35,000 left homeless as private firms share Kiryandongo land

Helpless. Family members in front of their grass-thatched hut that faces demolition in Kiryandongo District last Wednesday. PHOTO BY BILL OKETCH

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Contention. The government says the contentious territory was empty space and unoccupied public land but residents claim they hold it under customary ownership.

More than 35,000 people from 20 villages are homeless after being evicted from about 9,300 acres of land in Kiryandongo District to pave way for large scale farming.
No one seemingly knows the exact year when the government allegedly gave the land to agricultural companies for large scale farming.
The government says the contentious territory was empty space and unoccupied public land but residents claim they hold it under customary ownership.
The resident district commissioner (RDC), Mr Peter Debele, said “encroachers took advantage of the empty space” to settle in the vast fertile ranches.
“They went there on their own without being allocated. So, government has come out and allocated the land for serious farming activities,” the RDC said last week.
Mr Debele added that the government also directed the developers to compensate those who were found on the land. However, he did not reveal how much money was paid out as compensation.
“I am not sure if we should call it compensation, but it was goodwill,” he said.
But the evicted residents claim President Museveni allowed them to settle on the land in 2012.
So far, Agilis Partners, a US company, Great Season, a firm owned by Sudan nationals, and Kiryandongo Sugar Limited have acquired the land under leasehold, Daily Monitor has established.
Agilis Partners is currently preparing the land to grow simsim (sesame), maize, sunflower, and soybean. Kiryandongo Sugar Limited is planting and producing sugar and Great Season is growing coffee.
Mr David Isingoma, 83, who has been evicted from Kisalanda Village in Mutunda Sub-county, said he has lived in the area all his entire life.
The father of 25, who owns cattle, among other properties on his 100-acre land, said the whole village has been fenced off and all villagers ordered to leave.
Ms Janet Akello and her family of nine said they have also lived in the area for the last 15 years.
“The land has all been dug out and we don’t have anywhere to plant our own crops for survival,” Ms Akello said.
“The situation here is worsening each and every day. …We have been blocked from accessing water sources and I have been told that my house is going to be graded any time,” she added.
Mr Joseph Walekula said area leaders have kept a deaf ear as residents are being evicted.
“Our rights are being violated to the extent that our women and children cannot even go and fetch water, there is no food; tractors have surrounded our homes and nobody is helping,” he said.

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