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