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Livelihood, Land And Investment

Aswa-Lolim land: The brewing conflict between Acholi, Jonam

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Contested. Casual workers weed a maize plantation on one of the farms within the contested area at Obira East Village, Gotapwoyo Sub-county in Nwoya District on April 20. PHOTO | TOBBIAS JOLLY OWINY  

By TOBBIAS JOLLY OWINY

An upsurge in wrangles over land between the Jonam and Acholi communities in former Aswa-lolim Game Reserve in GotapwoyoSub-county, Nwoya District, has claimed at least 10 lives and left scores injured in the past one year.

On May 21, Uganda People’s Defence Force (UPDF) soldiers shot dead Kerukadho Ocaka, Socrate Onenrach, Walter Piwun and Innocent Taban at Obira South Village, Gotapwoyo Sub-county in Nwoya.

The incident occurred when an unidentified number of locals armed with machetes, bows, arrows and spears allegedly attacked a UPDF detach on a disputed piece of land within the former game reserve owned by Lt Gen Charles Otema Awany, the UPDF Reserve Forces commander.

On June 8, police at Pakwach Central Police Station blocked a group of more than 100 demonstrators from crossing Pakwach Bridge as theyattempted to show grievance over the killings and mistreatment of their colleagues.

The district police commander, Mr Frank Muzura, said the demonstration was against the presidential directives on Covid-19, which prohibit gatherings of more than 10 people.

Efforts to reach Gen Otema via his known telephone contact over the issue have proved futile.

However, Mr Richard Todwong, Gen Otema’s brother, told Daily Monitor that his brother rightfully acquired the land.

“On behalf of the Awany family, we have never grabbed any land there, he (Gen Otema) has not even cheated any landowner of a penny, we paid for all we have there, including buying others’ interests there,” Mr Todwong said.

Mr Todwong claimed Gen Otema had leasehold titles from the district land board for the contested land including that at Obira Village where the shooting happened.

Although survivors claim they had gone to Gen Otema’s farm to negotiate for release of their properties that had been confiscated by the soldiers who ordered them to vacate the land, police said the victims were armed and intended to attack the soldiers.
The incident brings to 10 the total number of people killed over land contests within the area between May 2019 and May 2020.

Mr Ben Latim Openy, the Gotapwoyo Sub-county chairperosn, said of 14 incidents of attacks, members of the Jonam community that crossed from Pakwach District had committed 12.

Mr Openy said members of Jonam community strongly believe and treat the former reserve as their customary-owned land.

“The claimants ignore our offices and that of the sub-county land committee, and instead report to Pakwach authorities accusing Acholi of displacing them,” Mr Openy added.

Although Gen Otema reportedly possess at least 10,000 acres within the former game reserve, we could not independently verify this from the district land office.

“Several mediations in the past by the political and cultural leaders have not helped. The Lands ministry must come to the ground and declare the status of this land so that the matter is sorted out once and for all,” Mr Openy said.

In 2014, a meeting convened by Mr Todwong (then Minister without portfolio) to resolve the dispute between the Acholi community and Jonam people over ownership of land turned rowdy when the Jonam accused theleadership of Nwoya of threatening to evict them from an area they once occupied for decades before fleeing to West Nile for safety when the Lord’s Resistance Army war intensified.
Mr Todwong then prematurely closed the meeting.

Last year, the two tribes were embroiled in a heated conflict over a compensation scheme by Uganda Electricity Transmission Company Limited (UETCL) for a 9sqkm stretch of land at Yagopino, in Gotapwoyo Sub-county, Nwoya.

UETCL assessed 45 project-affected persons reportedly of Acholi origin but a new group of 65 project-affected persons turned up fromPakwach demanding compensation since they are the rightful owners of the land.
Leaders speak out
Mr Ruoth Moses Ogenwrot Omach, the leader of Paroketo Parish in Pakwach, on Monday warned that unless the two tribes urgently sit and mediate the matter, the situation could get out of hand.

“We don’t want to be pulled into the situation of Madi or Acholi in Apaa because some parties failed to play their cards rightly. After the insurgency, people resettled there again and the land board needed to act impartially,” Mr Omach said.

On Tuesday, Mr Emmanuel Ongiertho, the Jonam County Member of Parliament in an interview with Daily Monitor, blamed the protracted conflicts over the land on the Nwoya District Land Board whom he said had failed to act impartially and objectively in issuing out the land.

“We have records of so many of our people whose application documents for the land have never been validated from the time whthe land was still under Amuru. That problem has persisted, the land board considers more those from the Acholi side,” Mr Ongiertho said.

Because of delayed consideration of their applications, Mr Ongiertho said many Jonam people settled on the land although it was never inspected.

He added that the same land was allocated by the district to other developers, sparking conflict.

“Unfortunately, the Acholi chief, Rwot David Onen Achana is still out of the country, otherwise we would have held a meeting to seek solutions” Mr Ruoth Ogenrwot said.

He added that thousands of Jonam people are peacefullysettled in Amuru District because their land board allowed them to apply for the land they previously occupied.
But Nwoya District authorities insist that there was no need to inspect the land priorto leasing whether occupied or not since the settlers encroached and settled there illegally.

“It is unfortunate that these victims are fronting customary claims over this land. Instead, our brothers and sisters from across the Nile (Pakwach or Nebbi) come with letters from their districts to claim land there, that is unacceptable,” Mr Zeru Abukha, the chairman Nwoya land board, said.

Mr Abukha said whoever does not have titles to justifyownership of land in that area is occupying it illegally.

“For example, the attackers who were shot dead trespassed into a property owned by Gen Otema. Fortunately, Gen Otema possess a title for the piece of land in question,” Mr Abukha said.

Land status
Aswa-Lolim Game Reserve
Nearly 95 per cent of Gotapwoyo Sub-county land falls under the former Aswa-Lolim Game Reserve (measuring approximately 46,000 hectares in size).

When the colonial government declared the area a game reserve in 1952, the evacuated people were compensated by relocation to safer areas in Gulu, Pader, Lamwo and Amuru while the Jonam were resettled insidePakwach and Nebbi districts.

The status remained so until 1972 when it was degazetted as a wild animal sanctuary and handed to the respective local governments (district land boards).

As early as 2008 following an end to the LRA war, people started to return to the area to settle or do farming, the same period wrangles began to escalate.

However, members of both Jonam and Acholi communities rushed to occupy plots or chunks of land within Aswa-lolim area basing on customary claims.

But any land deal done on a former public land without the involvement of the district land board becomes null and void since one must go through the board to process and possess a deed title, so that they can own the land.

Original Post: Daily Monitor

Livelihood, Land And Investment

Land grabs: Officials in Mubende district are colluding with economically powerful and politically connected people to grab local communities’ land.

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By Witness Radio Team

Justine Nakachwa (not her real name) had never thought of losing land she and her family had happily lived on for decades. Her dream of owning farmland had come true.

The land passed down to generations of descendants from the late 1970s was now being claimed by a renowned businessman. She got staggered.

“I was shocked by this news because I have spent most of my life here. Am wondering how he could acquire the land without the knowledge of the whole village.” She painfully revealed this while speaking to a Witness Radio-Uganda reporter.

The sixty-year-old is one of the community members of over 800 smallholder farmers in the three villages; Biwaalwe, Kabaale, and Kyagaranyi in Kanyogoga parish, Butologo sub-county in Mubende district currently facing eviction by Tubikaku Uganda Limited, a company owned by City businessman Desh Kananura.

The smallholder farmers have been practicing subsistence farming on this land to earn a living since the 1970s.

Intending to secure ownership and legalize it, they conducted a search and due diligence, which revealed that the land had no encumbrances.  In 2012, they applied for a lease. Sadly, the Mubende District Land Board declined to grant their request and instead awarded the lease of 906.4 hectares to a ghost company Tubikaku Uganda Limited.

The economically powerful and politically connected to grabbing the downtrodden land with the assistance of land board officials is rapidly growing in Uganda. With the aid of district land boards, cartels are increasingly disposing of smallholder farmers. This practice is now predominant in many districts in the country, especially Mubende district.

It is alleged that the District Land Board has previously leased people’s land to tycoons without following proper legal land acquisition procedures.

Seven years ago, a community’s land in Lwebigajji village in Mubende district of 226.5 hectares were grabbed by a local investor with the help of district land board officials. The community had lived on their land for over 30 years.

When the community showed interest in acquiring a leasehold on the land, the district land board of Mubende hurriedly offered the title to one Deo Semwogerere Mutyaba, a local businessman, who does not even own a decimal on the land.

Consequently, over 2000 families were affected. “In 2014, we requested the Mubende district lands board for a lease on this land, got surveyed using our efforts and resources, however upon returning the leasehold title in 2015, it had Semwogerere’s names as the owner of the land.” Grace Nantubiro, one of the community leaders said.

Samuel Wambi Mamali, a local businessman was also helped by the Mubende district land board officials to allegedly steal local community’s land covering three villages. These include Kyamukoona, Kijojolo, and Kalagala in Mubende District that have been occupied by locals for decades. The villages accommodate over 800 families.

The villagers indicated that Maamali fraudulently acquired a lease title he never applied for, did not consult community members on the land, nor at parish, or sub-county land committees that should have advised and guided on whether the land was lawfully being occupied and cultivated.

The few listed cases above are among several cases of grabbed land by wealthy and politically connected people in the Mubende district.  The trend of district land boards facilitating land grabs has left many local and indigenous communities landless.

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Livelihood, Land And Investment

A community of over 300 smallholder farmers conned as their land is sold to a local investor without their consent.

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By Witness Radio Team

As foreign agribusinesses take over Kiryandongo communities’ fertile land, other local investors are also eyeing the remaining land occupied by the poor families in the southwestern district of Uganda to grab their land.

A community of over 300 smallholder farmers in Ranch 22, Nyamuntende village in Kiryandongo district is being evicted by a local businessman Maseruka Robert who claims ownership of the land some have lived on for decades. Mr. Maseruka connived with some leaders in the community to grab land from the poor.

The evictions that started in August this year have caused the displacement of over 50 households so far on land measuring over 2000 acres without consultations or being fairly compensated. Crops belonging to residents, and houses were razed.

When evictions by multinationals soared in Uganda, the community acted swiftly to protect the interest on the land and avert a land grab. And in 2015, they applied for a lease of 49 years on the land from the Kiryandongo district land board which was granted to them.

However, unbeknownst to them, schemers would take advantage of this opportunity to grab their land. Earlier, the residents whose land is located on Ranch 22 Block 8 Bunyoro Ranching Scheme entrusted Wilson Sikhama, Ochema Richard, and a few other community members as their leaders in 2016 during the requisition of the land.

According to the residents, initially, the application processes unfolded as they had planned, however, Sikhama and Ochema allegedly connived with other people not known to the community to drop the names of some of the community members whom they had entrusted and replaced them with Julius Isingoma, Gerald Tumusiime, Messanger Gabriel Wabwire, Musokota William John and Simon Mwesige.

Residents further added that the land was titled in the names of the seven people who excluded the villagers. In 2019, when the community expected the location forms of the land per person, they understood that the land they had acquired was sold to one Maseruka Robert without their notification by Sikhama and the group.

In the same year 2019, the community ran to court seeking its intervention to regain the ownership of their land. The community was led by one of their own Mbabazi Samuel. In a blink of an eye, Mbabazi allegedly reached an agreement with the aforementioned group. On the 22nd of October 2020, he allegedly sold the said land to a group of people (Mr. Sikhama’s group) at One Hundred Million Shillings (100,000,000 equivalent to USD 26,483.79) without the approval of the community he represented.

After completion of the sale, the group of schemers sold the land to Maseruka who is now evicting the community.

In our interview with Maseruka, he failed to explain how he acquired the land but, insisted that he wanted the community to leave his land. “These people should leave my land because I want to use it, this is my land.” He maintained.

Some of the evictees whose houses were destroyed had relocated to their neighbors’ homes for fear of what would befall them. A 42-year-old widow and a mother of 10 said Maseruka’s accomplices destroyed her house leaving her destitute.

“These people wanted to give me 700,000/= (185.39) for the 15 acres of my land. When I resisted, they began destroying what they found including my house. They told me the money they were giving me was enough for me to vacate.” She explained.

The chairperson of the affected community, Mushija Caleb said his people are being forcefully evicted because they refused the peanuts given to them as compensation. He reiterated that his people don’t want to leave their land.

“They should not think of compensation irrespective of the amounts they are willing to offer because people are not interested in surrendering their land,” he added.

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Accountable Development To Communities

A self-claimed landlord who caused the imprisonment of six community land rights defenders on false charges was aligned before the court and charged with 28 counts.

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Naava while entering court cells at  Mubende.

By Witness Radio Team

A magistrate court at Mubende has charged a self-claimed landlord with 28 counts plus murder. Naava Milly Namutebi caused the arrest of six community land rights defenders, falsely accused them of murder, and got imprisoned for three years without trial. 

Naava’s appearance before the court followed shortly after the Director of Public Prosecution (DPP) dropped murder charges against six community land rights defenders. These include; Tumusiime Benjamin, Bagirana Innocent, Habana Domoro, Miyingo Gerald, Byangaramani Charles, and Byekwaso Fred.

Naava was charged along with Bulasio Musoke, Richard Mugagga, Henry Kaaya, among others. They were not allowed to answer any charges as the court had no power to make legal decisions and judgments on charges read to them.

The prosecution alleges that Naava and others still at large, committed offenses in areas of Mubende and Kampala districts between 2006 and 2021.

From 2012 to date, Naava got help from the senior army, police, and other public officers in Mubende orchestrated violence and committed human rights violations/abuses while forcefully evicting over 4,000 people off their land. 

The land being targeted measures 3.5 square miles covering villages including Kirwanyi central, Kirwanyi East, Kirwanyi West, Nakasagazi, Kituule A, Kituule B, Kibalagazi A, Kibalagazi B, Kakkanembe, Bukyambuzi A, Bukyambuzi B, Kisende, Mulanda, Kituule central, Kirwanyi A, and Butayunja in Kirwanyi and Kituule parishes in Butoloogo Sub County in Mubende district.

Naava and others accused were remanded to Kaweeri prison until 19th/July/2022. 

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