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NITA boss cited in Shs 928m Land Fund mess



The executive director of the National Information Technology Authority Uganda (NITA-U) James Saaka has come under the spotlight before the Land Probe Commission over the Shs 402 million he received from the Land Fund.
Saaka received the money in 2015 as partial payment of the Shs 928 million for plot 1, block 141 in Buterere-Bugangayizi in Kibaale district measuring about 640 acres.
He appeared before the Commission chaired by Lady Justice Catherine Bamugemereire, which has been investigating the processes in the Land Fund since last week. The Land Fund is a multi-purpose resource envelope meant to serve targeted beneficiaries, including tenants seeking to buy or own land.

Its also meant to finance the purchase of land by government for redistribution to bonafide occupants or resettlement of the landless people among others. Saaka is among a group of individuals, majority being government officials, who have benefited from the Land Fund.

Asked by the Commission’s lead counsel, Ebert Byenkya whether he owned the property in question, Saaka said the land belonged to his late father, Edward Batimbo Ssebuko who passed it to his children including him, the late Benedict Kitanwa, Annet Natuma, Peter Ssebuko and the late Ronald Mark.

Byenkya asked Saaka to explain how his father acquired the land. Saaka said his father acquired the land in 1963 to which Byenkya wondered whether theirs was one of the traditional families in Bunyoro kingdom.
“When I look at Bugangayizi, I see it as one of the lost counties that were returned to Bunyoro [kingdom] in a referendum. Isn’t that so?…So typically I’m expecting to see a traditional family that was granted mailo [land] in 1900 and maybe after the return of the lost counties. So, I would expect to see a title that reflects that history. But when I look at your title, it seems to start with your father” said Byenkya.”My lord, I wouldn’t know how my father acquired this property, I was one-year-old in 1963″, said Saaka.

Saaka explained that the family decided to sell the land to government after they failed to gain access to it. Byenkya wondered why there is no evidence of generic reference to people living on the land in question.

“I’m curious from 1979 to date coz I have been looking at some of the documents and people are referred to as squatters, people are referred to as tenants, but I don’t see any names and this seems to be typical even when you look at valuations.
People are generically referred to. I never see a list of people or homesteads for example counted and identified. I never see any form of identification of who these people are. So am wondering whether you yourself knew them?” Byenkya asked Saaka.
“I think the environment in that area, being an absent landlord it was difficult to bring them together and say identify yourself other than trying to engage them. I knew them [tenants] by face, when I went there I knew some of them, others you would only see cows.” Saaka said.
However, Byenkya said the fact that Saaka knew some of them by face, indicates that he was after all not an absent landlord as he claims. He asked him then why he did not take the next step of registering his tenants.
“It would suggest to me that you’re not an absent landlord. If you could go there, you could talk to them, you knew their faces. Why would you not be able to take the next step and record who these people were?” asked Byenkya.
“As I was in that process, that’s when the late Wilson Mulondo advised me and said; ‘I think there’s a Land Fund which could compensate you for that land since you have difficult in utilising it and I took his advice.” answered Saaka.According to the report of the chief government valuer, 70 per cent of Saaka’s land valued at Shs 448 million is encumbered while the remaining 30 per cent valued at Shs 480 is unencumbered.

The report further indicates that the 30% of the land which was free of occupants has 3 hills and a river making it unusable, a claim Saaka confirmed.

Saaka said that he could not answer for the valuer since he does not know the method that was used. Commissioner Mary Oduka Ochan asked Saaka why he had to sell part of the land that could not be used to government.

“Am talking of you, Mr Saaka, morally speaking, as an upright Ugandan who knows that this land is really not good for anything, you can’t do anything much, why did you think you should sell it to government?” asked Ochan.

“To begin with, it doesn’t really qualify for the Land Fund because it was unencumbered. But even if it did, if its not usable and you couldn’t use it or anybody else couldn’t use it, why do you sell it to government to pay much higher than they were paying for land which would have been more useful had those occupants not been there?”, she further asked.
“Is that morally fair, I would expect that you would be a person of integrity. When you talk of government money, that is taxpayers’ money and this is money which the minister of Lands plus the people of the Land Commission have all come here and said they wish there was more money put into the Land Fund. But we’re seeing as if the Land Fund actually has adequate money. The money has been going to wrong places, it has been going to things for which the Land Fund was never established like for example this. You’re saying you’re still owed money but I don’t think you’re owed much money, really!”

Saaka said that if he knew from the start that part of his land didn’t qualify for compensation from the Land Fund, he would have rejected the valuation. He was then asked if he would accept to be given back his land title and compensation only be given for the land that was encumbered. Saaka said that was not what his agreement with government was saying.

Justice Catherine Bamugemereire also queried why the unusable land was valued highly. She said that the chief government valuer will be summoned to explain the irregularity. Bamugemereire wondered what Uganda Land Commission could be doing with this kind of land that cannot be used.

The Commission’s mandate is to probe efficiency of the laws, policies and processes of land registration, acquisition, administration and management. It is also tasked with scrutinizing the work of relevant bodies in the reservation of wetlands, forests, road reserves, and national parks, among other gazetted spaces.

The probe is mandated to investigate and inquire into the role of the Uganda Land Commission (ULC) in administering public land and the Land Fund.

The commissioners are Frederick Ruhindi, Mary Oduka Ochan, Robert Ssebunnya, Joyce Gunde Habaasa, Dr. Rose Nakayi and George Bagonza.

Source: The Observer

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Breaking: Witness Radio and Partners to Launch Human Rights Monitoring, Documentation, and Advocacy Project Tomorrow.



By Witness Radio Team.

Witness Radio, in collaboration with Dan Church Aid (DCA) and the National Coalition for Human Rights Defenders (NCHRD), is set to launch the Monitoring, Documentation, and Advocacy for Human Rights in Uganda (MDA-HRU) project tomorrow, 22nd February 2024, at Kabalega Resort Hotel in Hoima District.

The project, funded by the European Union, aims to promote the protection and respect for human rights, and enable access to remedy where violations occur especially in the Mid-Western and Karamoja sub-regions where private sector actors are increasingly involved in land-based investments (LBIs) through improved documentation, and evidence-based advocacy.

The three-year project, which commenced in October 2023, focuses its activities in the Mid-Western sub-region, covering Bulisa, Hoima, Masindi, Kiryandongo, Kikuube, Kagadi, Kibale, and Mubende districts, and Karamoja sub-region, covering Moroto, Napak, Nakapiripirit, Amudat, Nabilatuk, Abim, Kaabong, Kotido, and Karenga districts.

The project targets individuals and groups at high risk of human rights violations, including Human Rights Defenders (HRDs) and Land and Environmental Defenders (LEDs). It also engages government duty bearers such as policymakers and implementers in relevant ministries and local governments, recognizing their crucial role in securing land and environmental rights. Additionally, the project involves officials from institutional duty bearers including the Uganda Human Rights Commission (UHRC), Equal Opportunities Commission, and courts, among others.

Representatives from the international community, faith leaders, and business actors are also included in the project’s scope, particularly those involved in land-based investments (LBIs) impacting the environment.

The project was initially launched in Moroto for the Karamoja region on the 19th of this month with the leadership of the National Coalition for Human Rights Defenders (NCHRD).

According to the project implementors,  the action is organized into four activity packages aimed at; enhancing the capacity and skills of Human Rights Defenders (HRDs) and Land and Environmental Defenders (LEDs) in monitoring, documentation, reporting (MDR), and protection, establishing and reinforcing reporting and documentation mechanisms for advocacy and demand for corporate and government accountability;  providing response and support to HRDs and marginalized communities; and lastly facilitating collaboration and multi-stakeholder engagements that link local and national issues to national and international frameworks and spaces.

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Kiryandongo leadership agree to partner with Witness Radio Uganda to end rampant forced land evictions in the district.



By Witness Radio team.

Kiryandongo district leaders have embraced Witness Radio’s collaboration with the Kiryandongo district aimed at ending the rampant violent and illegal land evictions that have significantly harmed the livelihoods of the local communities in the area.

The warm welcome was made at the dialogue organized by Witness Radio Uganda, Uganda’s leading land and environmental rights watchdog at the Kiryandongo district headquarters, intended to reflect on the plight of land and environmental rights defenders, local and indigenous communities and the role of responsible land-based investments in protecting people and the planet.

Speaking at the high-level dialogue, that was participated in by technical officers, policy implementers, religious leaders, leaders of project affected persons (PAPs), politicians, media, Civil Society Organizations (CSOs), and development partners that support land and environment rights as well as the Land Based Investments (LBIs) Companies in the Kiryandongo district, the leaders led by the District Local Council 5 Chairperson, Ms. Edith Aliguma Adyeri appreciated the efforts taken by Witness Radio organization to organize the dialogue meeting aimed at bringing together stakeholders to safeguard community land and environmental rights in order address the escalating vice of land grabbing in the area.

During the dialogue, participants shared harrowing accounts of the impacts of land evictions and environmental degradation, including tragic deaths, families torn asunder, young girls forced into marriage, a surge in teenage pregnancies, limited access to education, and significant environmental damage which have profoundly affected the lives of the local population in Kiryandongo.

Participants attending the dialogue.

In recent years, Kiryandongo district has been embroiled in violent land evictions orchestrated to accommodate multinational large-scale agriculture plantations and wealthy individuals leaving the poor marginalized.

According to various reports, including findings from Witness Radio’s 2020 research Land Grabs at a Gun Point, the forceful land acquisitions in Kiryandongo have significantly impacted the livelihoods of local communities. It is estimated that nearly 40,000 individuals have been displaced from their land to make room for land-based investments in the Kiryandongo district. However, leaders in the district also revealed in the dialogue that women and children are affected most.

The Kiryandongo Deputy Resident District Commissioner, Mr. Jonathan Akweteireho, emphasized that all offices within the Kiryandongo district are actively involved in addressing the prevalent land conflicts. He also extended a welcome to Witness Radio, acknowledging their collaborative efforts in tackling and resolving land and environmental issues in the district.

“Ladies and gentlemen, we all know that the land rights together with environmental rights have been violated in our district, but because we don’t know what our rights are, because we have not directly done what we could to safeguard our rights and now this is the time that Witness Radio has brought us together to safeguard our rights. I want to welcome you in Kiryandongo and be rest assured that we shall give you all the necessary support to help us manage these rampant cases,” Ms. Adyeri said in her remarks during the dialogue meeting.

The team leader at Witness Radio Uganda, Mr. Geoffrey Wokulira Ssebaggala expressed gratitude to the participants for their active involvement in the dialogue and revealed that Witness Radio’s objective is to find a holistic solution to the escalating land disputes in Kiryandongo district serving as an example to other districts.

“We are here to assist Kiryandongo district in attaining peace and stability because it stands as a hotspot for land grabbers in Uganda. Mismanagement of land conflicts in Uganda could potentially lead to a significant internal conflict. Everywhere you turn, voices are lamenting the loss of their land and property. Kiryandongo, abundant with ranches, suffers from a lack of a structured framework, which amplifies these land conflicts. The influx of wealthy investors further complicates the situation,” Mr. Ssebaggala disclosed.

Within the dialogue, Mr. Ssebaggala emphasized the need for the Kiryandongo district council to pass a by-law aimed at curbing land evictions as an initial step in addressing the prevalent land injustices.

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Kiryandongo authorities decry rising cases of land disputes



The LC5 chairperson of Kiryandongo, Ms Edith Aliguma Adyeri, has saidnland dispute has impacted on people’s lives, dignity and children’s education in the district.

Just like other parts of Uganda, conflicts over land in Kiryandongo arise when individuals – who often are blood relatives – compete for use of the same parcel of land or when members of the community lay claim over ownership of unutilised government land.

Ms Adyeri further said land and environmental rights affect people both directly and indirectly, “and we are not hearing it from afar. It is already together with us [here], it has already affected us!”

She was speaking at a meeting which sought to discuss alternative remedies to salvage the appalling land and environmental rights situation in Kiryandongo at the district headquarters on Thursday.

The one-day dialogue was aimed at reflecting on the plight of land and environmental rights defenders, local and indigenous communities and the role of responsible land-based investments in protecting people and the planet.

It was attended by private companies, members of civil society and local government officials and organised by Witness Radio – an advocate for land and environmental rights in Uganda – in partnership with Oxfam, and Kiryandongo District leadership.

“Some people have even died, families are broken up, and brothers are not seeing eye-to-eye because of land rights. Access to justice is equally becoming very difficult because when you hire one lawyer that
lawyer will talk to learned friends, and they agree. They leave you in suspense,” Ms Adyeri said.

According to her, some children have not accessed education because of land and environmental rights.

Mr Jonathan Akweteireho, the deputy Resident District Commissioner of Kiryandongo, said enlightened people especially should be sensitive to the historical injustice of this area.

“We can never handle the Bonyoro land question without thinking about that history. It will be an injustice to the incomers, to the government and to the leaders who don’t understand,” he said.

“We had 38 ranches here which on the guidance of these international organisations, especially the World Bank, the government restructured them, allowing people to settle there, they were never given titles and up to today, there are big problems in all those ranches,” he added.

Mr Jeff Wokulira Ssebaggala, the executive director of Witness Radio, said that a well-functional land sector supports land users or holders and investors, reduces inefficiencies and provides mechanisms to resolve land disputes.

Mr David Kyategeka, the secretary to the Kiryandongo District Land Board, said the issue of land rights is very clear but the major challenge has been sensitising the locals to know what rights he or she expects to enjoy out of this very important resource.


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