Tension over land ownership is brewing in Ssemabable District as at least 15,300 people, said to be encroachers in the area, continue to ignore an eviction order by the police and district leaders.
The residents, said to be mostly from the Bahima tribe in western Uganda, are currently living in Bigaaga Forest Reserve in Ntuusi Sub-county, which they say is going to be their permanent home.
Part of the forest is said to belong to the National Forestry Authority while the other portion is said to belong to Uganda Investment Authority. However Mr Joseph Migadde Amooti, the Ntuusi LC5 councillor, said the lease for the 28 square mile forest expired in 1999 and the government has since then taken over its ownership.
Armed with sticks, machetes and spears, the cattle-keeping group clashed with locals early this week, prompting Police Chief Kale Kayihura to move to the area, where he has camped since Wednesday.
“Living in or settling in a forest is a rebel activity that cannot be tolerated by security operatives,” said Lt. Gen. Kayihura. He has ordered that the RDC investigates where the group came from. Already the RDCs are registering the people; each being asked where they came from.
The Bahima argue that they have nowhere to go since they were evicted from Lwemiyaga County,-Ssembabule District, several years ago and that the President’s promise to buy them land has not been fulfilled.
“We want the President to put it clearly if he promised to buy this land for them,” said Mr Johnson Kamugisha, the Lwemiyaga LC3 chairperson.
Lawlessness, poor sanitation
Mr Abdullah Kitimbo, the district police commander, told this newspaper on Thursday that the people, whose numbers continue to swell by the day, have no shelter and it is becoming difficult to sustain sanitation and law and order in the area.
A section of them, who arrived in the area two years ago, have built houses and allocated themselves plots of land.
Mr Kitimbo also confirmed that there have been clashes between them over land plot boundaries and the indigenous people in the area. The encroachers, however, accuse the district leaders of fuelling the conflict between them and the locals.
Mr Ebenezer Matsiko, the spokesperson and chairman of the Bahima group, said: “These district leaders have allocated themselves land in the area and are now chasing us away.”
He accuses Mr Nsubuga Kiberu, the district chief administrative Officer, Dr Ely Muhumuza, the district chairman, Mr David Baryewuki, the district Naads coordinator, and Mr Samuel Karuhanga, speaker of the district council, of irregularly acquiring Bigaaga Forest Reserve.
Mr Matsiko said after their eviction from Bigo Byamugenyi and Buteraniro Dam where they had settled for years as farmers and cattle keepers, they thought that the land was going to be taken over by Bigo Byamugenyi Cultural Trust.
“But we were shocked to see Dr Elly Muhumuza, Charles Kiberu, and Samuel Karuhanga, erecting fences on the land and calling it theirs to raise animals.” Another member of the Bahima cattle keepers, Johnson Kamugisha, said he and others were evicted from Lwemiyaga to create space for Ssembeguya Goat Project in 2003 and President Museveni reportedly promised them alternative land.
“We lost our banana plantations and our animals,” he said. All the officials Mr Matsiko accuses said they bought the land legally after its lease expired. In the meantime, riot police have been deployed to contain the situation.