Court settles battle for soul of Owino market

The aerial view of St Balikudembe market, alias Owino market. The court ruling ends a three-year legal battle over the ownership of the market. PHOTO/ABUBAKER LUBOWA

What you need to know:

  • The government is committed to supporting traders, implementing the new Markets Act 2023 that outlaws landlordism, registering market vendors, and ensuring fair management of all city markets.

The High Court in Kampala has dissolved a three-year legal battle on the ownership of St Balikuddembe market [Owino market], in favour of President Museveni-backed entities, a move officials say will solve the extortionist policy by stall owners.

Justice Esta Nambayo, in her July 3 ruling dismissed with costs a case that was filed in 2020 by St Balikuddembe Market Stalls, Space and Lock-Up Shop Owners Association Ltd against Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA), Kampala District Land Board (KDLB), Commissioner Land Registration, Mr Johnson Bigiira, Mr David Balondemu, the chairperson of KDLB, and Ms Suzan Kushaba, the former chairperson of the market.

The vendors, who reportedly got a Shs4.2 billion lease on the same land in 2014, in 2020 filed a case challenging what they termed as the irregular, illegal, ultra vires and unlawful decision by the KCCA to take over management and control of market.

The High Court delivered the ruling in favour of the applicant in 2021 which was later disobeyed by KCCA and other respondents, prompting them to file another suit accusing the six respondents of disobeying the court orders.

In her recent ruling, Justice Nambayo said: “The Applicant has not presented any evidence to show that the 2nd to the 6th respondents were aware of the court ruling/orders before the notification of re-entry,”
In this consideration, the judge said the fact that the respondents were not party to the case where court orders are said to have been disobeyed, “I would find that the 2nd-6th Respondents, who are the potential contemnors, had no knowledge of the court orders and as such, they cannot be accused of failure to comply with or disobedience of the said court orders”.

Speaking to Monitor yesterday, Ms Dorothy Kisaka, the executive director of KCCA, said the ruling is a relief because it affirms that the trading spaces are for ordinary business people. 
“Having a trading space is crucial for all city dwellers. We have embarked on paving and lighting up with solar. The policy affects all markets. The government has enacted a new law, the Markets Law 2023, which outlaws landlordism in markets,” she said.

Mr David Balondemu, the chairperson of KDLB

Adding: “The market is a nursery, and once your business grows, you can exit. As such, one should not sublet to others. We are registering all market vendors and implementing the law to support the market vendors.”
The Markets Act 2023, which the President signed into law on May 26, empowers KCCA through its executive director, to manage all the 16 city markets.

Mr David Balondemu, the chairperson of KDLB, who petitioned President Museveni last year, about the woes of vendors in Owino market, yesterday pledged to help vendors in other markets,  who are being subjected to extortion by self-proclaimed market owners.

Mr Balondemu, who was the fifth respondent in the case, said: “We did the right thing and shall continue to re-enter other markets where ordinary vendors are being tortured by these so-called landlords. Any market where investors fail to comply with the lease covenants, we shall come in and fight, take back the land to the government.” 

This publication understands that traders at the city abattoir, who are also suffering from tyrant landlords have approached the KDLB boss, to intervene.

The May Internal Security Organisation (ISO) detailed intelligence brief to President Museveni indicated that the monthly Shs1.5 billion revenue which is collected from the city abattoir is not remitted to the coffers of the KCCA.

The brief states that the said money ends up in the pockets of some top officials in the Ministry of Kampala and metropolitan areas and the others from the directorate.

“As the KDLB, this victory is an energiser and as I speak, our lawyers are always computing how much these people will pay us because remember they had for example asked me to pay them Shs1 billion if I lose and now that it is me who won, they will have to pay me the same,” Mr Balondemu said yesterday.

Officials from the St Balikuddembe Market Stalls, Space and Lock-Up Shop Owners Association Ltd were not readily available for a comment by press time.

St Balikuddembe market was constructed at Nakivubo in 1971 covering about 8.5 acres of land.
Its management was overseen by then Kampala City Council (KCC) until May 31, 1995, when vendors took over the management.

In 2002, KCC dissolved the vendors’ leadership and handed over the market to city businessman Hassan Basajjabalaba under his Victoria International Company, which managed it from November 2002 to 2006.
Over time, as other wrangles continued cropping up among rival factions fighting for its administration, President Museveni in 2019 then decided to set up a committee to study the status of public and private markets in the city. 

Following this development, the government in 2020 resolved to take back the management of the market with the sole intention of facilitating its development for all individuals.

President Museveni. PHOTO/ FILE  

This prompted traders to run to High Court which later issued an injunction in 2021, barring KCCA from taking over the said market, a decision the KCCA bosses and other market leaders disobeyed.

Mr Museveni in July last year ordered that the market title be removed from the custody of the Commissioner land registration and given to KCCA whom he said are the rightful owners.

The President argued that the markets are nursery schools for our low income business beginners, who should operate there cheaply and when they are richer, move out to more expensive operational bases.