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Why Kikuube land conflict keeps spiraling

The occupants of the former Nguse Ranchers land had expected peace after the compensation of the landlords two years ago.

But last week’s events in which police and security forces dismantled makeshift structures erected by fresh wave of encroachers, is an indication that peace and tranquility for the residents is still a distant dream.

The land on Plot 86 block 2 measuring almost 866 hectares formed what was known as the Nguse Ranchers Limited in Nsozi village, Kyangwali Sub-County, Kikuube district.

Nguse Ranchers Limited was incorporated in 1990s and acquired a piece of land but 98% of it was encroached on in early 2000s.

What followed was endless cycle of court battles between the directors and the squatters which involved evictions and re-encroachment until the intervention of the then Prime Minister, Patrick Amama Mbabazi.

Mbabazi advised the directors to seek for compensation under the land fund arrangement and leave the encroachers who are reported to be 3,000.

The directors pursued the compensation and indeed they were compensated with over sh5b.

Among those compensated were the Public Service Minister, Muruli Mukasa and the late John Bahemuka who then was LC3 Chairperson for Bugambe Sub-County.

With that compensation, the area effectively became a government property for the purpose of resettling Bibanja holders, implying that whoever was on the land by that time of compensation become a bonafide occupant, regardless of how someone entered the land.

Curiously, the area changed name to Mandwiga to allegedly fulfill interests of some people who wanted a piece of it.

The Albertine Journal understands that during the compensation period, 70 hectares was reserved for the family members of the directors.

They continued occupying the land, implying they were bonafide occupants like the other encroachers.

However, in a twist of events in February this year, another group came in multitudes and occupied the gardens of the bonafide occupants who have been using the land to grow seasonal and perennial crops such as coffee and matooke, among others.

The children of the directors sought help from the Resident District Commissioner (RDC) for Kikuube, Amlan Tumusiime.

They accused the local leadership of conniving with the ‘grabbers’ to sell the land.

Robert Barimunsi, the village chairperson for Mandwiga, has since denied the claim that he sold the land to illegal occupants at sh300,000 per acre.

“Why did you sign on the land sale agreements yet you knew that the land had owners?” John Asiimwe, who bought with the approval of the accused LCI chairman inquired.

Barimunsi called it a blackmail campaign against him because he was fighting grabbers.

Some of those occupying the land were evicted in 2010, while others claimed that the landlords had sold them plots on the contested land.

Tumusiime has advised the residents to report those who sold them the land to police for prosecution “since they obtained money by false pretense.”

Some of the encroachers said when they heard the government had compensated after being evicted in 2010, they returned to the land to prevent other people from occupying it.

The group was forced to demolish and burn the makeshift structures that they had established on the land.

However, a source from the family of the deceased said they (those scheming to grab) were hinging on animosity and misunderstandings amongst family members to sow seeds of discord for their selfish gains.

They say that the land they are settling on is not on the one which was compensated for.

It is believed that some of the new claimants are people who had court cases with the directors in the early 2000.

There are also those said to have purchased land from those who were eventually declared as land grabbers while others were those who hired land from the directors of Nguse Ranchers Limited but were left to fully occupy and use the land after compensation.

Still there are people who bought land from individuals who were left behind by the directors but had surrendered the land after being compensated.

The other puzzle is that the early grabbers some of whom had even sold off their interests and others migrated to other places are currently returning to make fresh claims to be rightful bonafide owners and are clashing with the people they have now found on the land.

Security remain deployed and the new encroachers have been ordered off the land and only a few verified Bibanja holders are allowed to utilise their land until a team from the ministry of lands comes to allocate the land to whoever person will be deemed to be the rightful owner.

UPDF remain deployed to the contested land. Credit: Robert Atuhairwe/The Albertine Journal

During a site visit, the RDC said they have deployed because people were coming back on the government land.

The land Commission in a letter dated March 13, said in two months’ time, the lands ministry will come to do systematic demarcation of the land and give titles to the rightful occupants.

The unoccupied land will be managed by the land commission on behalf of government.

This has since raised eyebrows on whether there will be transparency in the distribution of the land.

Un-followed procedure

A source said when the Uganda Land Commission paid the landlords to let squatters enjoy rights of occupancy on it, it did not send a notice informing the local leadership about the acquisition.

“The leadership would have in return written to the people settling on the land, informing them of what procedure should be taken to formalise ownership which has not been done in this case,” the source added.

The silence by the lands ministry has brought in many claimants who are unverified, a resident said.

Many residents say the interest is to grab land especially that under cultivation and yet it is not titled because Uganda land Commission has not come out clearly to allocate to bonafide occupants their small plots as it is done for absentee land lords elsewhere.

“Circumstance surrounding the whole event is delaying to resolve the matter and not informing people on their fate,” a source said.

The Albertine Journal efforts to get a comment from the sub-county chairperson, Emmanuel Bisemeza, were futile.

A group of farmers from Kyarushesha and Nsozi, which is among the five villages traversed by the land, who were doing farming on it tried to seek help from the leadership which proved futile.

The owners want the ministry of lands to come out and inform the sitting tenants of the rightful owners.

They say this would give time to those who are deemed not to be rightful owners to vacate the land.

Invisible hand?

It is alleged that some people are promoting the interests of some powerful people who also claim ownership having purchased it from land officials, but remain unproven.

“These are telling people to vacate so that they take possession of it. Their agents came recently and threatened us to vacate but they have no proof of ownership like a land title,” a source said.

Tumusiime talking to one of the evictees from the land on March 14. Credit: Robert Atuhairwe/The Albertine Journal

But ownership claims of the unnamed ‘powerful’ people seem to have been overtaken by events with the new wave of encroachers.

People who had bought from bonafide occupants have also been affected by the security team’s order to vacate the land.

“We have been settling on the land waiting for the ministry of lands to come out to clarify who sits where. This is where we are asking why chase people now?” another source asked.

Some of the late Bahemuka’s children who had started selling the land cannot cultivate or access the land due to the new security restrictions.

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