Kampala, Uganda | THE INDEPENDENT | More than 10,000 residents of Mwello parish in Mulanda Sub County in Tororo district are living in fear of eviction by Hima Cement Limited.
The affected residents from over 1500 households occupy eight villages including Pamaraka, Mairo and Agumiti among others.
Hima acquired a prospective license and a three years exploration license from the Energy and Minerals Development Ministry in 2016 to explore valued rocks in Mwello parish.
Through their umbrella association, Mwello Land Rights Protection Association, the residents say Hima Cement Limited has been asking them to sell their land or face eviction.
The Association Chairperson, Geoffrey Oyitta Okoth told the Justice Catherine Bamugemereire Commission on Wednesday that Hima targets vulnerable people like widows and the uneducated with low incomes and pressurizes them into selling their land.
He says in 2016, Hima convened meetings with residents and local authorities and told them that they had to accept to be compensated as Hima pleases or face eviction.
Okoth also told the Commission that Hima told residents that they would lease out their land to the company for 21 weeks but made them sign a lease for 21 years.
He also said the company undervalued and under declared people land. He says that while signing agreements, Hima had lawyers while residents didn’t have legal representation.
Okoth also said that while surveying land, Hima used its surveyors to the disadvantage of the residents. He says while compensating residents, Hima only paid for land around Mwello rock. They would pay about Shillings 9 million for more than two acres of land.
Okoth told the Commission that they sought audience from the sector Ministry but were not helped. He adds that some of the compensated residents have since returned and are using their land since the money received was too little for them to relocate and earn livelihood in their new locations.
One of the residents and former Gulu Chief Administrative Officer, Henry Owori Achier told the Commission that apart from Mwello parish and rock being home and a source of livelihood to residents, the rock is of cultural significance to a number of Clans from the Japadhola community.
He says that different clans perform cultural rights on the rock annually. He says that Hima Cement and the Ministry of Energy and Mineral Development should engage them since they stand to be affected by activities of the exploration.
He told the Commission that their attempts to hold a meeting with Hima haven’t yielded results since the company never responds to their call. They showed the Commission, a letter addressed to Hima that they claim was never responded too.