What you need to know:
Wear your shabbiest clothes and cry on camera. Victimhood is not easy to manufacture. If you are lucky, this embarrassment will force them to pay you off or abandon the land
First, identify the target. The ideal piece of land is one whose real owner is not from the area, or visits only rarely. Even better if they live outside the country and only pass through every one or two years. It could be a piece of land that you sold to them, in which case you need to hand over the docket to someone else to pull off the con.
If the seller is an elderly person, you might want to wait for them to die or become senile before you pounce. Ideally, you want a piece of land that is not titled. That would be easier to steal, but worry not if it already has a title and owner; there’s a workaround for that.
During the dry season frequently walk through the land to establish “presence”. Then when the rains come, move on to planting a few maize and bean plants. At this point it is possible that a caretaker will approach you and advise you to multiply your presence on the plot by zero. If no one does, plant over the whole plot and tend your crop carefully.
Once you harvest the quick-maturing crop, clear the land and now upgrade to more permanent crops. Bananas grow fairly quickly and are ideal, but coffee and sugarcane could also work. A small house quickly constructed within the land would be perfect if you can get away with it; a few graves with some non-existent ancestors is magic.
At this point you need to get the Local Council chairman and his team on your side. They will need to certify that you own the land and have lived on it for generations as a kibanja owner. If the LC1 is your relative, perfect; they should side with you come-what-may. If not, you should promise to share in the loot.
The next step is to plant, weed, harvest, repeat, as you wait for the real landowner. Eventually they will show up, maybe on an idle drive through the countryside, during one of their rare visits to the country, or when they now want to develop or sell the land.
They will, of course, be surprised to find you occupying their land, but you have been waiting for this moment. With a straight face you will point to the crops on the land, and maybe even the house and graves, and claim it is your ancestral land, or kibanja.
Whoever sold them the land sold them air, you say with a practiced dismissive wave of the hand. The real landowner will have three options. One, they could just shake their heads, believe they are in the wrong place and wander off, especially if they have no title, muttering “olemwa” under their breath. In which case the land automatically becomes yours to sell or do with as you please.
Or they could offer to compensate you so that you can get off the land. In which case you haggle, take their money, split it with the LC1 team, and find a new unoccupied plot to repeat the scam.
But if they are corporates from Kampala, they could become aggressive, thumb their land titles and remind you that they are “actually” the bona fide owners. On top of the LC1s, you now need to rent the local police.
If the “actuallys” do so much as walk through “your” land, have your police chaps on standby to arrest them. Malicious damage to property is a nice little charge; “threatening violence” is an added bonus, as it makes them look like arrogant, aggressive types out to steal from the poor and downtrodden.
If they don’t offer to settle at this point, “talk nicely” to the Resident State Attorney to have them quickly charged in the nearest court. For maximum pressure, have one of the tabloid television reporters at hand to capture the moment. Wear your shabbiest clothes and cry on camera. Victimhood is not easy to manufacture. If you are lucky, this embarrassment will force them to pay you off or abandon the land.
If, however, you are unlucky, you might “fall on” landowners who are relentless and willing to go the distance to prove, by any means necessary, that you are a fraudster who should be in jail. In which case you will then come to understand why crime is not a sustainable path to wealth – or, as someone once said, why hens drink water but do not urinate.
Mr Kalinaki is a journalist and poor man’s freedom fighter.
[email protected]; @Kalinaki