As President Museveni drove into Kira municipality, Wakiso district on Monday afternoon, he was greeted by wild cheers of people who had waited seven hours for a savior.
But an hour later, many trekked home confused and ponderous, after Museveni insisted they had to leave the villages of Bukasa, Kito and Namataba.
An estimated 20,000 residents encroached on about seven square miles of forestry land six years ago. Government says the land is supposed to accommodate key infrastructural projects like the standard gauge railway, an inland port, and the Jinja express highway. Last December, a government eviction notice on the encroachers was met with rioting and a stay-of-execution court order.
Speaking at a school playground in Namataba on Monday, Museveni said the encroachers wouldn’t be compensated.
“I am not going to pay and I am not going to compensate you, but we are going to organise and see how we shall rescue you,” Museveni said in Luganda.
He vowed to punish land grabbers who fraudulently sold land to unsuspecting villagers and orchestrated the illegal settlement.
“There are 29 people who acquired land titles for about 600 acres of this government land. These are thieves. They connived with fellow thieves in the land registry and I am going to deal with them including the Nema (National Environment Management Authority) and NFA [National Forestry Authority] officials who were asleep when this encroachment was ongoing. However, for the innocent residents, we are going to talk,” Museveni said sending the about 2,000 people crowd into wild cheers.
Earlier, Bweyogerere division chairperson Isaac Ssenkubuge asked government for a comprehensive resettlement package and an alternative place to resettle only the people directly affected by the projects.
“It is true this is government land but we also agree that NFA was reluctant. Government entities like National Water and Umeme have also provided utilities here which have enhanced the settlement,” Ssenkubuge said.
After the president’s speech however, many of the residents interviewed seemed either confused or disappointed. Many of them expected compensation but the president talked of “rescue” and no compensation.
“We came here expecting to leave happy people after hearing from the president. We thought he would rescue us but as you can see the people’s mood now, everyone is sad. If he wants us to go, has he planned on where to take us?” Frank Kakembo asked.
Other residents conceded they were wrong to settle on this land.
“Let no one deceive you that we settled here unknowingly. We all bought these plots of land cheaply when we were sure it was government land and that we would be chased away anytime. For people to now act like their land is being taken is really disturbing. The president is even lenient to listen or give us something [place] to move to,” Brenda Nambi, a resident of Bukasa, said.
While many had constructed houses here mainly for settlement, others who bought plots targeted huge compensation to give way for the infrastructure projects. James Mwine, a resident, said the eviction notice they received increased activity in the area.
“When they told us that we had to leave, many people who had not completed their houses hurriedly finished them,” Mwine said.
“Even those that had not built, started. We thought our property would be valued and we get compensation but it seems we are not getting as much as we expected.”