WITNESS RADIO MILESTONES
Land Grabbing: Police Abetting the Big Steal, Minister Tells Land Inquiry Terrifying Tales Peasantry Live With
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.
To worsen the situation, Nantaba said that even if this particular forceful eviction was successful, the claimant’s title on the contested land was still in a process of being awarded.
“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.
Complaint against unprofessional conduct of the DPC Kiryandongo district for aiding and abetting land grabbing in kiryandongo district.
Professional Standards Unit, Uganda Police-Kampala.
RE: COMPLAINT AGAINST UNPROFESSIONAL CONDUCT OF THE DPC KIRYANDONGO DISTRICT FOR AIDING AND ABETTING LAND GRABBING IN NYAMUTENDE KITWARA PARISH KIRYANDONGO DISTRICT AND CARRYING OUT ILLEGAL ARRESTS AND DETENTION OF INNOCENT RESIDENTS/ BIBANJA OWNERS FOR PROTESTING AGAINST THE ILLEGAL EVICTION FROM THEIR LAND.
We act for and behalf of the Lawful and bonafide occupants of Land described as LRV MAS 2 FOLIO 8 BLOCK 8 PLOT 22 (FORMERLY KNOWN AS RANCH 22).
Our Clients are residents of Nyamutende Village, Kitwara Parish in Kiryandongo District where they have lived for more than 30 years and sometime in 2017, they applied for a lease of the said Land to Kiryandongo District Land Board through the Directorate of Land Matters State House.
As they were still awaiting their Application to be processed, they were shocked to establish that the said land had been instead leased to and registered in the names of Isingoma Julius, Mwesige Simon, John Musokota William, Tumusiime Gerald, Wabwire Messener Gabriel, Ocema Richard and Wilson Shikhama, some of whom were not known to the Complainants. A copy of the Search is attached hereto
Our clients protested the above action and appealed to relevant offices, but were shocked to discover that the above persons had gone ahead and sold the same to a one Maseruka Robert.
Aggrieved by these actions, the Complainants appealed to the RDC who advised them to institute proceedings against the said persons, and assigned them a one Mbabazi Samuel to assist them to that effect. The said Mbabazi accordingly filed Civil Suit Noa 46 of 2019 against tne said registered proprietors at Masindi High Court challenging the illegal and fraudulent registration, sale and transfer of the subject land to Maseruka Robert.
While awaiting the progress of the case mentioned hereinabove, the Complainants were surprised to find that the said Mbabazi, instead of assisting them, he went into a consent settling the said suit on their behalf without their knowledge or consent. A copy of the Consent is attached hereto.
Among the terms of the said consent Judgment was that the residents would be compensated without specifying how much and would in return vacate the Land.
As if that was not enough, Maseruka Robert and Mbabazi Samuel are going ahead to execute the said Consent Judgment by forcefully evicting the occupants without compensation which has prompted the complainants to challenge the said Consent by applying for its review and setting aside at Masindi High Court which is coming up for hearing on the 29th March 2023. A copy of the Application is attached hereto.
Sensing the imminent threat of eviction, we also filed an application for interim stay of execution of the said consent to avoid rendering their application for review nugatory but unfortunately the same could not be heard on the date it was fixed for hearing (6th February 2023). A copy of the Application is attached hereto
On Thursday last week, three tractors being operated by 6 workers of a one Mbabazi Samuel [the very person who had been entrusted to represent our Clients to secure their Land through Civil Suit No.46 of 2019] encroached close to 50 acres of our Clients’ land and started ploughing it but our Client’s protested and chased them away.
We have however been shocked to receive information from our Clients that on Sunday at Mid night, 3 police patrols invaded the community in the night and arrested community members; Mulenje Jack, Steven Kagyenji, Mulekwa David, Ntambala Geoffrey, Tumukunde Isaac 15 years, Kanunu Innocent, Mukombozi Frank, Kuzara, Rwamunyankole Enock, and took them to Kiryandongo Police Station where they are currently detained.
We strongly protest the illegal arrests and detention of our Clients as this is a carefully orchestrated land grabbing scheme by Maseruka Robert and Mbabazi Samuel who are receiving support from the DPC Kiryandongo.
The purpose of this Letter therefore is to request your good office to investigate the misconduct, abuse of office and unprofessionalism of the said DPC Kiryandongo District and all his involvement in the land grabbing schemes on land formerly known as Ranch 22.
Looking forward to your urgent intervention,
C.C The Head Police Land Protection Unit Police Head Quarters Naguru
CC The RDC Kiryandongo District
CC The Chairman LCVKityadongo District
CC The Regional Police CommanderAlbertine Region
WITNESS RADIO MILESTONES
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.
WITNESS RADIO MILESTONES
Witness Radio Uganda wins the best CSO land rights defenders award at the National Land Forum Awards.
By Witness Radio Team
Uganda’s leading land and environmental rights watchdog, Witness Radio has been awarded the best CSO land rights defender award 2022 in the recently concluded National Land Forum Awards held last week at Mestil hotel in Kampala.
Witness Radio’s executive Director, Jeff Wokulira Ssebaggala attributed the award to the community land and environmental rights defenders who stand up against the intimidation and different forms of harassment from land grabbers (economically powerful and politically connected companies and individual investors).
“This is an award for defenders at a community level. They work in very deadly environments filled with harassment, torture, death threats, arrest, trumped-up charges, and kidnaps among others to advocate for community land and environment rights. This is happening at a spate where criminalization and silencing of community land rights defenders are at increase.” Jeff added.
The award has come at a time when hundreds of Ugandans in different parts of the country are accessing services provided by the organization ranging from legal service provisions, non-judicial mechanism engagements, empowerment to help them understand their rights, and using the same knowledge to use the same skills to push back against illegal and forced evictions
The chairman of the organizing committee of the second National Land Forum, Mr. Jimmy Ochom noted some progress on legislation in Uganda’s land Governance. He cited growing inequalities on land where the poor are more vulnerable.
During awards, the state minister for housing, Hon persis Namuganza revealed that the government approved the plan for 2018-2040 that maps the land use in the country.
According to the minister, the government had identified land for settlement, game reserves, wildlife, arable land for farming, and water bodies among others in the plan which she said was passed a few weeks ago.
The event was organized by Oxfam and partners and provided a platform for discussions by the different actors in the land sector on issues around land governance, including land rights, land administration, and land governance for improved collaboration, cooperation between the actors, and improved land service delivery for Ugandans under a theme “Taking stock of the National Land Policy in addressing Land inequality in addressing Land inequality in Uganda.”
Other categories of awards that were won by different organizations and individuals including Mr. Eddie Nsamba-Gayiiya for his contribution to research on land rights, Justice Centers Uganda for Promoting Access to Land Justice, and Mr. Henry Harrison Irumba for Championing Legal Reforms among others.
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