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Livelihood, Land And Investment

Witnessradio.org Sued For Amplifying Voices of Violently Evicted Communities Off 2-Square Mile Land

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By witnessradio.org team

In an attempt to frustrate efforts to recover communities’ land in Mubende district, a businessman Wilfred Bugingo has sued witnessradio.org for defamation.

During the last couple of months,witnessradio.org has been exposing individuals that have unlawfully evicting communities off their land and committed gross human rights abuses including petitioning the Land Inquiry Commission see; https://witnessradio.org/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/

The businessmen are being assisted by police, army and Mubende District Land Board to forcefully evict and grab people’s land. Bugingo plus four other businessmen have been accused of unlawful eviction of over 14,000 families off over 30 square miles of land. The victims of the affected communities either inherited from their grandparents or were born on the grabbed land.

Bugingo is being accused of grabbing two (2) square miles of land given to natives by government because they were part of West Mengo Growers Union’s seven (7) square miles.

The land is found at Bunakabwa village, Kiteredde parish, Manyogaseka sub-county in Mubende district.

In civil suit No 415 of 2017 in the High Court at Kampala filed on 15th August 2017, Bugingo through his lawyers of Lwere, Lwanyaga & Company insists that he is the owner and registered proprietor of land comprised in freehold register volume HQT 177 Block 427 plot 380 at Lwensolo, ,Mubende district.

“Before the plaintiff acquired the certificate of title to the above said land, he occupied and utilized the same for animal, crop husbandry plus tree planting for a period over ten [10] years,” Bugingo’s law suit states in part.

Witnessradio.org, an independent and non-partisan organization working towards an equitable land management and advocating for indigenous people’s land rights was sued along with Human Right Enforcement Foundation (HUREF).

After dismissing witnessradio.org facts contained in a memoranda before the Land Inquiry Commission as “unfounded allegations,” Bugingo wants court to issue the following orders against the defendants;

  1. General/ compensatory damages;
  2. Exemplary or aggravated damages;
  3. A permanent injunction to issue against the defendants restraining them from making any further statements defamatory of the plaintiff;
  4. An order that the defendants cause the publication of an article apologizing to the plaintiff and retracting their defamatory statement and;
  5. Costs of this suit

In its memoranda to the commission of inquiry, witnessradio.org reported that five community leaders; Crespo Buyondo, Abdullah Kasigire, Eldard Tamale, Godfrey Kanamugire and Everest Kibaya Ssekyondwa spent three years without trial before they were forced into a plea bargain on aggravated robbery offence to get an early release.

Despite their involuntary acceptance, leaders who were prosecuted and imprisoned for resisting illegal and forceful eviction, still insist that they never committed the offence but rather their arrest was intended to weaken and isolate communities in order for a powerful businessman Bugingo to grab their 2-square mile land.

In filing this suit against the victims’ defenders, Bugingo, as many other economically powerful and politically connected individuals, seeks to use malicious-especially criminal defamation which has to this day remained on the law books perhaps to silence non-violent criticism and opposition to his brutal acts meted on the poor peasants in Mubende district.

Criminal defamation which Bugingo chose to persecute witnessradio.org for amplifying the voices of the vulnerable, is contrary to section 179 and 180(1) of the Penal Code Act and it can land you to prison, even if what was reported about is the truth.

Defamation remains a huge hindrance to media freedom as enshrined in the 1995 Constitution of the Republic of Uganda including article 29, which states that Every person shall have the right to— (a) freedom of speech and expression which shall include freedom of the press and other media;

The African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, in November 2010 passed a resolution stating that: “criminal defamation laws constitute a serious interference with freedom of expression and impedes on the role of the media as a watchdog, preventing journalists and media practitioners to practice their profession without fear and in good faith;” The Commission called upon State parties including Uganda, to repeal criminal defamation laws because they impede on freedom of speech.

In 2009, the United Kingdom abolished criminal defamation entirely from their legal books.

 

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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