Land deal: How OPM officials let down Bududa victims

Kampala. After the 2010 mudslide wiped out villages in Bududa District and killed almost 350 people, Cabinet took a decision to relocate the survivors to Masindi District, now Kiryandongo.
Some accepted to go to Kiryandongo and others refused due to historical attachment to their land but demanded to be relocated to any part of Bugisu Sub-region.
In 2013, Cabinet tasked the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM) to identify land in the lower areas of Bugisu to resettle those who had refused to leave their ancestral land.
Following a prolonged procurement battle, OPM officials identified land measuring about 2,800 acres in Bunambutye Sub-county in Bulambuli District and paid Shs8b.
Saturday Monitor investigations, however, revealed that OPM officials bought a wetland with a suspected forged land title.
The contested wetland is part of 2,880 acres which OPM officials bought from a company linked to a local MP to resettle between 5,000 and 8,000 people from mudslide-prone places in Bududa District in the Mt Elgon area. The wetland is deemed unfit for human settlement.
Although the land, according to the district land office, is customarily owned by 18 clans (300 families), OPM officials reportedly struck a deal with one of the MPs from Bugisu, who is accused of fraudulently obtaining the land title in the name of his family company.
Nearly six years after OPM officials paid the Shs8b to the MP’s family company, the land remains in the hands of the customary owners, who in February accused OPM of conniving with land grabbers while the mudslide victims remain at risk.
Bududa residents, including more than 40 people who died in the Thursday mudslide disaster, had on several occasions demanded to be resettled in Bulambuli District where government bought land but this was not possible because of a pending land wrangle. Parliament attempted to investigate this land transaction but the matter was dropped through unclear circumstances.
In September 2014, the State minister for Relief and Disaster Preparedness, Mr Musa Ecweru, and other OPM officials, were forced to flee after a charged crowd attempted to lynch them for allegedly grabbing their land. Armed with clubs, residents of Tabagony Village in Bunambutye Sub-county chased Mr Ecweru, OPM permanent secretary Christine Guwatudde, assistant commissioner in OPM Rose Nakabugo and others from the land bought for resettlement of Mt Elgon mudslide victims.
OPM is leading the rescue efforts in Bududa where more than 300 people are said to be missing, hundreds stranded and more than 40 confirmed dead. The death toll is expected to rise as the search for the missing residents continues.

Anger at government

Relief efforts. Mr George Makawa, a survivor, says the government has not sent any relief since Thursday yet they do not have shelter and food.
“We don’t have anything but government has not yet come to our rescue,” he said.
The displaced residents, who were all living along the River Suume banks, which pours in River Manafwa, are currently being sheltered in the nearby schools, churches and trading centres.
The Bududa District chairman, Mr Wilson Watira, said the government will give Shs300,000 to each family that lost their relatives to assist in the burial arrangements. But, residents and survivors said they are tired of being buried alive and the “government only sends condolence messages, which cannot resurrect our relatives.”
“The government should think of resettling us to safer areas instead of sending condolence messages,” Mr Robert Masangha, one of the survivors, said.
The most mudslide-prone areas in Bududa include Bushiyi, Nametsi, and Bumwalukani, where the soils are still moving and more mudslides are likely to occur, according to the local leaders.
The government in 2003 acquired about 2,800 acres of land in Bulambuli District to resettle people living in mudslide-prone areas in Bududa, but no further step has been taken to relocate the residents.
However, Ms Marty Goretti Kitutu, the State minister for Environment, said the government warned people about the torrential rains and disasters but they did not leave the area. She said before the resumption of excavations yesterday, more than 40 bodies had been recovered.
Ms Kitutu said officials from the Office of the Prime Minister arrived in the area on Thursday night to provide relief.

By Leonard Mukooli, Micheal Woniala, Yahudu Kitunzi, Fred Wambede & Mudangha Kolyangha