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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

Police harassment: Six land rights defenders from Kawaala have been summoned for interrogation.

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A photo of old Kampala police station where defenders are expected to report tomorrow. 

By Witness Radio – Uganda team

As forced evictions and land giveaways to investors accelerate in Uganda, police continue to be deployed to criminalize the work of community land and environmental rights defenders supporting communities to push back illegal evictions.

For many years ago, hundreds have been arrested, charged, abducted, and beaten for their work by machete-wielding men, police, and army sidelining with investors or grabbers.

The latest to fall prey is a group of six community land rights defenders and a local council vice-chairperson of Kawaala zone II, Lubaga Division, in Kampala district. The group and other defenders have been leading a pushback campaign since 2020 against the multimillion dollars drainage channel being implemented by Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA) with finances from the World Bank under Kampala Institutional and Infrastructure Development Project (KIIDP-2)

This project first impacted Kawaala Zone II around 2014, when a channel diversion was constructed. The current planned expansion will widen that channel and require forced evictions across an area at least 70 meters wide and 2.5 km long.

The group must appear at the Old Kampala Regional Police headquarters criminal investigations directorate tomorrow, 29th/06/2022 before the Deputy Assistant Inspector of Police (D/AIP) Domara Patrick at 9: 00 AM local time.

The defenders summoned include; Kasozi Paul, Busobolwa Adam, Kabugo Micheal, Serugo Charles, Ssemanda David, Sserukwaya David, and vice-chairman of Kawaala zone II Mr. Patrick Kato Lubwama.

According to the police summons, a copy obtained by Witness Radio – Uganda does not mention the charge nor state the complainant (s).

The chairman of the affected group of people Mr. Kasozi Paul believes these are retaliation for their strong resistance to land grabs being spearheaded by KCCA to construct a drainage channel.

“We have always been targeted by KCCA and other fellow opportunists that we are sabotaging the drainage construction which is not true. We refused to give away our land without being compensated. We believe this is the reason for the summons. We shall go and meet the police tomorrow,” Kasozi stated.

When Witness Radio contacted Deputy Assistant Inspector of Police (D/AIP) Domara Patrick who signed those summons declined to share details of the charges instead he invited the Witness Radio team to visit his bosses.

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Corporate Accountability

Signs of harmful projects with financing from development institutions are spotted in Uganda…

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By Witness Radio Team.

The growth of a country is discerned by great leaders and innovators who see opportunities out of darkness and transform their areas from nothing to success. Those are great leaders whose interest is to see the developments in their countries and the well-being of their citizens.

Every single day, countries all over the world receive investors that acquire loans, grants, and donations to implement mega projects that are seemingly expected to develop host countries. countries and investors borrowing the money Often, countries and investors portray how these projects improve the livelihood of the browbeaten, au contraire, they have left many broken families, poor-dirty homesteads, and shattered dreams.

Uganda is one of those countries, whose citizens have paid a price for reckless or unsupervised and profit-led international investment. In a bid to implement its industrial policy, the country has welcomed both foreign and local investors with interests in the fields of extraction, industrial agriculture, carbon credit tree plantation, mining, infrastructural projects, and many others.

It has received billions of dollars from different financiers including commercial banks, Pension Funds, and International Development Finance Banks or institutions, among others. For instance, the World Bank has invested more than 20 Billion Dollars since 1963 and currently

Every project comes with its own chilling story. More often their stories are unheard by the World. Witness Radio – Uganda surveyed some projects in Uganda. This study revealed agony, illegal evictions, abject poverty, environmental degradation, and loss of life among others, as some of the consequences suffered by the would-be beneficiaries of these international funded projects across the country.

In the capital of Uganda, Kampala, over 1750 families were forcefully evicted from a city suburb, Naguru, for Naguru- Nakawa housing estates.  11 years down the road the project that was highly hyped is to take off on the grabbed land. Pleas from the victims of the eviction to regain their land have all fallen on deaf ears.

About 80km away from Kampala is the island district of Kalangala surrounded by the World’s second-largest lake, Victoria, and known for palm growing. When the palm-oil project was introduced to residents they were given the impression that it would improve their livelihoods and create job opportunities.  Instead, it has dumped thousands into poverty after their land was grabbed by BIDCO, a Wilmer international-funded project. People lost land and now work on plantations as casual laborers. The neighboring communities are accusing BIDCO workers of sexual and gender-based violence.

In the South-Western District of Kiryandongo, multinational companies including Agilis Partners Limited, Kiryandongo Sugar Limited, and Great Seasons SMC Limited with funding from The United States Agency for International Development (USAID), The Department for International Development (DFID) of the United Kingdom, and Common Fund for Commodities among other financiers are forcefully evicting more than 35,000 people. The eviction has been on since 2017.

Workers that worked on a World Bank Project in Soroti, in the far east of the country, are accused of sexually harassing minors. Several young girls were defiled and left pregnant. Despite the government being aware of this none of the pedophiles have been brought to book, the World Bank-funded project in the Eastern Town of Soroti left several underage girls defiled and impregnated.

In late 2020, residents of Kawaala zone II woke up to the hail of armed men and graders evicting and destroying their properties to implement a multimillion-dollar project funded by the World Bank. The project is being implemented by the Kampala Capital city Authority (KCCA) on behalf of the government of Uganda.

The above-listed and other projects, on the other hand, continue to perpetuate violence and judicial harassment against leaders of Project Affected Persons (PAPs) and community land and environmental rights defenders because of their work that resists illegal evictions and destruction of the environment among others.

Although project implementers such as government entities accuse local communities of occupying land targeted for projects illegally, in most cases victim communities have rights over these pieces of land because their settlement on the same land can be traced to have happened generations ago.

No matter how people are negatively impacted being by these harmful projects, financiers continue to release more money to the government and investors. The banks aim at profit margins other than the livelihoods of the people. In Bulebi village, Mbazi parish, Mpunge Sub County in Mukono district, Akon’s futuristic city is about to lead to the eviction of over 1000 residents whose entire lives have been built on their land.

In April last year, American rapper Aliaune Damala Badara well known for his stage name AKON visited Uganda in search of land for constructing the city. On the same business trip, he met President Museveni Yoweri Kaguta and expressed his interest in building a futuristic city with its currency. The president ordered the Ministry of Lands, housing, and urban development to look out for free land for his city.

However, on 7th Jan 2022, the Uganda Land Commission showed the Minister for Lands, Housing, and Urban Development “Hon Judith Nabakooba” land that was proposed for the Akon city. According to the Uganda land commission, the land is Freehold Volume 53 Folio 9 measuring I square mile.

This has sparked outrage amongst the affected as they were never consulted or consented to allow the project in their community. According to community members that Witness Radio interviewed, they said they heard the distressing news of Akon city through the Media.

The community said no official from the ministry has ever approached them about their land giveaway. “Our country is full of land evictions and evictors begin in that way. There has been no official coming on the ground to officially inform us about the project and neither have we heard any official communication of compensation.” Obori said.

Residing in the attractive village surrounded by freshwaters, the community asserts this has been the source of livelihood and advised the government to get alternative land for the City.

Controversies surrounding the land giveaway and ownership of the area still exist. A section of residents have protested and vowed not to surrender their land for the City. They claim to have acquired freehold titles from the Mukono lands board.

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Corporate Accountability

Breaking: over 350,000 acres of land were grabbed during Witness Radio – Uganda’s seven months ban.

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By Witness Radio Team.

As the onslaught on civil society heightens, its space continues to shrink which has bearing on the services they render to the communities. Witness Radio, was among the 54 organizations suspended by Uganda’s National Bureau for Nongovernmental Organizations on August 20th, 2021. The actions are amongst the recent forms of attack on civil societies in Uganda. Other numerous attacks include arrests of rights activists, harassment, tortures, and office- break-ins at night by security operatives who move away with valuables.

The effects of this suspension were felt by communities facing land grabs across the country. For seven months while the organization was suspended, over 300,000 people were evicted from their land and couldn’t access specialized and prompt legal assistance.

Witness Radio Uganda, globally known for its campaign against community land-grabs couldn’t assist these victims of land grab since it risked facing further sanctions from the Bureau in case it intervened. However, last week, there was some relief, when Uganda’s National Bureau for NGOs lifted suspension and certified its operation.

According to Mrs. Bulyerali Joan, the Head Legal at Witness Radio – Uganda, the organization conducted a review of the evictions that happened during the suspension. With information and assistance from some lawyers, local journalists, and community land and environmental rights defenders across the country, the evictions watchdog was able to document cases of hundreds of thousands of Ugandans that were either forcefully evicted or received threats of evictions while in its limbo.

The ban imposed on Witness Radio coupled with the disruptive impacts of COVID- 19 resulted in the surge of eviction cases, especially in areas where the organization had a presence. Throughout the ban, without access to swift and prompt legal support, the communities resorted to sharing with the world their ordeal.

She further noted that the evictions were conducted in disregard of the law on evictions. “I was shocked to see powerful people and companies take advantage of our suspension to escalate the evictions of vulnerable communities that received our assistance. The evictions did not comply with the land eviction practice directives. None of them was preceded by legal court orders.”  She noted.

According to the Land Eviction directives, issued by the former Chief Justice of Uganda, Bart Katureebe, evictions shall be preceded by valid court order, properly identifying the persons taking part in the eviction, and upon presentation of formal authorizations. The police and local authority of the area shall be notified and shall be present to witness the evictions, among others.

Based on the data gathered by the team, various communities across the country were left dispossessed by land grabbers without any form of assistance. Others have received threatening messages with intentions of dispossessing them off their land.

During the period under review, over 300,000 people across the country are believed to have been threatened with evictions, while 350,000 acres of land were either grabbed or on verge of being grabbed.

“However much, we gathered this information, we expect the cases to be higher because some evictions go unreported either due to the remoteness of the areas or other related factors.” One of the collaborators observed.

The evictions were extremely violent.  They were characterized by kidnaps, arrests and detentions, torture that often-caused unexpected grief to the communities.

Among the most affected districts include Kyankwanzi, Mubende, Kassanda, Hoima, Buikwe, Wakiso, Kikuube, and Bulambuli districts.

In some of the mentioned districts, the Lands, Housing, and Urban Development Minister toured and halted the evictions but the evictors continued unabated.

Mr. Kimazi Experito, a journalist based in Mubende, attributed the rise of evictions to the organization’s suspension which denied the evictions-affected communities access to specialized legal assistance.

He said Witness Radio has offered support to over 20 land-grab-affected communities in Mubende with legal support. “Witness radio is a game-changer that brought back lives of evicted communities to normal,” he lauded.

“Mubende is one of the fastest-growing areas because of gold and other minerals as well as factors related to fertile soils. Currently, it is one of the hotspots of evictions. Opportunists used this chance to grab land from people with full attention. Without the defenders, it’s often hard for people to get justice since local people are not much informed about land laws.” Kimazi explained.

Engineered by powerful people in public offices, multinational companies, and politicians using state machinery including the army and national police, forced evictions to continue to affect food sovereignty and threaten the role of indigenous communities to protect the environment.

During the same period, President Yoweri Museveni stopped any eviction without the approval of the Resident District Commissioners. However, legal experts warned that the move is to usurp the powers of the Judiciary. In a statement signed by Pheona Nabasa Wall, the Uganda Law Society President noted that the directive undermined the role and independence of courts in handling eviction matters.

That notwithstanding, “Occasionally, the residents are not given any opportunity to negotiate with the landlords. Even when the government obliges to pay landowners, neither does the government nor the evictor compensate for the damaged property. During evictions, properties that were made for their life end up being destroyed in seconds which causes lifetime misery.” Paul Kasoozi, a community land rights defender stated.

With different tactics aimed at alienating the poor from their land, it has been established that the police and the army continued to play a huge role in the largest forms of violent evictions through torture, arbitrary arrests, and detention and instilling fear and pressurizing the local communities to vacate their land on orders of the evictors.

Many of those community members who oppose land evictions end up being kidnapped, tortured, or arrested and detained to silence the community. It takes support from an organization defending communities’ land rights to intervene for such communities to get justice.

Days before the lifting of the suspension imposed on Witness Radio, communities neighboring the Katta Barracks in Bulambuli district, were violently evicted by the Uganda People’s Defense Forces under the alleged command of Lieutenant Colonel Mukiibi Julius without offering alternative resettlement.

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