Any legal system is as good as its Public Interest litigants and Uganda should as well never fall short of that. News reaching our desk indicates that Center For Food and Adequate Living Rights (CEFROHT) , a Civil Society Organisation whose formation was majorly premised on the need to apply a human rights-based approach to food, nutrition, trade, and investment systems and its linkage to the right to health and adequate living has dragged the Attorney General to the Court of Appeal in Civil Appeal No. 91 of 2020 over the government’s failure to establish food reserves to save people from hunger during the COVID-19 pandemic. This appeal emanates from Miscellaneous Cause No. 75 of 2020 where the same case was before Hon. Justice Esta Nambayo of the High Court, Civil Division.
In the High Court suit, the applicant – CEFROHT who was represented by Counsel David Kabanda argued that every person in Uganda has a right to live which includes the right to livelihood which ought to be protected and upheld by the state as enshrined under Article 22 of Uganda’s Constitution. However this right can only be realized only if the right to food is preserved since it is a means to one’s survival. They argued that after the government had slapped COVID-19 regulations that restricted movement and operation of businesses, at the least, the state should have established guidelines to ensure easy access and availability of food to Ugandans in addition to establishing food reserves which is a prerequisite of Objective XII of the 1995 Constitution.
This argument was backed by proof that in fact, 87% of Ugandans are employed in the informal sector and only survive on a hand to mouth basis in addition to closure of over 4,500 companies at the time the suit was filed. In its defence, the state as represented by Ms. Kukunda Claire argued that absence of food reserves would only be a violation of Constitutional provisions if only the Government did not have alternatives to ensure that the right to food is not realized but in the instant case, the COVID-19 pandemic disaster fell with in the Contingency Fund and would be addressed there-under. In regards to unfair relief distribution where the applicant argued that free posho and beans were only supplied to a few people around areas in Kampala and Wakiso, the state argued that Lira, Jinja, Mubende and Masaka had also been given free food in the first phase and actually confirmed that there would also be a second phase of food distribution which has never come to pass. In fact in a recent study by Whitehead Communications, 80% of the respondents to their survey never received the government posho and beans. However, Justice Esta Nambayo seemed convinced with the state’s arguments and ruled in their favor hence the appeal filed by CEFROHT where they now argue that the High Court Judge erred in law and in fact when she dismissed their suit.
In an interview with Counsel Geoffrey Obbo the Program Manager, Social Justice & Strategic Litigation Program at CEFROHT, he stated that although the case is mainly about the COVID-19 pandemic, it will always be relevant because Uganda always faces natural disasters like landslides, famine, floods etc and food relief always takes long to get to the affected people because there are no food reserves. He contended that having food reserves would save the government both time and money it spends on procuring food relief during times when there are disasters.
We shall keep you posted on the outcomes of the Appeal.