Hoima sugar company, adding that opening of boundaries on the contested land is the only solution to the stand-off between the residents and the company.
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