It is now six months or about 180 days, since the commission of inquiry into land matters began work. ALI TWAHA looks back at some of the major cases, districts involved and faces under the spotlight:-
When President Museveni appointed Judge Catherine Bamugemereire to lead this inquiry in December 2016, many feared it would turn out to be yet another black hole that would swallow taxpayers’ money without a sensible return.
That feeling is understandable given Uganda’s poor record of acting on public inquiry reports. Detailed reports have been written only to gather dust on government shelves.
Justice Bamugemereire will, for now, be acknowledged for going to where it itches most: Jinja, Mubende, Hoima, Masaka and Wakiso are some of the most land-conflict-ridden districts.
Public hearings got underway in May, 2017. The mandate of the Bamugemereire commission was to investigate the effectiveness of Uganda’s land laws, processes of land acquisition, land administration, management and registration.
The stand-out issues so far revolve around dubious acquisition of land; disrespect of the land law; collusion by government officials to facilitate fraud; unlawful destruction of property and influence peddling by police and army officers.
Bigwigs in the government have also been named in mass evictions of rural communities. Impersonation and corruption by government agents in the lands department have similarly been established.
A number of the cases before the commission of inquiry are also in court. Some witnesses told the commission that courts take a lot of time to deliver justice hence their decision to seek redress before Justice Bamugemereire.
In 2013, Muhereza Asaba and 398 households were thrown off 1,300 acres of land. Although he was living a modest life then, his despair over the long running land dispute with a foreign sugar company, Hoima Sugar Limited, pushed them to settle in an internally displaced camp in Hoima district.
He has been in and out of court these past four years in Hoima municipality to no avail. The power and influence of the foreign tycoon, whose plant was officially launched by President Museveni in May, 2016, seem unshakeable. The court processes are seen to be tedious, poorly resourced and too expensive for people like Asaba.
The most recent sensation amongst the cabinet ministers cited in the land probe is Agriculture, Animal Industry and Fisheries minister, Vincent Ssempijja.
Last week, the minister was exposed by local businessman John Sebalamu in Mpigi. Sebalamu told the commission he acquired one square mile of land titled in Lwera wetland from Ssempijja.
Now it is for the inquiry to determine the startling circumstances under which Ssempijja got hold of a land title on a gazetted wetland.
Under the constitution, a wetland is public property under the control of the National Environment Management Authority. Sebalamu currently owns two square miles on this wetland.
In the same week, on October 5, Bamugemereire issued criminal summons for Pastor Samuel Kakande of the Synagogue Church of All Nations to appear before the commission without fail.
Kakande came under scrutiny for his acquisition of 40 square miles of land in a wetland in Masaka where his people were found planting rice.
Kakande told the commission the land was a donation from one of his followers. The disputed land is alleged to have been purchased from Maj Gen Wilson Mbasu Mbadi, the army’s deputy chief of defence forces. It is not clear whether Mbadi will be summoned to testify before the commission.
The colourful pastor is growing rice on the wetland instead of palm trees contrary to the license he got from the National Environment Management Authority (NEMA).
Kakande said if the commission finds the title was acquired illegally, he will willingly let go of it.
In another case, Daniel Muhairwe, the Buhaguzi MP, accused minister of public service, Muruli Mukasa, of massive land grabbing and eviction of locals in Bunyoro sub-region.
When the commission visited Hoima, it was established that thousands of people were evicted from land without adequate compensation for their properties.
Senior presidential advisor, retired Gen Salim Saleh was also mentioned in a land dispute at Rwamutonga, Buhaguzi county. Salim Saleh is the influential younger brother to President Museveni. Robert Bansigaraho testified that the former resident district commissioner, Ambrose Mwesigwa, used Saleh’s name to obtain a land title for an ‘investor’ for this property.
This district has churned out some of the more notorious cases where titles for entire forests ended up in the pockets of such notables as Ian Kyeyune, the resident district commissioner here.
In June, the commission grilled city businessman, Huruna Semakula, for masterminding the grabbing of Nonve forest reserve.
Semakula alleged that he gave Kyeyune 41 acres of land for his role in helping him secure the title for the forest reserve.
During the three-hour session, Semakula let on about how Kyeyune and district surveyor, Dr Joseph Batume, and himself conspired to grab over 600 acres of Nonve forest in Buwanuka parish, Kakiri sub-county in Wakiso district.
Today, Semakula is laying claim to over 260 of the 738 acres of Nonve forest reserve land. The businessman says he bought the land for the princely sum of Shs 3.2 million and then processed titles with the help of Kyeyune and Batume who doubled as the secretary to the District Land Board.
Before being appointed RDC, Kyeyune was Wakiso district chairman for 10 years. Semakula testified that he ‘donated’ to Kyeyune 41 acres of the forest land for connecting him to Batume. Kyeyune later sold the 41 acres for Shs 160 million hardly a month after the titles were issued.
Like Wakiso, this district is equally hard hit. It is in this place that Muruli Mukasa has been named in a 12 square mile land grab, where more than 2,000 households were allegedly evicted from nine villages in Nalutuntu sub-county.
Residents testified that Muruli Mukasa allegedly connived with Alam Group Limited to evict them off the property. Some villages have been abandoned by menfolk over claims that when a male individual is found on the land by employees of this company walking about, that individual is likely to be tortured.
Two senior army officers; Brig George Gyagenda Kibirango and Maj Eric Kigamboha were also recently questioned about their involvement in the eviction of nearly 2,000 residents in Butorogo, Buwekula sub-county, also in Mubende.
The disputed land measures about four square miles on plot 60. The commission was able to establish that Kigamboha and one Naava Namutebi connived and took over ownership of the disputed property from Henry Kaaya, heir to the late Zakariya Kikonyogo’s estate.
Namutebi is not related to Kaaya.
During the eviction carried out by soldiers, the mainly peasant community claims people were brutalised, women were raped and others forcefully deported to Rwanda. These criminal events allegedly happened under the orders of Maj Kigamboha who was serving under Brig Kibirango’s command.
When he appeared, Gyagenda failed to convince the commission that he was unaware of the dubious operations carried out by his junior officer in Mubende district.
Still in Mubende, the commission is investigating one Anna Kyohaire. Kyohaire allegedly grabbed approximately 10 square miles of land after her purported marriage to a Chinese national, Martin Chang.
Justice and Constitutional Affairs minister, Maj Gen Kahinda Otafiire’s name came up in Jinja. In his former capacity as Trade minister, the minister was said to have (and he admitted to this) given away a public building and land under suspect circumstances.
The commission established that Otafiire had no authority to issue the no- objection letter to Birus Property Services Limited, owned by businessman Simpson Birungi, proprietor of Movit products. Birungi evicted sitting tenants before he redeveloped the place.
Emmanuel Orum, a former undersecretary in the ministry of trade and industry, testified that despite his advice, Otafiire went ahead to allocate the government property to the businessman.
Erum said he had recommended that the land title be cancelled, but Otafiire mounted pressure on him to issue a letter of no-objection for its sale. The property is located on prime plots 60 and 62, along Aldina Visram road in Jinja municipality.
The chairman of the Uganda Land Board, Baguma Isoke, was furnished with all the documents that pointed to this illegality. Baguma promised to take action immediately while he appeared before the commission.
And then, state minister for cooperatives Fredrick Ngobi has also been sucked into a property row involving 9.92 hectares (nearly 25 acres) in Butemba, Wairaka in Jinja district.
One Moses Magemeso alleged that while Ngobi served as the chairman of Jinja district, he ordered him to include on the council’s agenda an application for a leasehold title for a foreign-owned company, Favourite Enterprises.
His actions led to a give-away of land previously allocated to National Fisheries Research Institute in 2011 by Uganda Land Commission as compensation for its land used for construction of the Civil Service College.