Three prominent landowners are engaged in a wrangle over ownership of Lugazi, with anxiety mounting among the town’s residents.
At the heart of the row are John James Kulubya, three Buganda princes (Ibrahim Kabuye, Mulondo and Ssimbwa), and the Mbogo family. Taking a stroll around Lugazi is more worthwhile than in the noisy, dusty, potholed Kampala.
Life here is slower, and you will hardly suffer boda boda hoots as you enjoy your walk towards the Mayor’s gardens, basically a park with tall old mango trees that shelter you from the scorching sun. And above the gardens, on your left, stands an impressive artificial pine forest on a hill owned by the Mehta family.
Lately, however, the peaceful easterly town, 40 minutes away from Kampala, is rife with worry as residents seek answers as to who owns the land they have built their homes on.
“We have grown up here and our parents used to say that this land belongs to Kulubya. But when we grew up, we realised that Kulubya had a [square] mile and the rest of the land belongs to the Mbogo family and the princes,” says Lugazi Central Ward LCIII councillor Wasswa Zirabamuzaale.
However, the question of land ownership arose when John James Kulubya’s agents demarcated plots of land largely to collect busuulu (ground rent) from residents, who were charged between Shs 30,000 and Shs 300,000 per year, depending on the size of the plot.
“We then went to LC V chairman Mathias Kigongo, who said the district had no Lands committee. Kigongo then called a public rally and stopped us from paying busuulu and [Kulubya’s] agents from demarcating plots until the matter was fully investigated,” Zirabamuzaale told The Observer recently.
At the end of September, Kigongo called the three conflicting parties [Kulubya, the Mbogo family and the princes], politicians and residents to Lugazi Community hall to discuss the matter.
“On that day, Kulubya admitted he had land but did not know his boundaries. The princes [abalangira] said their land was the one Kulubya called his. The Mbogo family said their land was different from Kulubya’s,” said Zirabamuzaale.
Kulubya and the princes
When The Observer visited Edward Nsimbisizoomu, the agent of Sserwano Ssenseko Wofunira Kulubya Estate, he was not in office. But his secretary, Florence Ssemakula, has no doubt that Kulubya is the true owner of the land, because he has a land title and documents of the [land] administrators through the years.
In an October 3 meeting in the Mayor’s garden, Kulubya presented a sketch map and not a land title, yet the princes have a land title, said Sulaiman Mayanja, a Lugazi resident.
Mayanja, the director of Universal Human Rights Defenders and Activists, Buikwe district, said one of the princes at the meeting, Ibrahim Kabuye, explained their ownership as thus:
“This land belonged to Banalaba Owekisa, who got it in 1900 from Kabaka Daudi Chwa. In that time, Owekisa died (and is buried in a mausoleum in Kikawula) in 1914 but his children were young. Kulubya, who was also Owekisa’s brother-in-law and lawyer, then got someone called Yesse; to look after the land then came Ssempala, his son Wilberforce Ssempala, and now Edward Nsimbisizoomu.”
According to Zirabamuzaale, Lugazi residents are afraid that Kulubya wants to act unfairly yet the Land Act stipulates that busuulu should be uniform. Another fear is that Kulubya does not recognise residents who don’t own 50 by 50 plots of land, yet some residents have less than that.
“If they have smaller plots, Kulubya said twegatte [that we merge the plot] but your neighbour may not be your friend,” said Zirabamuzaale.
“Some of our parents and grandparents bought land but they lost the agreements. We grew up without seeing them give busuulu; so, we don’t know how big our plots are,” he added.
But their greatest fear is that their land may be sold and they will then be accused of being trespassers on a place they have always called home. But Makanga Ssenyonga, an old resident of Lugazi, says people have no cause to fear paying busuulu because they don’t own the land anyway and should pay their dues.
“Land here is seemingly political. When I was young, we knew it was Kulubya’s land but now court will decide,” he said.
Ssenyonga, who moved to Lugazi in 1967, said the problem began when Kulubya’s agent died and then his son [Wilberforce Ssempala died too]. He then came to meet people himself and chose another agent [Nsimbisizoomu] but people wanted to choose their own agents. Kulubya let them choose three agents but Nsimbisizoomu remained their head.
Ssenyonga blamed the law for the confusion in Lugazi.
“It is an unfair law; no wonder landowners are selling their land. Busuulu can’t be uniform because we have different sizes of land. Some people have buildings that bring in millions of shillings, yet they want to pay uniform busuulu. Lugazi yonna ofunemu Shs 1m?” he said, meaning: how can one collect only Shs 1m from the whole of Lugazi town?
In this situation of anxiety and suspicion, Lugazi Mayor Asea J.B. Ozuma has been rumoured to side with Kulubya. The mayor vehemently denies this.
“Lugazi town council has been taken to court by Kulubya demanding for ground rent; how can I be in bed with him?” he says. “Kulubya wanted me to let him get busuulu. They say Kulubya gave me a land title and Shs 10m. Kulubya says that I am in bed with the balangira (princes). They have to talk like that.”
According to Ozuma, Lugazi sits on Blocks 162 and 175, which were carved out of Block 316. Block 162 comprises the town council, Kawolo hospital, Mehta and the factories and Block 175 runs from Umeme offices, across the bridge to the catholic Cathedral. It is Block 175 that the princes claim is theirs, not Kulubya’s.
“We called a meeting of think tanks, princes and Kulubya. The princes brought documents saying [Block] 175 is theirs and that [Kabaka] Muteesa sorted it out with Kulubya’s father, making the land theirs. [But] Kulubya said the documents were fake and would sue for fraud...,” Ozuma narrates.
Speaking by telephone, Kulubya’s agent, Nsimbisizoomu, said they had finished opening the boundaries of Block 175 and would soon call a meeting to inform residents and politicians in the area.
He also said they were working with the district Land Board to establish what amount of busuulu residents should actually pay. Nsimbisizoomu explained that previously, residents used to pay busuulu according to the size of their plots, which angered them but they should now wait for word from the land board on busuulu.
He also stressed that the Kulubya estate had not been taken to court but, rather, the Mbogo family and the princes, who are in court over ownership of Block 162.
Meanwhile, Lugazi waits. Yes, the town retains a semblance of tranquility, but it is a calm that belies deep-seated anxiety and real fears.