The unresolved land question and the rampant eviction of bibanja holders (squatters), especially in central region, could be one of the reasons why President Museveni and his ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM) party performed poorly in the recently concluded elections.
In Luweero District, the NRM Mecca, Mr Museveni got 41,166 votes while his close rival of the National Unity Platform (NUP) party Robert Kyagulanyi, alias Bobi Wine, garnered 103, 782 votes which translates into 70.45 per cent.
The same effect was manifested in the other districts that comprise the Buganda region where NUP-backed candidates for Member of Parliament (MP) outshone the NRM candidates for the seats except for Kampala Central which was retained by Independent Muhammad Nsereko and Mr Ibrahim Ssemujju Nganda of the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) who retained the Kira Munacipality MP seat.
In his speech after he secured his sixth term on January 14, President Museveni, among others, promised zero tolerance to land evictions and undertook to solve the land question and the triggers that result in conflict, evictions and also affect production.
A section of the leaders and residents from the different areas across Buganda region where land evictions and land grabbing has created a landless class despite the existence of the land laws accuse a section of the leaders in government of siding with individuals perpetuating acts of land evictions but at the same time expecting the victims to rally support for leaders that have not come to their rescue.
In Luweero, Nakaseke, Kayunga, Nakasongola, and Kiboga districts, cases where families have been evicted from land that they have occupied for more than 60 years, against legal framework and laws that could have guaranteed ownership of land by the affected families, are among the hundreds of families battling the land grabbers.
Mr Pascal Imarach, the Zirobwe Sub-county chairperson in Luweero District, said the land grabbing and eviction problem if not quickly handled will continue to affect the government performance, plough more resentment against the government top brass and at the same time discourage the population from active production.
“In Zirobwe, we have areas that include Mpangati LC1, Bubuubi, Gwalimutala, Sanga and Ngalonkalu villages where hundreds of families have had their respective land fenced off by the landlords. You cannot tell the victims to go to courts of law when several of their family members have been arrested by police and charged for trespassing on land that they have occupied for more than 60 years,” Mr Imarach told the Daily Monitor.
“The landlords are not interested in the ground rates (busuulu) yet this is the only option left for the affected families,” he added.
In Nakaseke District, more than 7,000 families from the villages of Balatira, Senga, Mizimbo, Manwa, and Naluvule, among others, have been battling the land eviction and land grabbing acts for more than seven years.
Mr Paul Lutamaguzi Ssemakula, the MP for Nakaseke South constituency, said government has failed to effectively enforce the Land Amendment Act 2010 to resolve the land crisis that is not only in the greater Luweero Districts but many areas in Buganda region where the land tenure system is complex.
“In Nakaseke District, we have land buyers who sit in Kampala City and send agents to purchase land on their behalf. They purchase land that is already occupied and try to apply all crude methods targeting the eviction of the affected families,” Mr Lutamaguzi said.
Mr Boniface Ssentongo, a district councillor representing Bamunanika Sub-county in Luweero, said any development programme targeting the people of Luweero District should first target the land ownership problem that has left a bigger section of the communities landless.
“At Kiteme Village in Bamunanika Sub-county, the landlords use the police to arrest people who have been forced to fence off their land. We have a one-square mile land where more than 60 families are battling eviction. Surprisingly, the landlords are bending the land laws and curving out big chunks of land belonging to the affected families,” Mr Ssentongo said in an interview.
In Nakasongola, Mr Noah Mutebi, the MP representing Nakasongola County, estimates that more than 70 per cent of the population are squatters and are very insecure because of the evictions and land grabbing acts.
“We are waiting for the final execution of the land fund where a bigger section of the resident could possibly get land titles. We already have a project where about 1,300 households are lined up for free land titles in Nakasongola District. The survey was conducted in 2020 by the Ministry of Lands in coordination with the Uganda Land Commission,” Mr Mutebi told the Daily Monitor.
Mr Abby Walusimbi, the Senior Presidential Advisor on the Diaspora Affairs, said the land problem is a time bomb and an issue that should be resolved in Central Buganda.
“It is true that several other factors affected the NRM party support in Central region but the land problem has been outstanding in many areas,” Walusimbi told the Daily Monitor.
Kayunga District, especially, has for long been a hot bed for illegal land evictions.
A number of landlords and tenants have either lost their life or property in the land wrangles that in 2013 prompted President Museveni’s intervention.
However, his efforts to have a long-lasting solution to the problem did not yield fruit, hence angering the tenants in the area.
In 2018, government embarked on a programme to give freehold titles to more than 800 land tenants in Bbaale County as a way of strengthening their land ownership but the programme has been slow rendering beneficiaries desperate.
Mr Charles Tebandeke, the MP-elect for Bbaale County, said government should use the Land Fund to pay off landlords so that sitting tenants can live on their land without any disturbance.
“I am going to ensure that the Land Fund is operationalised in my constituency as a long-lasting solution to the problem,” Mr Tebandeke said.
Recently, a total of 700 residents in two villages in Kyesiiga Sub-county, Masaka District, were ordered to look for alternative land for settlement or else be evicted.
In the neigbouring Buwunga Sub-county, more than 360 residents of Kasozi Village are also having sleepless nights following reports that their landlord sold off the two square mile piece of land they are currently occupying to a businessman.
Last year, a section of land owners in Masaka District invited the State House Anti-corruption Unit headed by Lt Col Edith Nakalema to investigate operations of staff at Masaka Lands Zonal offices, claiming that it is rocked by widespread corruption and fraudulent transactions.
They claim the zonal office is plagued by widespread corruption and fraudulent transactions which need to be thoroughly investigated.
In Kalungu, at least 40,000 residents in 12 villages in Bukulula Sub-county have to look for alternative land for resettlement after receiving an eviction notice from their landlord.
Mr Lugwana Bulikya, an opinion leader in Masaka, said land will remain a sticky issue because it is well connected individuals in government who are fuelling them.
“The problem is about the greedy leaders we have today, they want to grab everything they come across. So, this can only be cured by getting a new government,” Mr Lugwana said.
In Wakiso, Kiboga and Kyankwanzi, which are hotbeds for land wrangles, about 3,200 residents in the sub-counties of Banangwa and Kibiga respectively are currently facing eviction from their landlords.
According to Mr Gerald Wavamunno, an aspirant for Kiboga District chairperson seat, these land conflicts are fueled by some absent landlords who sell the land before inspecting the area.
While addressing the nation after he was declared winner of the January 14 presidential elections, President Museveni revealed that the government intends to protect bibanja owners through amendment of the Land Act.
“Security of land tenure. When we were making the land law, we made it very tight that the bibanja owners (squatters) are not evicted from their land. That is the mass line. But the elite do not respect that,” Mr Museveni said.
He added: “They do not respect the historic compromise which we put forward, which was; don’t abolish the ownership of the landlord unilaterally. Because those landlords also got that property because of the history of the country. And some of them even bought.”
During his campaigns in December, President Museveni directed that no bibanja owners would be evicted.
“In Buganda, a few areas of Bunyoro, Tooro, and Ankole, there is the issue of the suffering of the bibanja owners who get evicted illegally. Nobody should evict anybody that was lawfully settled by the landlord or his agents; bonafide occupant (and) customary land ownership,” Mr Museveni said.
“If anybody evicts you when you are one of these legal owners, that eviction is null and void. It is wrong. If your leaders help you to challenge it, your tormentors will lose and also compensate you,” he further said.
In an interview with Daily Monitor early this month, the Minister of Lands and Urban Planning, Ms Betty Kamya, said: “The ministry plans to strengthen the regulations on land sales. We are trying to amend the law so that we put a higher burden on the buyer to do due diligence.”
Compiled byFred Muzaale, Al-Mahd Ssenkabirwa,
Wilson Mutamba, Edison Ndyansiima, Dan wandera, & Arthur Arnold Wadero