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Livelihood, Land And Investment

Witnessradio.org Appears Before Land Inquiry Commission, Tables Evidence of Severe Torture, Destruction of Homes, and Loss of Livelihoods Meted against Poor Residents in Mubende

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By Witnessradio.org
Tens of thousands of poor families in Mubende district, have over the years lost numerous hectares of land to either companies or powerful individuals who carry out forceful evictions, witnessradio.org has reported to the commission of inquiry into land matters chaired by Justice Catherine Bamugemereire.
Constituted in September 2016 by President Museveni, the commission’s role is to investigate and inquire into the law, process, and procedure by which land is administered and registered in Uganda.
“For years we have worked around land issues in several districts, Mubende in particular, we find it an epicenter of land evictions in Uganda,” Geoffrey Wokulira Ssebaggala, the Director, witnessradio.org informed the commission on August11, 2017 at Mubende during its public hearing.
“These evictions are perpetuated by politically and economically powerful individuals and companies who are using their financial muscle or their connections in some government departments and agencies to evict the population.” Ssebaggala added.
witnessradio.org, a non-partisan organization working towards an equitable land management through the use of technology has documented various forced land evictions that have had grave social and economic effects on natives.
On numerous occasions, it has reported incidents where the disputes have resulted into loss of poor peoples’ lives, loss of sense of belonging, arbitrary arrests and detention, use of tramped-up charges against community leaders opposing such evictions, and livelihoods, hence threatening the survival of entire communities and indigenous groups.
Indeed, witnessradio.org detailed to the Inquiry some of its findings when it comes to the chilling effects of land grabbing menace in Mubende district.
“This is against a background of a massively poor, rights unware and voiceless population who have become an easy target for all sorts of violations including torture, intimidation, unlawful arrests and detention, plus destruction of homes, crops, animals, dwellings, schools etc.” Ssebaggala said.
He added; “Apart from victims losing their livelihoods and sense of belonging, some have died or have been rendered disabled due to the severe torture that they are subjected to in the process of eviction(s).”
Ssebaggala explained that Mubende came to be an epicenter for land grabs because of being one of the districts that “hosts huge chunks of public land” with major land problems centered in sub-counties of; Butoloogo, Maduddu, Kitenga, Kitumbi, Manyogaseka and Kiganda which were found to be having majority of absent landlords.
Public Offices pinned on abetting Land Evictions
Both elected and technical officials occupying public offices have been immensely weakened by individuals either through corruption or other interests, thus enabling land grabbing in district, according to witnessradio.org findings.
Mubende Resident District Commissioner’s office, Uganda Police Force, Mubende District Land Board, Court of judicature, Director of Public Prosecutions and district chairperson’s office, were the offices witnessradio.org mentioned as the culprits as far as land grabbing is concerned.
In justification, witnessradio.org told the commission that the leadership has “failed to restrain investors from forceful eviction and destruction of people’s properties and crops,” which has resulted into communities’ starvation and causing anger, hatred and retaliation
Secondly, witnessradio.org spoke to the commission about impunity and retaliation to cause death, singling out attacks on helpless communities because of being unattended to by police and other authorities. For instance, Stephen Tumwine (RIP) the former manager of Formasa, a Chinese-tree planting company involved in massive evictions.
Before his hacking to death, Tumwine was caught red-handed cutting down crops in one of the residents’ garden in Butolo village to plant trees before compensating land owner, but the case had been reported to both area police and Mubende police to no avail.
Use of trumped-up charges to frustrate communities’ efforts to oppose unlawful evictions and their land rights, was the third justification witnessradio.org fronted.
Advocacy platform said that Mubende prisons are overcrowded due to either direct or indirectly linked land evictions. It’s a common practice in Mubende for anyone or a group of people leading a particular community to oppose unlawful eviction to be arrested and charged with capital offences.
But most interestingly, would be crucial offices in rescuing residents, public offices including the office of the RDC, were accused of protecting land grabbers. It was reported that, most of the cases mentioned above, police, the army and RDC’s office have been very active protecting land grabbers.
The unbecoming conduct and corrupt-oriented tendency of Mubende District Land Board while issuing freehold land titles also became an issue.
“We have noted with dismay the conduct of members of district land board sidelining communities’ efforts to attain full ownership of the land they have lived on for decades,” said witnessradio.org
Also, the board was also pinned on issuance of multiple land titles on one piece of land by the same advocacy platform.
It was against this background therefore, that witnessradio.org urged the commission to do the following;
• Issue a production warrant to prisoners on land-related matters to enable them an opportunity to testify in regards to their fate
• To order an immediate return of the evictees back to their land so as they can regain their sense of belonging, survival and livelihoods
• Critically look into the workings of Mubende police, RRDC’s office and District Land Board and individuals responsible to be held accountable to the suffering natives

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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