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Livelihood, Land And Investment

Land probe is Exposing Speculators and Racketeers

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UGANDA: The Justice Catherine Bamugemereire ongoing judicial inquiry into land matters has as expected generated multi-dimensional controversies with some people, especially those in the financial sector, lawyers in private practice, and some beneficiaries accusing the commission of witch-hunt, abrasiveness, one-sidedness, and not offering them adequate space to respond to all issues. In a country where those with power and money are so accustomed to impunity and impudence, they shouldn’t cry when facing hard tackling.
The loudest cry has so far come from an unexpected quarter, the Lands minister, Betty Amongi Ongom, who supervises land administration, and is expected to implement some of the commission’s recommendations with regard to amendments in the law and policies governing land acquisition and administration in Uganda. Early this month there was what many construed as a well-planned and orchestrated campaign in parliament and from sections of the media castigating the commission for alleged ‘squandering’ so far 13bn, and still asking for more, when its results, according to them, are not being visibly seen.
It looked like the slander campaign was intended to pressure President Yoweri Museveni into not extending the Commission’s tenure, and thereby ask it to quickly wind up an inconclusive investigation, and save some powerful personalities embarrassments. But as usual President Museveni disregarded the avalanche, and extended the Commission’s term by a further six months and directed the treasury to add it  more 7bn/=.
It is perhaps necessary to state that the Bamugemereire Commission has so far, if nothing else, helped expose and shame senior government officials, big business people and their underlings as some sort of mafia, racketeering from government estates, and laundering money.
While a Commission of inquiry may have specific terms of reference, in general terms, they usually help break archaic, non-functional, compromised and financially expensive government traditional systems like courts of law that appear to be beyond the reach of common people so much oppressed and in need of help. In this regard, it is therefore important that Commissions are supported in more flexible ways and not to only focus on the amount of money they may consume during investigations as some MPs and sections of the media seem to suggest.
What is emerging so far from this investigation appears to be a pattern where those with insider knowledge of government estates and bureaucracy especially government senior  officials, land speculators and business people , weaved networks to acquire proprietorship of either private or public land for a song.
Using this insider knowledge, some them then approached their networks within government ministries including the ministry of finance to access colossal sums of money from the Land Fund quite often at exorbitant prices set by themselves, and there was no one to verify values attached and demanded. In many of these cases there is evidence of abuse of office by public officials, influence peddling by ‘big’ and politically connected people, and blatant corruption which they didn’t even bother to attempt hiding perhaps knowing they were beyond reach, and so, it is good they are getting exposed.
Some people have claimed that the Bamugemereire inquiry is hurting President Museveni, government, and NRM standing especially when they come just before election campaigns, or when government is trying to showcase its manifesto achievements, which I disagree with. Firstly, President Museveni doesn’t condone corruption or abuse of office, and therefore it is good when he speaks so often and loud against it, and the appointment of commissions of inquiry should be testimony to his stand.
It is also important to remember that that over the years President Museveni has instituted many commissions of inquiry, among them to deal with rot in the Uganda police (1997/98), Uganda Revenue Authority (2002), Global Fund (2005), and recently the Uganda National Roads Authority (2015), not as mere public relations gimmicks, but as serious efforts to deal with corruption and inertia.
In fact, both the Global Fund inquiry chaired Justice James Ogoola, and UNRA inquiries were conducted when President Museveni and NRM were facing very tough multiparty elections, and at that time, some faint hearted NRM people expressed apprehension and silently castigated President for appointing the Commissions and permitting them run their full course.
And none of these inquiries have gone without serious criticisms on the way they handle those accused or witnesses who appeared before them, cost, and in some cases even the contents of the reports. In the URA inquiry, two commissioners, James Kahoza and Favin Cousens even disowned aspects of the report, in addition to it being challenged in courts of law by those who felt aggrieved. However, one common feature in all these reports is that they have been implemented and major concerns addressed including achieving institutional improvements as the police, Global Fund, URA and UNRA demonstrate today.
And while some people may see commissions of inquiry as an inconvenience, it may as well be true, and yes, in fact, they are supposed to inconvenience the corrupt and financial racketeers who seek to cheat the public of services, and we shouldn’t have any apologies for them.

Source: Uganda Media Centre

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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