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Rubanda residents protest planned eviction by NARO

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Residents demonstrate at Karengyere playground in Rubanda District on July 7, 2024 against the possibility of  Naro evicting them. PHOTO/ROBERT MUHEREZA

After the National Agricultural Research Organisation (Naro) Karengyere station in Rubanda District opened its boundaries last week, nearly 300 residents are afraid they could be evicted.

The affected residents are in nine villages that are within the Naro-Karengyera land. Igabiro, Karengyere Trading Centre, Rushekyera A, Rushekyera B, Bweza, Kashebeya, Kagano, Nyamiyaga and Rwakaru are the affected villages.

Gardens, homesteads, tree plantations and Muko Junior Primary School that has about 400 pupils are within the 312 acres Naro says it owns.  Of these, residents claim they own 90 acres. 

Naro, however, says it possesses a title as proof of ownership of  land.

On July 7, the affected residents protested the looming eviction at Karengyere playground with the Muko Sub-county chairperson, Mr Patrick Abeneimwe and his Butare- Mukatojo Town Council counterpart, Mr Emmanuel Nsubuga.

Some of the affected persons claim they have been living on the disputed land for more than 50 years and should be compensated if they have to vacate.

Residents Patrick Twegarukamu, Herbert Muhanguzi, Geoffrey Baturene, David Tumwesigye, and Kwizera Katashe said they have been using the disputed land since the 1970s without  any disputes.

“During the opening of the boundary exercise, my land measuring about eight acres was encroached on.  I found my parents and grandparents using this piece of land without anybody claiming ownership. ..We appeal to the government to prevail over this matter,” Mr Buturene, 65, said. 

Meanwhile, Mr Kenneth Malenga said he secured a title 39 years ago for some of the land that Naro is claiming ownership.

“I acquired this title in 1985 and my land was marked as block 4. The one of Naro is marked as block 7 and 8. How come they included part of my land in their title yet mine existed before theirs? I am ready to team up with the aggrieved local residents in seeking legal redress in courts of law,”Mr Malenga said as he displayed a copy of his land title to Monitor.

The area leaders, including councillors Agnes Tweheyo,  Charity Mahooro and Christina Banga,  blame Naro officials for not involving them and the affected residents in the exercise.

Mr Abeneimwe said: “If the exercise of opening land boundaries was genuine, why didn’t the officials of Naro involve the aggrieved people since they are their immediate neighbours? Why didn’t they involve the administration of Muko Sub-county and Butare-Mutakajo Town Council?”

“If the government is interested in this land, it should compensate the affected people because they do not have other alternative sources of livelihood since they have been using their pieces as crop gardens and homesteads. As leaders, we condemn this act and we shall stand with people,” he added.

Woman councillor for  Karengyere Parish, Ms Charity Mahooro,  agreed, saying: “We need urgent intervention from the Central government to save us from this planned eviction.“

The Gombolola Internal Security Officer for Muko Sub-county, Mr Bruno Musimenta, warned the residents against inciting violence  during  their protests.

“I have heard some of you threatening to use pangas and other sharp objects to stop Naro officials from trespassing on your pieces of land. This is unlawful. You must use all the available legal means to regain ownership of your land. Acts of violence while trying to regain your land rights may lead to bloodshed since the Naro officials are always accompanied by the Uganda Police officers,” Mr Musimenta said.

The land manager at Naro headquarters in Entebbe, Dr Peter Lusembo, on Monday told this publication that the exercise of opening land boundaries at Karengyere was lawful.

He explained that the exercise was commissioned by the government as it prepares to transfer ownership from Uganda Land Commission to Naro under the Ministry of Agriculture, Animal Industry and Fisheries.

“Before the exercise was started, we informed all the authorities in Rubanda District, including the office of the resident district commissioner, the internal security organisation, the LC5 chairman and all the chairpersons of the villages adjacent to the Naro land at Karengyere,” he said.

Mr Lusembo added: “For now we are not evicting anybody. But if they provoke us, the consequence will not be good.  Those claiming that their titled land was encroached on should register their complaint with the Attorney General because this exercise of opening land boundaries is not aimed at encroaching people’s land.” 

He also explained that land at Karengyere measures about 312 acres and the process of acquiring a title started in the late 1950’s and the government process delayed because there was no threat until 2008 when it was completed.

Legal opinion
Mr Godwin Maserake , a lawyer at  Elgon advocates in Kabale Town, said any person who stays on a piece of land for over 12 years without being challenged by anybody, he/she has the right to claim ownership of the land and in case of a land title overlapping in the existing one, the owner of the first title claims the right of the land, according to  the Land Act and the  Registration of Title Act.