Local Community Organizing to confront injustices of Multinational Corporations in Uganda


In the northern Uganda district of Nwoya, Bukona Agro Processors Ltd. factory was established in 2016. According to the Managing directory, the factory was set up at a cost of $6 million USD. At the construction site ground-breaking in early 2016, the World Bank Country Director praised the project as a breakthrough for locals to have increased bargaining power for their crops (cassava). On its website, the factory states its purpose as to operationalize an ethanol from fresh Cassava processing line that will produce denatured alcohol for cooking and lighting. In brief, the factory key aim as mooted to the locals, was to produce low-cost fuel (petrol) from fresh cassava (raw material) that would be locally supplied by the native (subsistence) farmers. The setting up of Bukona Agro Processors Ltd drew excitement from the locals/natives and government officials because of its potential for job creation for hundreds of Ugandans which would boost revenue collection. On its part, the government sent the Prime Minister (PM) flanked by local leaders to inspect the physical infrastructure of the factory in 2016. The inspection trip was enormous success as local leaders applauded the government for bringing these investors into northern Uganda. The Prime Minister, who also is the head of government business in Parliament, pledged full government support. A few months later, the proprietors of the factory met with Uganda’s president at State House in Entebbe, Uganda. The meeting was embraced by key members of the ecclesiastical community and local leaders from Northern Uganda. Impressed with the novel idea of job creations for the locals, Uganda’s President Gen. Museveni also pledged government support to the project which he echoed will significantly reduce deforestation activities in the region. In March 2020, Bukona Agro Processors was formally inaugurated by the President. In his inauguration address, the President reiterated his praise to the factory proprietors and instantly promised tax exemption. (The factory had prior to its formal inauguration started production in 2019). However, when Bukona Agro Processors Ltd started production in 2019, the local community soon realized that the factory intention was up to no good [their emphasis during a focus group session held in December, 2020]. They complained of irresponsible factory waste disposal mechanism. They discovered that the factory was secretly discarding its chemical liquid waste into a seasonal stream (river) that runs through the village. This led to soil, land and water contamination which affected the livelihood of the villagers and their animals. Around the same time in 2019, a Chinese Multinational construction company named Zhongmei Engineering Group Ltd had earlier won a multimillion dollars road construction project from the government of Uganda. They were building a highway through the same community in 2019. Like Bukona Agro Processors factory, Zhongmei Engineering Group Ltd disposed chemical waste into the same seasonal river used by the locals for domestic consumption and watering animals. After months of futile verbal grumbles against the irresponsible industrial waste disposal by the two foreign own businesses, the villagers decided to take matters into their own hands. Because the villagers’ domestic animals were dying from drinking the contaminated water and people falling sick from eating dead fish collected from the river, the showdown was inevitable. Within days, the natives organized themselves and put up a peaceful protest. One morning in 2019, the villagers laid siege at the gate of Zhongmei so that no one would enter or leave the compound. They were determined to thwart the deliberate water contamination through irresponsible waste disposal. The protestors demanded that Zhongmei Engineering Group Ltd drill for them a borehole for clean water before they let go the besieged property. They also demanded immediate cessation of chemical waste disposal in the seasonal stream. For fear of how the protest would span out, the proprietors of Zhongmei yielded and drilled a borehole. They also ceased dumping their hazardous chemical waste into the seasonal river. (The new mode of waste disposal that the Engineering company later adopted is still unclear.)With the Zhongmei poor waste disposal placed under check and balance, the villagers later discovered that the problem of water pollution which was momentarily halted had resumed and yet the road construction company had left the village (as they shifted field offices as the road construction progressed). The locals discovered that the recommenced water contamination was emanating from the activities of Bukona Agro Processors factory which had secretly connected underground hose to dump liquid waste into the river bed. Exasperated with this discovery, the villagers took a different (different from how they challenged Zhongmei) approach to confront this unethical and irresponsible behavior. They informed their locally elected leaders, urging them to challenge the factory CEO. They also made several phone calls to local radio stations in the region while the elderly women threatened to undress (nudity protest) in front of the factory gate. In addition to water pollution, the villagers also castigated the factory’s foreign employers of sexual exploitation of the natives’ young girls, long working hours with very little pay for the native employees, low prices for their cassava and generally inhumane working conditions. Soon the villagers’ complaints caught the attention of the National Environment Management Authority (NEMA), an organ of the central government. NEMA investigated and confirmed the villagers’ grievances. At NEMA’s directive, the factory was closed down to production until appropriate and environmentally acceptable waste disposal mechanism is instituted.In conclusion, the two successful community based social movement organizing to confront issues of social and environmental injustice was birthed by the thirst to protect communally-owned resources. Such resources as water and land in African societies are tied to people’s very existence and identity formation. The community in Nwoya district have demonstrated that it is their responsibility to collectively use their cultural knowledge as a pathway to assert their generational agency for the communal wellbeing. The organic social movement protests have empowered the natives to realize their potency to become active agents of change with the intention to build a safe society that caters for the collective wellbeing.


    • Francis Akena Adyanga (PI)
    • Norma Romm (Co-PI)


    – University of South Africa

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