Part of the land that is under contention
A city businessman has rushed to court to stop Kira Municipality officials from forcefully grabbing his land to open up an illegal road.
Harold B. Ssemalwadde, the Managing Director of logistics giant Globe Trotters Ltd sought court redress accusing the municipal bosses led by Mayor Julius Mutebi of orchestrating a plot to deprive him of his land through coercion and violence.
In his plaint filed through his lawyers of Barnabas DK Dyadi & Co. Advocates at the High Court Land Division in Kampala, Ssemalawadde wants court to direct the Kira Municipality officials to halt any attempts of illegally running a road through his land.
This is on the grounds that on top of killing his business that employs hundreds of Ugandans, the road construction is fueled by the alleged behind-the-scenes corruption and influence-peddling that government has already stated to be the greatest enemy stifling economic growth in Uganda.
According to court documents seen by this publication, the current land row traces its roots to 2010, when, following exponential growth of his company, Ssemalwadde bought land measuring over 15 acres at Bbuto-Bweyogerere, intending to relocate the business which was by then situated at Kiwatule-Ntinda in Kampala district.
Later, he further expanded the initial plot by acquiring more neighbouring plots of the land situated at the border of Wakiso and Mukono districts. By that time, most of this land lay idle, with just a portion of it being used for clay mining and bricklaying as a well as vegetable growing in the swamp thereon.
And as a law abiding Ugandan investor, Ssemalwadde in 2012/13 approached Kira Municipality land office to process the requisite legal documentation for his land.
Particularly, Ssemalwadde presented his site plan. This clearly showed that off his land title he had curved a road meant to feed into his over 25 acres of his logistics hub for approval.
And given the nature of his business, he ensured that the road that branched off the main Sonde-Bweyogerere road was wide enough and well tarmacked to ease the movement of trucks/his clients to and from his business.
This was also done upon realization that the nearest main (Bbuto- Kiwanga) road was about a kilometer away yet it was the sole one that was being used as a major access for all existing neighboring companies/businesses like the Kiwanga Poultry Farm and Kiwanga Thermal Power Plant. Ssemalwadde explains that he opted to open his own road after experts assessed that because his business involved heavy trucks turning all the time, it was wise for him to have a separate road for them so as not to disrupt traffic flow on the murram road that was being used by his neighbours and the general public. Besides that, the Bbuto-Kiwanga road is situated in Mukono district while his business is situated in Kira Municipality, Wakiso district.
Ssemalwadde avers that to date the Kira Municipality bosses are yet to return his approved plan despite several pleas and meetings over the same.
For instance, court records show that on September 19, 2016, Ssemalwadde wrote to the Kira Municipality Town Clerk complaining about lack of communication and feedback from the municipal council in respect to his plan.
Ssemalwadde further averred that he suspected that the municipal bosses were biding time so as to be able to alert the former Kira Mayor and his business allies about Ssemalwadde’s project with the aim of playing along the powerful politician’s whims.
The suspicions were confirmed when to his dismay; he learnt through rumors that the municipal officers were intending to construct a motorized access road through his land without his consent or knowledge.
As per their plan, the road would be an improvement of a footpath that connects to the gardens around his plot as well as to the drainage stream that separates Kiwanga in Mukono from Bbuto in Wakiso.
Unfortunately, this same road would only be constructed by breaking his perimeter wall so as to join the new road to the tarmac road that he constructed for his business (trucks and clients).
Ssemalwadde says that after getting wind of the rumours he approached the municipal officials and complained about their move.
He also highlighted to them the fact that the road through his company premises was unsafe to residents and his business as it exposed the former to accidents from turning trucks and the latter to theft of clients’ goods and general insecurity.
Initially, the two parties consented that the road was untenable given those circumstances. The municipal officials then suggested that he provides an alternative “footpath”.
Ssemalwadde says he did so by opening a footpath around his perimeter fence. He however admits that while the locals began using the new footpath, he did not block the old footpath through his land partly because he never wanted to tamper with the water table as advised by the environmental impact assessment report from NEMA.
COVID ROAD SPRINGS UP
Ssemalwadde says since then there has been harmony but trouble erupted afresh towards the end of March 2020 when, while observing the Covid-19 lockdown that saw him scale down on business at his company, his security guards summoned him to office.
This was after they had observed that some strange people were rolling culverts at night and stationing them at the point of the stream where they wanted to open the road.
Ssemalwadde says he contacted the police but on March 29, 2020, all hell broke loose when a group of vandals stormed his company with Mayor Julius Mutebi and demolished part of his wall fence for the construction of the earlier said road.
According to CCTV footage before court, Mutebi, using seemingly populist rhetoric, told the locals to “break the fence as no one can scare you since council approved what you’re doing.”
Further footage shows that the mob action was prior planned as the goons on site had two cars that were delivering water to them as the vandalism happened.
A distraught Ssemalwadde sought police intervention that later came and arrested a few of the vandals including John Okou, Wycliff Mulinge and Robert Mulinge among others.
Later, in early April, Ssemalwadde sought a meeting with Mutebi and his council. In the meeting that took place at the Globe Trotters company premises, mutebi shocked all and sundry when he admitted that whereas he was aware that there could have been some mistakes committed in vandalizing ssemalwadde’s perimeter wall, his hands were tied by majority and populist demands from his “voters”.
”I’m a politician and so I must always be on the people’s side; it doesn’t matter whether you (globe trotters) are right or not,” Mutebi is quoted saying in the meeting.
However, independent investigations have shown, according to court records that Ssemalwadde is a victim of influence peddling occasioned on the Kira Municipal bosses by his neighbor only identified as Herbert.
It is claimed that Herbert owns an expansive chunk of land next to Globe Trotters and has since used his privilege as a personal friend and business associate of the former Kira Municipality mayor to disadvantage Ssemalwadde.
Sources say that while the said land has only the Kiwanga-Bbuto road as the main access, its value and appeal will be elevated by an alternative road through Ssemalwadde’s company to the tarmac Bweyogerere-Sonde road.
This, it is suspected, is the invisible hand behind the current squabbles. It also explains why after years of tossing Ssemalwadde around in regard to his plan, the Kira municipal authorities rushed to open the road within a single day during the Covid-19 lockdowns when companies had been advised to either close business or scale down operations.
It has also emerged that police investigations discovered that as opposed to using area security, the Kira officials hired two LDU personnel from Katosi to guard the illegal road construction that was done by a single tractor.
Ssemalwadde has told court that following the standoff, his clients including SPEDAG logistics firm have withdrawn business from him. He says the withdrawal came after the vandals stormed one of the customers’ containers, vandalized it and robbed goods worth shs450m.
“The said client was paying Shs15m daily but is now gone. Our business is being killed by mere populist politics yet it has been employing hundreds of vulnerable poor people within Bweyogerere and beyond but they are now all grounded because our customers are fleeing from the chaos every single day. This is why I want the honorable court to come to my rescue,” Ssemalwadde says. There have been claims that the contentious road has existed for over 30 years but Ssemalwadde says this is a lie that court can disprove by a single visit to the scene. The road is clearly a “covid-19 project!”
Land grabs: Officials in Mubende district are colluding with economically powerful and politically connected people to grab local communities’ land.
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.
A community of over 300 smallholder farmers conned as their land is sold to a local investor without their consent.
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.
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.
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.
Witness Radio Milestones2 weeks ago
Witness Radio Uganda wins the best CSO land rights defenders award at the National Land Forum Awards.
Witness Radio Milestones1 week ago
The Executive Director of Witness Radio Uganda talks about the role played by Witness Radio in protecting communities affected by large-scale agribusinesses in Kiryandongo district in an interview with the ILC.