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Kira Municipal Bosses Sued Over Land Grabbing In COVID-19 Road Scam

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 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.

DETAILS

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.

TROUBLE BEGINS

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.

Corruption Cited

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.

LOSSES ALREADY

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!”

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How Kiryandongo land conflict has affected children

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Parents affected by the seven-year-old land conflict in Kiryandongo District have said hundreds of their children are facing hunger and lack of education.

The children have been forced out of school since 2017 and their parents, who derived livelihood mainly from cultivation, are now struggling to put food on the table since their land is now occupied by a ranch.

Currently, the farming families are now trapped in the middle of farms belonging to Agilis Partners, Great Season SMC Limited, and Kiryandongo Sugar Limited, who have set up ranches measuring about 9,300 acres in Mutunda and Kiryandongo sub-counties.

The ranch land had for long been occupied and farmed by more than 35,000 families who came to the area after they fled war and natural calamities from other districts in Uganda, according to Witness Radio, a non- governmental organisation.

Ms Esther Namuganza, a resident of Kimogoro Village, Mutunda Sub-county, lives with her five children in an area known as Ranch 20.

She recalls that on November 23, 2017, agents of Agilis Partners told the people living within Ranch 20 and 21 that it had acquired the land and that they would have to vacate.

“The first eviction took place on November 23, 2017. It was a Thursday. We grew big-headed and refused to vacate the ranches because we are the citizens of Uganda, we have nowhere to go,” she says.

Her family is one of a few that still remain on the land but with nowhere to grow food.

“We eat one meal a day and even at times we just take porridge. We don’t eat during the day to save for tomorrow. If you say I’m going to have lunch and supper, what about tomorrow?” Ms Namuganza wonders.

Annet Muganyizi, a former Senior Four student who dropped out of school in 2017, says all the schools, health facilities and water sources on the land have all been destroyed.

Mr John Byaruhanga of Nyamutende Village in Kiryandongo Sub-county said agriculture used to be their only source of livelihood in the ranches.

“When Agilis Partners came, everything changed for the worse. We were beaten, tortured and evicted at gunpoint. When we ask those armed men where they want us to go with our children and cattle, they just tell us to vacate. When you try to resist, they arrest you. I am one of those who have been arrested twice,” he says.

However, the spokesperson of Agilis Partners, Mr Emmanuel Onyango, earlier dismissed the allegations of unending forceful evictions.

“To be honest, I don’t know why people keep on accusing us of evictions yet we still have people residing on Ranch 20 and 21,” Mr Onyango said . He explained that if indeed they were evicting people, “there wouldn’t be anyone left on the land.”

Mr Jonathan Akweteireho, the Kiryandongo deputy RDC, said the Bunyoro land question cannot be sorted out without thinking about its history.

“We had 38 ranches here, which, on guidance of these international organisations, told the government to restructure the ranches. The ranches were restructured, people settled there, they were never given titles and up to today, there are big problems in all those ranches,” he said.

Source: Daily Monitor

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Chip in to take Bayer down!

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If the lawsuits keep on coming, it could finish off this brutal corporation – and send its bee-killing, cancer-linked chemicals into history.

But many of Bayer’s victims don’t have enough money to take them to court and get the justice they deserve. That’s where we come in.

If everyone reading this chips in just a small amount, we’d have enough to launch a powerful legal fund for Bayer’s victims – helping more desperate people access legal advice and get their day in court. Every win will get us closer to a future free of poisonous pesticides.

Can you chip in now to help take Bayer down?

Anything extra raised will power Ekō and our campaigns worldwide fighting for people and the planet.

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Oil project-affected persons express disappointment in Uganda judiciary

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The Tilenga and EACOP oil project-affected households have expressed deep disappointment over the failure of key stakeholders in Uganda’s judicial system to grant them audience to discuss their grievances stemming from a lawsuit filed against them by the government in December 2023.

In a press conference organized at Hotel Africana in Kampala, some members of the 42 of the families sued by the government claimed having travelled from Buliisa district to Kampala with the aim of meeting Norbert Mao, the minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs, Chief Justice Alfonse Owiny-Dollo and the deputy chief justice.

They also intended to meet the principal judge, the Judicial Service Commission (JSC) and others. Additionally, the households wanted to meet Total Energies’ managing director. However, they were unable to meet any of them, stating that their refusal indicated lack of responsiveness and dialogue on critical issues affecting the rights and livelihoods of project-affected people in the oil region.

According to a one Bamutuleki, one of the affected members, they had written letters to various stakeholders, including the ministry of Justice and Constitutional Affairs, the chief justice, deputy chief justice, principal judge, Judicial Service Commission (JSC), and Total Energies, seeking for a meeting to discuss their grievances. However, they were unable to meet any of them for a crucial discussion.

“This lack of interaction leaves us feeling neglected and unheard in our quest for justice and fair treatment in the face of potential evictions related to the oil projects,” Bamutuleki said.

Julius Asiimwe, another oil project-affected person, raised similar concerns about their failure to meet the key stakeholders in the judiciary to address their grievances.

“We are not happy with all these offices. We are aggrieved. We wrote them letters requesting for meetings on specific dates and none of them wrote back to us. Based on the reception we received at the offices we visited, we don’t think that the judiciary understands the implications of its actions on our families, and our children,” Asiimwe said.

The failure to meet any of the officials leaves the future of the affected households in uncertainty after the High court in Hoima gave the government a go-ahead to evict them from their land.

GENESIS

In December 2023, the government filed a lawsuit against the households affected by the Tilenga and East African Crude Oil Pipeline (EACOP) projects in Uganda. This was after the affected households had rejected the compensation offered by Total Energies, a French company, which was acquiring the land on behalf of the ministry of Energy, citing it as inadequate, unfair and low.

The affected people said the government valuation did not reflect the value of their land, and the impact of losing their property. They expressed their preference for land in exchange for their property rather than monetary compensation in order to maintain their livelihoods.

Additionally, they claimed it was a violation of Article 26 of the Ugandan Constitution, which protects property rights and ensures fair compensation. However, the rushed court processes led by Justice Jesse Byaruhanga of the High court in Hoima resulted in a judgment against the households within four days of the case being filed, which is arguably one of the fastest court cases to be resolved in Uganda in recent memory.

The court ruling stated that the people’s compensation could be deposited in court and the government could proceed and gain vacant possession of their land.

The affected households did not participate in the court hearing because some of them were even unaware that they had been sued.
According Bamutuleki, other project- affected persons could not travel to the court in Hoima, which was far away from Buliisa, due to the short notice provided for the hearing and their lack of financial resources to cover transportation costs.

“This lack of adequate notice and financial constraints hindered our ability to participate in the legal proceedings and defend our interests,” Bamutuleki pointed out.

Additionally, Bamutuleki stated that they were given a pile of legal documents by the court and no one was there to make the interpretation for them. Most of the project-affected persons are illiterate, a factor that made it harder for them to get a fair hearing.

UNCERTAINTY

Many families say their eviction from land for the Tilenga and East African Crude Oil Pipeline (EACOP) projects makes their future unknown given that land is their primary source of income.

While at the press conference, Jelousy Mugisha stated that their daily lives depend on the land for various aspects such as generating income, sending children to school, and accessing medical assistance.

“I have been using my land for many years now to take care of my family because I don’t earn any monthly salary. So, the government giving me money to leave my land and get a smaller one is completely unfair and unconstitutional,” he said.

The families highlighted that they weren’t fighting the government and its projects but only want a fair compensation for their land, which will restore them to their former positions. Mugisha stated that the money the government proposed in compensation for their land is completely low compared to the market prices of the land in the area.

“The size of my land that was acquired is 2.5 acres. The government wants to give me Shs 5 million per acre yet the market price for one acre is Shs 20 million in my area,” Mugisha said.

“If the government really wants the land, let it get us another land equivalent to what we had and we shall agree,” he said.

Dickens Kamugisha, the executive director of the Africa Institute for Energy Governance (AFIEGO), an organization that has been supporting the affected families for a long time, expressed deep concern over the plight of the poor families from the oil region who are facing injustices.

He emphasized the importance of all Ugandans to take a keen interest in their struggles, highlighting the broader implications of the government’s actions and court precedents that allow for the violation of constitutional rights and unfair treatment of landowners.

“As these poor families from the oil region suffer injustices today, all Ugandans should take a keen interest in their plight. With courts setting bad precedents that allow the government to violate Article 26 and other human rights provisions of the Ugandan Constitution, where affected landowners are forced to accept low, unfair, and inadequate compensation, and courts deny people fair hearings, any Ugandan could suffer the same fate,” he warned.

Despite facing legal battles, evictions, and disruptions to their livelihoods, these individuals remain resolute in their pursuit of a just resolution to their grievances.

Source: The Observer.

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