Locals protest UPDF move to repossess Lukaya land

Bulakati market, which is on the land claimed by residents and the army.  PHOTO/MUZAFARU NSUBUGA

What you need to know:

  • 463: The said land comprising Mwota Block 181, Kirinnya Block 184, Lukaya Block 185, Kalungi Block 145 and Kawanda Block 146 measures 463.43 hectares .
  • Soldiers flog residents found trespassing on the contested land.

A section of residents in Lukaya Town Council, Kalungu District, have protested a move by Uganda People’s Defence   Force (UPDF) to repossess its land at Bulakati airstrip.

The said land comprising Mwota Block 181, Kirinnya Block 184, Lukaya Block 185, Kalungi Block 145, and Kawanda Block 146 measures 463.43 hectares and is home to more than 200 residents.
Residents are banned from trespassing on the land and sand mining activities there have also been halted.

Those caught trespassing on the land are flogged by the soldiers.
Residents from various villages such as Lubumba, Kalungu, Mwota and Lusango have been using the airstrip as a short route to Lukaya Town.

Mr Gashom Nkulanga, a resident of Lukaya Town and a teacher at St Benedict Primary School, wondered why the UPDF is chasing away people, some of whom have stayed on the land since the 1970s.
“We know very well that part of this land belongs to residents and they started using it in the early 1970s during late President Idi Amin’s regime. So, it is not good for the army to chase away lawful occupants,” he said during an interview on Wednesday.  

According to Mr Caleb Tukaikiriza, the Kalungu resident district commissioner, the government is in advanced stages of redeveloping the land and even vendors operating in Bulakati Market will be relocated to the newly constructed Lukaya roadside market.

“If soldiers are beating up residents, that is not right, let them cooperate well with the wanaichi,” he said
Hajj Ziyad Ssewaya, one of the affected residents, claims he owns a title on part of  Bulakati land ,and threatened to sue UPDF if it goes ahead to evict him. “This land, belongs to us, let the army bring any document showing that we were paid to vacate this land. The biggest portion of Bulakati land belongs to residents of Lukaya Town Council; UPDF only owns 180 hectares. We need justice,” he said.

During one of his visits to Greater Masaka area three years ago, President Museveni said government had a plan to establish an industrial park at Bulakati.

What leaders say
Mr Charles Tamale, the Lukaya Town Council chairperson-elect, said the residents should be allowed to continue accessing the land as they engage the army leadership. “The residents have been using footpaths on the airstrip land for years and blocking them now causes suspicion,” he said.

Maj Flavia Terimulungi, the spokesperson of the Masaka-based Mechanised Brigade at Kasijjagirwa, said the disputed land belongs to the army and they have a detachment on it.

“Those who claim to own that land do not know its history; we are working closely with all stakeholders to ensure that all encroachers leave that land voluntarily,”  she said.

Maj Terimulungi, however, warned soldiers at Bulakati army detachment against beating up residents trespassing on the land, saying their actions tarnish the image of the defence forces.
Agriculture minister and also Kalungu East MP Vincent Ssempijja said government is looking for investors to establish industries on part of the vacant land.

But at the height of the campaigns for the 2021 General Election, Mr  Ssempijja said the controversy surrounding ownership of Bulakati land had been resolved and residents who acquired plots on it were  free to develop them.

“We had several meetings with the President and UPDF officials and we agreed that we allow all residents who encroached on this land to use it while the other remaining part be utilised by investors to start up an industrial park,” the minister said then.

Mr Edward Ssentongo, the chairperson of Juma Cell, said they will only be sure about their safety on the land after receiving documents regularising their tenancy from government.

Background 
In   2005, the Military Land Board started warning Lukaya Town Council leaders to stop encroaching on the airstrip land. In 2010, Lukaya  authorities tried to acquire part of the controversial   land from the Uganda Land Commission, but they were referred   to the Ministry of Defence, which said it still needed its land. 

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