Refugees find “Godfather James” in Uganda

  James and the Giant Cabbages                                                                                                                       Pic: Christine Lanz


Refugees find “Godfather James” in Uganda

by Fred Mutenyo

“When you do good, you get rewarded with a bumper cabbage crop”

The dramatic increase in the number of refugees globally has cast a spotlight on conflicts that occur between refugees and their host countries. The competition for natural resources such as land, water and forests is often the greatest source of tension.

But Uganda, a host country to a number of refugees from South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo and, more recently, Afghanistan, has come up with innovative ways of encouraging peaceful coexistence between refugees and the local communities in which they live.

The Ugandan government has championed self-reliance of refugees by giving out plots of land, granting them access to work and has even integrated refugees into its National Development Plans and service delivery. In 2015, the Ugandan government introduced the Settlement Transformation Agenda which provides a legal framework (aligned with the United Nations) with which to promote independence for refugees and bring about social development to Ugandan citizens in hosting areas.

This is done by ensuring that 30% of resources granted for the refugee response are aimed at benefiting host communities.

Of course it has its challenges and obstacles, but has enjoyed a fair amount of success too.

JAM has been working within this framework in four Ugandan settlements — Imvepi, Omugo, Lobule and Palorinya — by providing an emergency response but also by providing agricultural training to aid their recovery. Since food rations have been reduced and most of the refugees are women who support large families, having supplementary sources of food through self-production is key.

It is here, where JAM has witnessed the power of a common goal to unite people, irrespective of their nationality.

In Imvepi, James Anguyo, a Ugandan farmer and father of three, has opened his arms to hundreds of refugees and allowed them to farm on his land without asking them for a penny.

The plight of refugees, who are initially wholly dependent on aid, touched his heart and he felt he had to help since he says they are human beings just like him. Among the group of Persons of Concern (POCs), James is known as a “godfather”.

POCs have joined up with citizens to form farming groups that comprise formal roles such as chairpersons, secretaries, treasurers and mobilisers. Women play a key role and fill an equal number of leadership roles.

This level of mobilisation and organisation has allowed them all to benefit from several agricultural “inputs” such as seeds, tools, training and mentorship, provided by JAM.

The inclusion of the host community in the refugee-formed groups has been instrumental in addressing issues of conflicts, has promoted peaceful coexistence and has enabled access to land and support. James says there have even been a few “intermarriages”.

As a group secretary, James has become a small-scale commercial farmer and reaped big rewards from his hard work and generosity. In previous seasons, James obtained an annual income of just $394 from the sale of his tomatoes. Now he also owns livestock, such as goats and chickens, and currently boasts a huge crop of cabbages, soya beans and ground nuts. Although James has surrendered 15 acres of his land to others, they have offered to gift him their labour, free of charge.

James has set a precedent that most of the members of the community are willing to replicate — it is a win-win situation that means a harvest for all.

This week they celebrated the UN’s International Day of Peace together.


Fred Mutenyo is an agricultural specialist and programmes manager for JAM in Uganda

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