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We Are Victimized for Our Work -AFIEGO Boss

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Dickens Kamugisha says AFEIGO is being targeted for its work around land rights and the environment in the Albertine Graben.
26 Oct 2021 19:16
AFEIGOS Dickens Kamugisha , his organisation has been a vocal voice for land rights in Bulisa, Hoima and Kikube districts

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The African Institute For Energy Governance (AFIEGO) director, Dickens Kamugisha says they are being targeted for their work on land rights and the environment.  

He says while the organization is operating within the law, some individuals in government are working hard to silence it from raising issues ranging from rights of persons affected by projects for development oil and gas in Bunyoro. Kamugisha and five members of his staff spent three nights in police cells following a process allegedly fronted by the NGO Registration Bureau.  

The police raided AFIEGO’s Kampala office on October 13, arresting some members of staff. Those arrested included a breastfeeding mother and another female suffering from asthmatic conditions. 

The two women together with four males were arrested on Friday, October 22. They were released on Monday after being charged with failure to produce registration documents. Dickens Kamugisha in an interview with URN described the charge as “irregular” He said their arrest was a calculated move to silence them as it has been to some civil society actors in the country.

 “Of course up to now, I tell you I don’t know what is the problem. Because at first when the staff were arrested, they were given a holding charge. The one they put on bond was operating without a permit. But in Uganda whether in the NGO Act, or the penal code, there is nothing like an offence of operating without a permit,” said Kamugisha 

Kamugisha, also a lawyer says the NGO Act provides that an NGO which is found to be operating without a permit is supposed to be fined but not have its staff arrested as it was with the AFEIGO case     

“There is a penalty in form of a fine but it is not an offence. So that is the offence that they said they were charging our staff. When we reached Jinja Road police, we asked what is the offence that we committed?  They could not tell us” he said  

He says on being released after spending three nights in police cells, the police instead charged him and others for failure to produce documents.    

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Asked why he thinks his organization is being victimized for its work, Kamugisha said the problem begins from AFEIGO’s activism around raising awareness about land rights in the Albertine Graben where TOTAL, CNOOC are developing the oil and gas infrastructure.   

“Since the beginning of the Tilenga project, the kingfisher project, the EACOP and now the Bugoma forest giveaway, many of our staff especially in Buliisa and Hoima and along the EACOP in the greater Masaka area. Many of our staff have been arrested, many are on police bond” he said

“So even the groups that were suspended by the NGO Bureau were from communities where we work. And even the ones that were not under the NGO bureau. So the issue is not whether we are complying or not complying” he explained   

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AFEIGO has been chairing a group of civil society actors opposed to the giveaway of Bugoma forest for sugarcane cultivation.  

The NGO Bureau on August 20 announced that it was halting the activities of 54 civil society groups, including AFEIGO accusing them of operating without valid permits.   Some of the affected civil society actors like Great Lakes Institute for Strategic Studies (GLISS) and AFEIGO denied that they were operating outside the laws.

The two said they were validly registered to work in areas of public policy and research by Uganda Registration Services Bureau as companies limited under the laws of Uganda.   

Kamugisha insists that AFEIGO is not obliged to seek an operating permit from the NGO Bureau.  “First and foremost we are not an NGO. We are a company limited by guarantee incorporated under the company’s Act. We have articles of Association and memorandum of association which clearly define when we can do and what we cannot do”    

He says their arrest is part of the ploy to silence him and members of AFEIGO from activism about energy governance, environment and land rights in Bunyoro

“I believe that arresting us and keeping us in cells when there is no offence, the government is simply telling every citizen out there that whether you have rights or not, you are in danger. And I believe many of our colleagues will go in hiding.” He said    

According to Kamugisha, the arrest and the storming into offices of civil society actors is having a chilling effect on the civil society in the country. “Increasingly and every passing day, the civil society is disappearing. Because the civil society used to speak whenever there was an injustice. They are no longer going to speak”

He revealed that some of that fear has gone as far as courts of law with magistrates and judges fearing to hear in cases filed by the civil society. Police in December last year Chapter Four Uganda Director, Nicholas Opiyo, whose activities had also been banned by the NGO Bureau for not complying with sections of the NGO Act 2016.  

Opiyo was also charged with receiving $340,000 on behalf of the organization knowing that the funds were “proceeds of crime.” The charge was however recently withdrawn after the DDP lost interest in it. 

Besides not being willing to register with the NGO Bureau, Dickens Kamugisha says the NGO bureau is currently not operating within the law since its board is not fully constituted. “On the board, there are supposed to be representatives of CSOs. Up to now, they have never been appointed. They are required under the law to have an adjudication committee. That committee is not in place”     

He says as of now; the Bureau is resorting to measures like the arrest of individuals before giving them a hearing as envisaged by a clause in the law. The NGO ACT 2016 provides for the establishment of an adjudication committee that should handle appeals by groups aggrieved by the NGO Bureau’s actions and decisions.