Human Rights Defender of the month: Mugisha Jelousy

As the rest of Uganda readies itself to finally get its oil out of the ground with the conclusion of the Final Investment Decision (FID), Mugisha Jealousy, 50, is one of those following the events with a mournful resignation.     

A resident of Kasenyi village, Nile Parish in Buliisa district, Mugisha is one of those affected by the Tilenga project, a multipronged project by Total E&P. The project involves reservation and development of land in districts of Buliisa and Nwoya for oil exploration, setting up of a crude oil processing plant and related infrastructure to support Uganda’s oil production activities.

In the inaugural resettlement plan (Resettlement Plan one), a total of 643 persons were affected by the Tilenga Project. Mugisha says that in most of these cases, Total E&P would demarcate land it wanted to use, arbitrarily evaluate it and proceed to fence it off for use, regardless of whether the occupants of the land agreed to the valuation or not. This, Mugisa says is the crux of the injustice:

"For those of us who never agreed with Total E&P’s valuation, we were never compensated, yet our land was fenced off, leaving us helpless. For example, after Total E&P’s valuation, my home was gazetted as a secondary home, which meant that I would not be relocated but would instead be paid a mere Shs.12million as compensation, which I refused, because can you build a reasonable home today with Shs.12million,”

In 2019, alarmed by Total E&P’s activities, Mugisa and a few other colleagues appealed to local NGOs among which were Africa Institute for Energy Governance (AFIEGO) and the National Association for Professional Environmentalists (NAPE), which, partnering with two other French NGOs supported the project affected persons to sue Total E&P for abuse of the former’s rights in France. Mugisha was one of the project-affected persons who travelled to France to testify in the case, and on return, he was briefly detained at Entebbe International Airport

"I was held for about seven hours and was warned to stop activism against the Tilenga project. It appears the purpose was to threaten and intimidate me, because I was later released,”

But Mugisha says he will not be deterred. Following the lawsuit by the project-affected persons in France, Uganda government through the Attorney General moved to deposit the compensation money declined by the project-affected persons in court, to pave way for the Tilenga project activities to go ahead. Although the Masindi High Court ruled in the Government and Total E&P’s favor last year, Mugisa says he and his colleagues are ready to appeal the High Court’s decision.

I was held for about seven hours and was warned to stop activism against the Tilenga project. It appears the purpose was to threaten and intimidate me, because I was later released

But Mugisha says he will not be deterred. Following the lawsuit by the project-affected persons in France, Uganda government through the Attorney General moved to deposit the compensation money declined by the project-affected persons in court, to pave way for the Tilenga project activities to go ahead. Although the Masindi High Court ruled in the Government and Total E&P’s favor last year, Mugisha says he and his colleagues are ready to appeal the High Court’s decision.

"If Total E&P cannot give me the money for which I think my home is due, let them resettle me. All I want is an alternative piece of land, complete with a house for me to be relocated to so I can vacate my current land. Other people who did not have houses on their lands want to be resettled on other lands. They want land for land, not money, because Total E&P will not give them the money, they think their land is due"

Beyond compensation, Mugisa is also worried at the long-term environmental costs the Tilenga project’s activities are going to have on Buliisa district and its people.

 

 “For example, Total is planning to construct a Central Processing Facility on 772 acres. It has contracted Motor Engine to prepare the land, and Motor Engine proceeded to clear all the 772 acres of all vegetation, leaving the entire land bare. Imagine 772 acres of bare ground, no grass, no vegetation, nothing. All the neighboring areas are being suffocated by dust,”

As Chairperson of the Resettlement Planning Committee under the Resettlement Action Plan One, Mugisha has moved to challenge this naked abuse of the environment, and last year, he wrote to Total E&P highlighting these environmental risks, forcing Total E&P, Motor Engine to meet up with the affected communities to devise a way forward.

Mugisha continues to face threats for his relentless activism.  He says he is always monitored for who he meets with, and whenever people come to meet him at his place, they are tracked and intimidated to not meet up with him again.

“But I will not be deterred. Our people must be compensated for what they are worth, because this (Oil and Gas) is a multi-billion-dollar project,”

See more HRDs of the Month

Human Rights Defender of the month: Kasale Maleton Mwaana

Kasale’s human rights activism precedes his years. The son of pastoralist parents from Ngorongoro district in northern Tanzania, he grew up seeing his parents and entire community having to defend their land and way of life against authorities who thought their lands could be put to better use. Now, at 25, Kasale is already one of the most recognizable advocates of his people’s cause, much to the ire of Tanzanian authorities.
“Our people’s struggle goes back many generations. It started with the pushing out of our forefathers from Serengeti to gazette Serengeti National Park in 1959, and then further evictions from the Ngorongoro crater to gazette the Ngorongoro conservation area in 1975. Since then, every generation has had to resist further evictions. It’s now my generation’s turn,” he says.

Human Rights Defender of the month: Pierre Claver Mbonimpa

Arguably no single individual personifies Burundi’s human rights struggle like Pierre Claver Mbonimpa. Born 72 years ago in the small East African country, Claver’s quest for human rights and justice is as old as his country’s modern history.

When his country was plunged into a civil war that killed an estimated 300,000 people following the 1993 assassination of President Cyprien Ntaryamira, Claver was one of its earliest victims. Then a close confidant (he was also a former driver) of the assassinated President, he was framed, and arrested, and would go on to spend the next two years between 1994 and 1996 in jail.

It is in prison that the ulcer of injustice bit him hard. There, he met inmates who had either been wrongfully imprisoned or who had been remanded for long periods without trial, all living in dehumanising conditions. “I was strongly revolted by the injustice. Here were probably innocent people whose years were being wasted away by an unfair judicial system, with no one to stand up for them. I swore that I would try to do something about it once I got out myself,” he says.

Human Rights Defender of the month: Kamau Ngugi

On October 7, 2022, Kamau Ngugi was elected Chairperson of the East and Horn of Africa human rights defenders’ network (EHAHRD-net), a stirring affirmation for the Kenyan human rights defender’s efforts in defense of human rights that go back nearly 30 years.

But it was not always this promising for her. Born 37 years ago in Grand Kru, Southeastern Liberia, Margaret had to do with a childhood of abuse, neglect, and want, after her, her sibling and her mother were abandoned by their father at an early age.

Human Rights Defender of the month: Margaret Muna Nigba

A human rights lawyer per excellence, Margaret is also an indefatigable woman human rights defender (WHRD) who has won the adulation of millions in her country for her impassioned dedication to defending the rights of women and girls in her native Liberia.

But it was not always this promising for her. Born 37 years ago in Grand Kru, Southeastern Liberia, Margaret had to do with a childhood of abuse, neglect, and want, after her, her sibling and her mother were abandoned by their father at an early age.

Human Rights Defender of the month: Mohammed Adam Hassan

Mohammed Hassan has known mostly conflict, displacement, and war all his adult life. As part of Sudan’s black population in the country’s region of Darfur, they were for long the victims of oppression by Khartoum, then under now deposed dictator Omar Bashir. Then, in 2003, when Mohammed was 19, Darfur’s black population decided to fight back. Two rebel movements – Sudan Liberation Movement and the Justice and Equality Movement launched a rebellion against Bashir’s government, seeking justice for Darfur’s non-Arab population. The response by Khartoum was chilling: Bashir’s forces launched a campaign of ethnic cleansing against the region’s non-Arab population, and thousands of families were displaced and herded into refugee camps.

Human Rights Defender of the month: Issah Musundi

At first encounter, Issah Musundi is a coy, if not shy, mostly reserved lad. But behind that quiet disposition is a steely character and an enforced existence.
Born 27 years ago in Kenya’s border district of Busia, Issah belongs to Kenya’s sexual minorities community, who have had to win majority rights that other Kenyans take for granted.

Human Rights Defender of the month: Agather Atuhaire

In late May this year, Agather Atuhaire, via her twitter account, broke the story that the Parliament of Uganda had spent a whopping Shs. 2.8billion to purchase two luxury vehicles for the Speaker and the Deputy Speaker.

Aside from the fact that the expenditure was unnecessary – both the Speaker and her Deputy already have two luxury vehicles for their official duties, the purchase flouted all public procurement procedures, and when Parliament’s contracts committee could not approve the procurement, the members of the committee were fired and new ones immediately appointed to approve the purchase.

Human Rights Defender of the month: Esther Tawiah

In Ghana, Esther Tawiah is one of the loudest voices for women empowerment and gender. It is also why she is one of the most loathed. Born and raised in New-Tafo in the country’s eastern region, Esther grew up surrounded by a culture that frowned at the idea of women participating in public affairs, and witnessed firsthand, the backlash those who dared to challenge that cultural norm faced.

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