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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: Joseph Oleshangay

As a human rights lawyer and advocate with the High Court of the United Republic of Tanzania, Joseph Moses Oleshangay spends most of his time crossing from one court to another, litigating human rights cases, some with life-altering implications for ordinary people. It is a monumental responsibility, one he never envisaged growing up.

As a young boy born into a Maasai household in northern Tanzania, his entire childhood revolved around cattle: “Our entire livelihood revolved around cattle. As a child, the main preoccupation was to tend to cows, and my formative years were spent grazing cattle around Endulen. It a simple lifestyle,” he says.

Human Rights Defender of the month: Julia Onyoti

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Human Rights Defender of the month:SHIMA BHARE

Shima Bhare Abdalla has never known the luxury and comfort of a stable and safe existence inside her country’s borders. When she was 11, her village was attacked and razed to the ground, sending her family and entire neighborhood scattering into an internally displaced People’s Camp, at the start of the Darfur civil war.

That was in 2002. Shima and her family relocated into Kalma refugee camp in Southern Darfur, where, alongside over 100,000 other displaced persons, they had to forge out a living, under the watch and benevolence of the United Nations – African Union Hybrid Operation in Darfur, known as UNAMID. It is here that Shima’s human rights consciousness came to life. She enthusiastically embraced whatever little education she could access under the auspices of the humanitarian agencies operating in the camp, to be able to tell the story of her people’s plight.

Human Rights Defender of the month: Martial Pa’nucci

Martial Pa’nucci is a child of what is fondly known as Africa’s second liberation. In 1990 when he was born, the Republic of Congo, like many other countries in Sub-Saharan Africa, was undergoing a transition from one-party rule to multi-party democracy, following the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Yet developments in ordinary people’s lives were not as optimistic. Pa’nucci was born in one of Brazzaville’s ghettos to a polygamous family of two mothers and 19 siblings, where survival was a daily exercise in courage. When he was two, his father died, followed in quick succession by many of his siblings. Pa’nucci did not start school until he was nine, and he had to do odd jobs – from barbering to plumbing to earn his stay there, lest he dropped out like many of his peers.

Human Rights Defender of the month: Veronica Almedom

Veronica Almedom is a poster child of successful immigration. A duo Eritrean and Swiss citizen, she was born in Italy, and grew up in Switzerland where she permanently resides. Her parents are some of the earliest victims of Eritrea’s cycles of violence. When Eritrea’s war of independence peaked in the early 1980s, they escaped the country as unaccompanied minors, wandering through Sudan, Saudi Arabia, before making the hazard journey across the Mediterranean into Europe. There, they crossed first to Italy, and finally, to Switzerland, where they settled first as refugees, and later, as permanent residents.

Human Rights Defender of the month: Omar Faruk Osman

Omar Faruk’s career, and the passion that drove it, were the product of his circumstances. He was born in 1976, in the first of strong man Mohamed Siad Barre’s two-decade rule over Somalia, which was characterized by gross rights abuses and barely existent civic space. He came of age in the 90s when those abuses and rights violations were peaking, as his country was engulfed by a ruinous civil war following the collapse of the Siad Barre dictatorship.

Human Rights Defender of the month: Rita Kahsay

When the Ethiopian Federal Government representatives and those of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) signed a peace agreement in Pretoria, in November last year, the two parties were hailed for ending arguably the deadliest conflict of the 21st century, in which over 600,000 people had died.
But long before the negotiators for peace got around to an agreement, there were many other unsung heroes, who, through individual and collective efforts helped sustain the world’s gaze on the dire situation in Tigray, despite the Ethiopian Government’s determined efforts to hush it up.

Human Rights Defender of the month: Godfrey Kagaayi

Born 33 years ago, in Bukoba, northern Tanzania, Godfrey Kagaayi did not have to look elsewhere for inspiration to tackle the daunting challenge of mental health. By his own admission, the family and community in which he was raised were fertile grounds for the same.
His family had crossed the border into Uganda when he was barely 5 months, settling into present day Rakai district. But the Rakai of the 90s was a difficult place for a child to make their earliest memories: In 1990, Uganda’s first ever case of HIV/AIDs was reported in the district, setting off a decade of suffering and anguish for many of its residents. Taking advantage of the Rakai’s fishing and polygamous lifestyle, the novel virus spread like wildfire, killing people in droves and leaving untold heartache in its wake.

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