In 2013, Hoima Sugar Limited evicted about 4,700 locals from 1,300 acres in Kijayo, Buhaguzi county in Hoima district to pave way for the sugar plantation.
The locals, many of whom claim they were not compensated, currently live in two internally displaced people's camps.
In a case filed at the High court in Hoima, at least 398 households are seeking compensation and payment for malicious damages to property during the eviction.
While appearing before the Catherine Bamugemereire-led commission of inquiry into land matters on Wednesday, Rajasekaran Ramdos, the senior agricultural officer of Hoima Sugar Ltd, said at least 146 people have been compensated.
However, when shown evidence that some residents who were paid received as little as Shs 30,000 for an acre of land, Ramdos told the commission the company will go into fresh negotiations with the affected persons.
This development came shortly after the testimony by Muhereza Asaba, who narrated their ordeal at the IDP camps during cross-examination by the commission's assistant counsel John Bosco Suuza. Here are the excerpts:
Suuza: Can you restate your name for the record?
Asaba: My name is Muhereza Asaba.
Suuza: How old are you?
Asaba: 57 years old.
Suuza: Where do you reside?
Asaba: Muziranduuru, Kijayo in Hoima district.
Suuza: What do you do for a living?
Asaba: I'm a farmer but since I was chased away from my land, I only hire land.
Suuza: Where were you chased from?
Asaba: I was chased out of the land of my grandfather called Tibanywana.
Suuza: When were you chased from that land?
Asaba: In 2013.
Suuza: Who chased you?
Asaba: I was chased by Hoima Sugar Limited.
Suuza: You seem to suggest that your being chased from the land was a long process. Can you tell us about that?
Asaba: Since I was born, I stayed in this place called Muziranduuru before it was separated from Kijayo. We were staying in peace and there was no disturbance apart from the wild animals.
Suuza: Do you know how you came onto this land?
Asaba: I'm born there and that land belonged to my grandfather.
Suuza: How did he acquire this land?
Asaba: It was customary land.
Suuza: And he passed on the same land to your father when he died?
Asaba: My father was on the same land.
Suuza: How big was that land?
Asaba: It was 94 acres, my lord.
Suuza: Can you take us through the eviction process?
Asaba: In 2002, we were disturbed when a gentleman called Herbert Kimera claimed he had a land title within our land, something that surprised us.
Suuza: How did he make his claim on this land?
Asaba: He broadcast the announcement and later came with policemen to evict the people and burning our houses. They would take chicken and goats. So, we found ourselves going to the camps.
Suuza: You said he came with private guards, were these police or soldiers?
Asaba: They came with policemen and the security persons from the kingdom.
Suuza: Did you complain to any authority when he did that?
Asaba: When that happened, we run to the LC-I chairman, Julius Irumba.
Suuza: Did he help you?
Asaba: Yes. He wrote a letter to the LC-III chairperson called Balisaza Kaparaga which was sent to the RDC.
Suuza: And what happened at the RDC?
Asaba: RDC and his deputy after receiving the letter, they came to the place and found a gentleman called Kimera was using a court judgment to evict people. Yet the people he was complaining about were only 47, but he had evicted 700 people.
Suuza: From which court did he get this judgment?
Asaba: From Tumushabe, a grade one chief magistrate in Hoima.
Suuza: Did you get a copy of the judgment?
Asaba: Yes, my lord.
Suuza: What followed next?
Asaba: After that happened, the leaders felt sorry after evicting people illegally. They went and explained to the magistrate and it was established that the judgment which was given was improper.
Suuza: After the judgment was set aside, did you return to the land?
Asaba: Yes, my lord.
Suuza: So, what is the complaint now?
Asaba: We went back and settled on the land. But later after 10 years, he came back to disturb us.
Suuza: Can you specify the year when he came back?
Asaba: In 2010.
Suuza: How did he disturb you?
Asaba: He would come with policemen and his workers and destroy the food crops. He burnt our houses and important documents got spoilt in 2010. Then 398 households decided to sue him in at the High court.
Suuza: What was your claim before the court?
Asaba: We were claiming the land he thought was his actually belonged to us.
Suuza: What happened at court?
Asaba: The court went ahead to hear the case. In the middle of the case before it was completed, the person we had sued [Herbert Kimera] died. We only went back when we got to know of the people administering the land.
Suuza: After you filed the case, did they continue to slash your crops?
Asaba: The destruction of crops went on till 2013. At that time, they brought tractors, bulldozers, and they destroyed our properties and we lost everything. We decided to find out where all that power was coming from. We established that Hoima Sugar Limited was the company disturbing us. We decided to sue them a case of malicious damage to property.
Suuza: Before Hoima Sugar came into the picture, did the late Kimera explain to you the basis of his land?
Asaba: He never explained anything about the land apart from us hearing the announcement from the broadcasting and coming with the policemen to beat us.
Suuza: After establishing that there was a new claimant to the land, what happened in court?
Asaba: Court advised us to go for mediation first. The mediation did not go on well, because Hoima Sugar Limited presented their own list [of claimants] claiming they had already compensated people on the land. And yet we the leaders and representatives of the people did not know.
Suuza: When they destroyed your property, where did you go?
Asaba: We went to the camps.
Suuza: How are you surviving in those camps?
Asaba: We are just suffering. There is no medicine, no enough food. Even the land we are hiring to grow crops is so expensive.
Suuza: Do you live in one camp or in various camps?
Asaba: We have two camps within one LC-1
Suuza: About how many people live there?
Asaba: They are about 4,700 people. They are increasing because many are producing.
Suuza: And what's happening on the land?
Asaba: They have planted sugarcane on the land. But because of the efforts we have put in, there are some small plots of people that were left. Even me, I was left with only two acres of banana plantation. That's the only garden where I could get food.
Suuza: You said that Hoima Sugar Limited claims to have compensated some people, do you know them?
Asaba: I do not know them.
Suuza: So, it's your testimony that Hoima Sugar Limited is lying.
Asaba: Yes, my lord.
Suuza: What would you like Hoima Sugar to do?
Asaba: The most important thing is, since they destroyed our properties and we are charging them for malicious damage, they should pay our things. In other words, if it's possible that this commission can help us calculate the size of the land and [make Hoima Sugar] compensate us with land elsewhere.
Suuza: Your matter is in court concerning this land and it has not been decided yet?
Asaba: Yes, we are waiting for the judgment.
Suuza: Why did you come to the commission?
Asaba: We have not received the judgment. So, I have come here to be helped.
Suuza: Is that because you are experiencing delays or other experiences?
Asaba: Delay is there and we are requesting this commission to help us because we are suffering within the camp.
Bamugemereire: We understand the kind of suffering you are going through; we have seen the pictures and reports of death. There is a court process going on but would you sit down with Hoima Sugar for mediation?
Asaba: Yes if there is a good mediator.
Bamugemereire: What do you say in terms of the manner in which you were evicted off the land? And going forward, what is your advice to government to regulate the way that people acquire land to do business so that this kind of event does not happen again?
Asaba: We request that when investors come, they should investigate and inquire about the status of land to establish whether there are people occupying it. Since they found people staying on that land and evicted them, that was a big mistake.
Bamugemereire: What is your feeling if you see Hoima Sugar right now?
Asaba: On our side, we are feeling pain but there is development. It's the reason why we want to be compensated. We cannot reverse the development. If they can pay our properties that were destroyed, we can be happy like any other Ugandan.