Rwamutonga evictions: Four dead, hundreds starving

Four children have died and many more could starve to death as the hundreds of people who were forcefully evicted from Rwamutonga village, Hoima district continue to wait for court to decide their fate.

According to the area Local Council Chairperson, Onzima Aloysius, four children have died of malaria in the past five months, while almost half of the 700 children in the camp are severely malnourished.

Over 250 families were violently evicted from a 485 hectare piece of land in Rwamutonga village, Bugambe sub county, in August last year after the ‘owner’ of the land, Joshua Tibangwa, leased it to an American-based waste management firm to set up an oil waste treatment plant.

The residents have since turned to court in an attempt to repossess their land but in the meantime, the inhumane living conditions in the temporary camp are taking their toll on them. They lack food and medicine and their make-shift shelters are not strong enough to shield them from the heavy rains and biting cold at night.

Faminyo Joyce painfully narrates how her two-year old daughter succumbed to a combination of hunger and disease and passed away in December last year. The 29-year old mother of three said her daughter, named Ayomirwa, had starved for over a week and when she caught malaria, she died after a couple of days.

“It would rain, and because our house (a small grass-thatched hut) is low, the water would flow into the hut, sock the little clothes on which we sleep and we would all get socked in dirty water. Ayomirwa developed malaria and died after two days,” she said.

The camp is congested and many of the people there are either inadequately fed, ill or both. Many of them say they have been suffering persistent bouts of malaria but cannot afford to get treatment.

According to Chairman Onzima, individuals and organisations have donated food and clothing to the residents but the items are not sufficient. “We receive a lot of food from well wishers. Global Rights Alert, ActionAid, AFIEGO and even some government offices have been helping us with food, but it is not enough,” he said.

Global Rights Alert Executive Director, Winnie Ngabiirwe, however notes that in addition to giving handouts, the displaced people must be supported to access justice.  “Justice must reign,” she says. “These people have been waiting to have their land back or be compensated for about a year, which by law they are entitled to, but in vain.”

Last Friday, the High Court in Masindi ruled that it would announce on 1st July 2015 when the ruling on the residents’ petition to be allowed to return to the land will be made, implying that it will be at least two months before their fate is decided.

Some of them are convinced they may not have that long to live if the prevailing conditions persist.

“I do not want to die here in this camp,” pleads 53 year old Mary Amona. “I want to go back home, please help us.”