Presidential visits can’t end evictions

“Lusanja eviction victims left in the cold as they await fate” was the New Vision headline for a report about hundreds of people that were recently violently evicted from land in Lusanja village in Wakiso/Kampala.

Mr Medard Kiconco, the proprietor of Lexman Industries, is the beneficiary of this eviction. He bought the land and processed a court order to have people on it evicted. The president, Gen Yoweri Museveni, visited the victims and ordered them back on the land.

Because their homes had been demolished, they are now sleeping in tents from the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, which are meant for natural disasters and are deposited with Office of the Prime Minister.

Almost within a space of days, Gen. Museveni was visiting another group of 200 people violently removed from a piece of land they were occupying at Kirangira village in Mukono. He again ordered the Office of the Prime Minister to give them beans and maize flour.

Dr Kizza Besigye also led a delegation of FDC and opposition leaders, including the Kampala city lord mayor to Lusanja to commiserate with the victims. Besigye and his team even offered them legal representation to defend their interest in this land in court.

Besigye and his team squeezed themselves into these short UNHCR tents when the Almighty opened the sky for a lunchtime downpour. This gave them the practical experience of what these people are going through. Mr Museveni asked Justice Catherine Bamugemereire, who heads a probe into land management, to investigate the Lusanja case and produce a report.

As all this is happening, the victims and their children are undergoing probably their worst experience. Lord Mayor Erias Lukwago posted on his social media platforms photos of two children who covered their heads with buveera when it started raining.

This is the life they will lead until their matter is sorted. In these two cases, police offered protection to court bailiffs who did the actual destruction of people’s homes. Police spokesperson Emilian Kayima explained that they were enforcing a court order.

I think these fresh evictions should help us to reignite the debate of our beleaguered land relations in Uganda. And this time we should suggest possible solutions. One of the things that struck me is that the president never moved with any of his lands ministers to Lusanja and I think Mukono. Yet these are the individuals with statutory authority to offer guidance.

Instead, he moved with Bamugemereire, who holds a temporary mandate, typical of firefighting style. On Monday morning, I rang the minister of Lands, Betty Amongi Akena, to inquire whether the Land Fund created by the 1998 Land Act is no solution enough.

In compliance with Article 237 of the Constitution, Parliament enacted the controversial Land Act 1998. It was amended in 2010 to include some more troubling provisions. And recently Museveni presented another bill to parliament, this time to change the constitution so that government can take possession of land for its projects before compensation.

The Land Fund, a creation of the 1998 Land Act, became operational in 2002. The process is that if you have land that is occupied, especially in Tooro, Buganda and Bunyoro, you walk into Uganda Land Commission, fill a form and ask government to buy your interest.

This is intended, according to Mr Museveni, to address historical injustices. The cumulative figure of those now willing to sell their occupied land to government is now Shs 1.7 trillion.

The Lands ministry requested for Shs 250 billion this financial year to help it clear this huge figure slowly but was given only Shs 24 billion. It reported to parliament that it will have a shortfall of Shs 200 billion. The most painful thing is that in the same budget, the president has allocated himself Shs 97 billion for donations.

This money he goes around throwing at people. Do you remember that he threw over Shs 10 billion to the people of Rukungiri so they don’t vote FDC in a by-election? This is the money that we need to begin purchasing land from landowners and then issue soft loans to the helpless people that occupy it.

It is the Land Fund that should visit Lusanja, and not the president because it has potential to offer practical solutions. Double ownership of land is real and has been fueled by poverty, population growth and the breakdown of the state. It needs structured solutions, and not presidential visits. Presidential visits can only offer a short-time relief, but not permanent solutions.


The author is Kira Municipality MP and opposition chief whip in parliament.

© 2016 Observer Media Ltd