By Doris Atwijukire
The outbreak of the covid-19 pandemic has necessitated a nationwide lockdown among other health and safety measures such as wearing masks, washing hands and maintaining social distancing. We appreciate that Ugandans have ensured adherence to the president directives and helping to curb and flatten the covid-19 curve.
However, it is with great concern to note that there are some government companies that are instead taking advantage of the covid-19 lockdown to violate and undermine human rights for some of the project affected people especially in Albertine and Rwenzori Regions. This has left some communities affected by the government projects in fear and wondering if their lives are not important.
While food is being distributed by government through various ministries and security agencies, there is a need to keep close eye on others challenges faced by Ugandans which are depriving them of their rights and affecting their source of livelihood at such a time when the economy is at stand still.
Foristance, recently, in Rukiri village, Kisuura Parish, Bwikara sub county in Kagadi District, a team from Uganda Electricity Transmission Company Ltd (UETCL) under Hoima Mputa Nkenda 132 KV Transmission Line cut down trees and destroyed other properties belonging to some locals worth millions of money. According to residents the destroyed property and trees were allegedly under the transmission lines which residents claim were never assessed and compensated by the company.
This week, a team from World Voices Uganda-an organization that promotes human rights and access to justice for the indigents made a locus visit. We found out that the transmission lines are already up and passing in people’s land. This means that for more than a year now, some of the project affected people ceased being the owners of that land but have never been compensated.
According to Mr. Tumusime Gard one of the affected people. He lost a very big chuck of his forest that was cut down yet was never assessed nor compensated. Tumusiime said he has pursued his matter with the company in vain for over a year including transporting himself to Kampala to follow up his matter with UETCL Head office. He said this was after the project team completed and left his village. Tumusiime and other affected people continued pushing the matter through phone calls to the project officers who never provided a clear answer.
During this Lockdown, Tumusiime and others were then shocked to find their trees cut down and other property such as bee hives destroyed. This is injustice and inhumane especially destroying people’s source of livelihood in this covid-19 period by the same government that claims to be supporting its citizens with food and other basics.
Government has urged that the current arrangement, where it is obligated to pay fair and adequate compensation before effecting compulsory acquisition, has caused long delays in the implementation of national development projects. However, this is not the case with Rukiri Village electricity affected peoples as some of the affected people were never even assessed.
While development should be supported, so should people’s rights. Article 26 of the Uganda constitution recognizes rights to property. It is under this article that poor and vulnerable land owners are protected from over enthusiastic developers who might think their grand business goals are more important than the lives and dignity of the land owners.
To destroy people’s property and uproot them from their land without compensation is not just a violation of the law, it is also inhuman, unethical and fraudulent. As Civil Society Organisation, we condemn these acts of grabbing people’s land moreover in this covid-19 period. We must realize that it is not coincidental as some project affected people for roads, oil, hydro dams among other projects have suffered the same.
Realizing and appreciating that land in Uganda is the source of livelihood to many, we must all stand up and protect individuals whose property has been taken unconstitutionally and denied access to their means of survival causing them extensive suffering. Even after people have been compensated, we must follow up on the projects to see if they are delivering the benefits they promised.
Writer works with World Voices Uganda(WVU)