Have you ever imagined a situation where a would-be defender siding with your tormentor to finish you off? Well that is what Idah Nantaba, the former State Minster in charge of lands, told members of the Commission of Inquiry into Land matters in Uganda.
When she appeared before the commission being chaired by Justice Catherine Bamugemereire on May 27th, Nantaba, now the State Minister in charge of ICT and National Guidance pinned police on abetting land disputes that often turn into forceful evictions carried out by land-grabbers.
By law, the police have a cardinal mandate of protecting law and order. To starters, article 212 of the constitution of Uganda stipulates the functions of the police as; protecting life and property, preserve law and order, prevent and detect crime, among others.
POLICE ROLE IN LAND EVICTIONS
According to Nantaba, land evictions being carried out by moneyed individuals and agribusiness companies, are being fuelled by among other government institutions, police officers, who are always deployed surrounding the disputed land so as to intimidate peasants.
“During our operations, we had to work with institutions like police, attorney General, office of RDCs, Administrator General’s office, District Land Boards, and many other offices, but we realized that one of the drivers of land disputes is the involvement of the institutions that are supposed to be helping in executing the mandates that are enshrined in the land-related laws.” Nantaba said.
She added that “Police for instance, we realized that it abets and aids the evictions… I will give a scenario where in Kayunga, one landlord who acquired land in 2008, was registered on a title through fraudulent means.”
1 PERSON AGAINST A COMMUNITY
Nantaba said that one day, hundreds of people and most importantly, bona fide occupants of the land in Kayunga District woke up on astonishing situation whereby one powerful man, whose identity she didn’t reveal, wanted them off the land that they had occupied for the last couple of decades.
The community members were distraught. But with scores of armed police officials, surrounding the disputed land, even stiff resistance to the eviction by the community, could not help the situation.
“This land was occupied by more than 1,000 people and he swings in with police escorted by the army, started assaulting these tenants who are lawful occupants,” Nantaba explained, “those who were resisting the eviction were arrested, dragged to courts of law, criminal cases were preferred against them instead of civil cases.”
In detailing her testimony, Nantaba explained that people were imprisoned on trumped up charges saying that “someone is accused of stealing goats, hitting cows that had been brought to eat people’s crops, demolished and burned people’s houses and up to now, some are even still in prison after more than seven years and I would want to escort this commission to these prisons and see them.”
But intriguingly, the peasants’ cases would dramatically change to be “aggravated robbery!”
But this kind of charges against peasants in Kayunga, worries Nantaba because to her knowledge, all the victims have never got to know how to touch a gun.
“We tried to rescue these people, but many of them are still in prison because they were charged with aggravated robbery,” Nantaba said, “A man who has never touched a gun, is charged with aggravated robbery?”
They had been imprisoned even before Nantaba became a state Minister for lands for five years, meaning that they have been behind the bars for more than seven years now.
Aggravated robbery means, the robber was armed with a deadly weapon such as a gun, had an accomplice, or actually inflicted serious bodily harm on the victim.
“But the man was saying that he is the owner of the disputed land yet the true landlord with a genuine title was there. The masquerader took the case to court but evictions were taking place at the same time,” Nantaba narrated.
With armed police surrounding the disputed land, on top of ongoing trumped-up charges in courts, there was nothing that hundreds of peasants who lost their land could do, except stand by and watch helplessly as their property was claimed for development and desperately fleeing it for nowhere thereafter.
“So, when others are thrown in courts and imprisoned, the rest on the ground are intimidated and they end up packing bags and leave. So, the aggressiveness and involvement of police in aiding these land grabbers fuels land disputes.” Nantaba said.
Such cases of imprisoning victims of land grabbing by grabbers are not limited to Kayunga, but they are also common in Mubende district with many of the victims languishing for no genuine crimes.
Nantaba, also accused fellow leaders in various government agencies of conniving with RDCs, top people in government or sometimes, picking bribes.
She confessed that, “Some of us, leaders in connivance with the office of the RDCs [Resident District Commissioners], sometimes, we also side with other big people in government and sometimes, we are bribed.”
“I saw bribes coming to me where I was being told to take a certain amount and shut up. So, you either shut up by bribe, or you fear the person who is evicting people because of his position in the army, police or in government…” Nantaba added.
One of the causes, according to Nantaba is “ignorance” of the land law vis-à-vis their rights, thus giving grabbers leeway to deprive peasants of their land.
Government orders arrest of notorious land grabber in Mubende district.
By Witness Radio team
The government of Uganda has ordered the Police in Mubende to oversee the arrest of a land grabber in the Mubende district whose evictions have caused suffering to residents in Mubende for over a decade.
The Prime minister of Uganda, Rt Hon. Robina Nabbanja while meeting the affected residents at her home in Kakumiro district ordered the arrest of Milly Naava Namutebi and halted all activities carried out by a land grabber on people’s land. She further made it clear that all residents remain on their land till her visit to ascertain the true owner of the land.
For over a decade, Naava has been carrying out forced evictions in the area with the assistance of the area police which has rendered people homeless. People have lost land, lack food, children are not schooling and families have broken as a result of her unending violent evictions. Defenders have been framed and arrested, whereas others have been beaten in evictions.
Over 3.5 square miles belonging to 4000 residents have all been taken by the wealthy investor without consent from the owners.
Over 60 residents of Kirwanyi in Kiruma sub-county led by their Chairman Bangirana Innocent pitched camp at the Prime minister’s home in protest of the increased and violent evictions of Naava and her men and wanted the prime minister’s intervention to save them from being evicted.
According to the residents, Naava with the protection of police officers was harvesting people’s crops including maize claiming she wanted to use the land. The residents informed Witness Radio that they have been on the said land for generations and wonder how Naava came to own it.
One of the victims, Mr. Lubuuka Godfrey who had over 20 acres of maize told the Prime minister that casual laborers attached to Naava and guarded by the police officers slashed all his plantation and ordered him to leave the land immediately.
“I direct the District Police Commander (DPC) of Mubende and the Resident District Commissioner (RDC) to withdraw the four police officers guarding Naava, and thereafter arrest her for causing distress to the people.” The Rt Hon Prime minister said.
At least 30 houses and hundreds of hectares of crops especially maize were destroyed in the recent violent evictions, according to a community land rights defender, Mr. Ssesazi Christopher.
Naava has on several occasions been arrested and charged for violently evicting people without compensating or resettling them. In July 2022, Naava together with his people at large were arrested, arraigned before the magistrate court in Mubende, and charged with 20 counts including forgery, malicious damage, fraud, and criminal trespass among others.
The Rt Hon Prime minister’s order comes after Naava defied directives of not evicting people on land that were given by the Minister of Lands, Hon Judith Nabakooba. Last year, Nabakooba visited the affected communities and directed no further evictions citing investigations into the land ownership.
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.
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