The ongoing inquiry into land matters faces a new dilemma; a number of potential witnesses have excused themselves, making it known to the commission that testifying may place them and their families in harm’s way.
Chaired by Justice Catherine Bamugemereire, the inquiry will this week focus on Ankole sub-region, investigating rampant cases of land grabbing allegedly perpetrated by powerful and well-connected individuals, including civil servants.
While making his submission to the commission at Ntare School yesterday, Mbarara municipality MP, Michael Tusiime, said following announcements by the commission about its presence in the area, several residents battling land grabbing have lodged claims over threats to life.
“There are those who fear for their own lives that may not willingly give evidence,” Tusiime said.
Sensing the looming difficulty, Justice Bamugemereire responded that her inquiry can still hear from victims without exposing them to retaliatory attacks.
She referred to the commission’s revisiting of parts of the country where hearings had already been held to follow up issues that came up. Notable among these was the large-scale eviction of thousands of residents in Mubende district by Maj Eric Kigambwoha.
Kigambwoha, sources in the commission confirm, was forced to hand over a house he reportedly grabbed from its rightful occupant who was then deported to Rwanda.
“This goes to show that when we have a public hearing, that is not the end,” Bamugemereire said.
Amos Ntasibula, the resettlement camp commandant at Rukinga refugee camp, said he is being threatened.
“People who are encroaching threaten me,” testified Ntasibula.
The camp, which belongs to government, measures about 8.4 square miles but close to 20 acres of the land is currently being encroached upon in areas of Kazaho and Bukinda. Some of the encroachers are said to be Rwandese.
Bamugemereire said the commission has the powers to cause the attendance of witnesses and compel them to provide evidence, and where necessary to ensure that those rules are complied with in all circumstances.
“As the MP stated, those who fear to come up publicly, approach any of my officers and they will lead you to the right people, especially when it’s an issue that is going to be heard on the floor,” she noted.
According to information the commission has obtained, Bamugemereire said, most of the cases in Ankole revolve around encroachment on government ranches or related pastoral land.
She said there is a problem in the manner in which “powerful landlords come and close off entire communities from benefiting from feeding areas for the cattle.”