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Livelihood, Land And Investment

My 26-year land fight with Gen Muhwezi

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Last week, former minister Maj Gen Jim Muhwezi, unsuccessfully tried to stop court bailiffs from enforcing an eviction order given by Makindye magistrate Richard Mafabi.

This was the climax of a 26-year battle for land measuring 1.2 acres in Kyamula Zone, Salama in Makindye division of Kampala. The Observer talked to James Mubiru with whom Muhwezi has been feuding over the land.

GENESIS

Mubiru’s father, George Ssekajjugo, died in 1987 when he was three years old, leaving him and his sister Nabunjo Nammande under the care of their paternal uncle Nathan Ssewambwa.

Together with their mother, they left their home that sat on a 1.2 acre piece of land and joined the Ssewambwa homestead within the same locality.

However, they kept on using the land for farming until one day in 1992 when strangers claiming to have bought the land showed up at his uncle’s home to introduce themselves as the new landlords. Puzzled, Ssewambwa asked who had sold them the land seeing that the only two orphans; Mubiru and Nabunjo hadn’t come of age.

Ssewambwa decided to take the matter to the Local Council committee. He got little help. When Mubiru, the heir eventually became of age, he joined his uncle to pursue justice.

“After some time, the people who claim to have bought the land came and razed down my father’s house and also exhumed his remains,” Mubiru told The Observer.

A sympathetic member of the L-CII committee eventually introduced him to one William Hitimana who claimed he had bought the land from one Naome Batuusa. Mubiru says neither him nor his uncle knew anything about Batuusa who had claimed to be the caretaker of the orphans.

Hitimana told Mubiru that now that he had learnt that he had been swindled, he wanted to legally purchase the land after all.

“I asked him where he buried the remains of my father and he said he threw them in the lake because he didn’t want emizimu gy’Abaganda [Buganda’s spirits] to disturb him,” Mubiru says.

LETTERS OF ADMINISTRATION

Growing old and weak, Ssewambwa handed over all the paperwork relating to the land to Mubiru to start administering his father’s estate. With the assistance of LC-I chairman of Kyamula and his clan leaders who wrote to the administrator general, a letter of no-objection was obtained.

He was advised by the administrator general to get powers of attorney which were later given by then High court judge Remmy Kasule on July 12, 2005. Not much was heard of Hitimana until 2012 when Mubiru started the process of getting a lease from Buganda Land Board (BLB); the owners

of the land. In his first meeting, Hitimana had indicated a willingness to properly buy the land from Mubiru. But on discovering that he wasn’t willing to sell, he resorted to threats. Mubiru says Hitimana called someone whom he later learnt was Muhwezi.

“He asked Muhwezi what they should do for me, Muhwezi told him that he should just ignore me because I was useless,” Mubiru says.

He adds that Hitimana told him that it was in his interest to sell the land because if he doesn’t, he would lose it.

After the encounter, Mubiru still obtained an ownership certificate from BLB. He was given a go-ahead to survey the land so that they could determine how much money he would pay in busuulu [rental fees].

When the surveyors started surveying the land, Hitimana rose up again and through the LC-I chairman of Kyamula village, Kakooza Lukyamuzi, ordered the exercise stopped until the ownership wrangles are resolved.

The BLB’s standing orders prohibit surveying of any piece of land if there are some conflicts relating to owner- ship. When the exercise was stopped, Mubiru lodged a petition with High court at Nakawa and opened up a case against Hitimana.

The file was first transferred to the Anti-Corruption division then eventually forwarded to the Land division under High court judge, Joseph Murangira.

Muhwezi through his lawyer Ahmed Kalule Mukasa applied to become a party to the suit. He asked court for four months’ adjournment to justify why he was an interested party.

“But within those months, UPDF soldiers were deployed at our home and they arrested everybody they got there and took them to Kibuye police station,” Mubiru says.

Among the five arrested, three who were not related to Mubiru were released. Two were charged in the Makindye magistrate’s court with three counts of treason, attempted murder of Muhwezi and criminal trespass. Esther Nambayo, the then chief magistrate, remanded them to Luzira prison.

“I ran to the State House office in charge of land matters then led by Hajji Sseddunga who after studying the case wrote to the court telling them the circumstances surrounding their arrest. They were released on bail,” Mubiru says.

However, they continued to appear for mention of their case with the state attorney every time asking for an adjournment, claiming that investigations were incomplete. Nambayo eventually dismissed the case for lack of interest on the government side.

The five UPDF soldiers who had been deployed on the land never left until late 2013 when State House ordered them withdrawn. A two-roomed house was also erected on the land to house the soldiers. In place of the soldiers, private security guards were deployed.

In the court, after dismissing the case, the magistrate advised Mubiru and his cousins to streamline the ownership of the land.

Mubiru again sued Hitimana for malicious damage to property and trespass. Like in the previous cases, Hitimana refused to honour the summons, prompting court now under Richard Mafabi on March 30, 2015 to give its judgement, reinstating Mubiru as the rightful owner, and also awarding him Shs 10 million in damages.

Seeing that court had confirmed Mubiru as the owner, BLB gave him the green light to survey the land and get a lease title. Indeed, on June 6, 2015, Mubiru paid Shs 30 million to BLB for the land. But Muhwezi’s lawyer opposed the execution of the court order citing the presence of similar case in the High court.

Mubiru says he applied to that court to withdraw the case. He then went back to the magistrate’s court for fresh eviction orders which were granted and effected last week.

FRESH SURVEYING

In 2015, BLB gave him surveyors to survey the land but their attempts were foiled by the private security guards. In the scuffle that ensued, involving shooting, the surveyors were arrested and taken to Kibuye police.

To secure their release, Mubiru was called to police. Three accounts; attempted murder of Muhwezi, criminal trespass and treason were slapped against him. Mubiru says for seven days he was locked up in a toilet.

“One night I was picked and taken to the OC’s office where I found a man in civilian clothes who asked me why I was refusing to vacate the land. The man asked me whether I knew him and I told him no. He then told me I will die because of that land; that I didn’t know the people I was fighting with,’ Mubiru remembers.

He says that night he was badly tortured and two of his teeth extracted using pliers. He now uses artificial dentures. He was later released on police bond and told to report there every after five days; a thing he did until January 2016 when he got tired.

For now, Muhwezi has petitioned the High court’s land division, asking them to review the magistrate’s decision. “[But] I’m hopeful that I will prevail because this is my land,” Mubiru says.

GEN MUHWEZI LAWYER RESPONDS

Gen Jim Muhwezi’s lawyer, Ahmed Kalule, said Mubiru used an illegal court order to effect the eviction.

“Gen Muhwezi is trying to correct a situation where Mubiru in clear abuse of the court process; filed illegal suits and executed orders which court has made clear to him will never be executed until the High court is done with the case,” Kalule said last week.

He said Mubiru has been disturbing Muhwezi since 2012 despite knowing that the general bought the land in 2005.

“He [Mubiru] filed a suit against the former owner of the land William Hitimana even when he was aware that Gen Muhwezi was the new owner of this land,” Kalule says.

Having filed a suit in the High court, all subsequent suits were illegal for as long as the High court had not pronounced itself on the matter.

Source: The Observer

Livelihood, Land And Investment

Government orders arrest of notorious land grabber in Mubende district.

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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.

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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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