11 September 2017

Uganda: Police Boss in Trouble Over Illegal Evictions

The Justice Catherine Bamugemereire-led commission of inquiry into land matters has ordered the Professional Standards Unit to investigate Bernard Akankwasa, the district police commander of Hoima, for his role in the eviction of 398 households in the western district.

The evictees ended up in refugee camps in the district. Akankwasa was summoned by the commission and appeared on Friday, September 8, after area residents told Justice Bamugemereire that local police officers helped Hoima Sugar Limited to evict about 4,700 people and pave way for a sugar plantation.

"I want you to make a statement about the way you sanctioned the judge's [restraining] orders. Your statement is going to assist us in establishing whether I'm going to investigate this matter further. I'm going to refer you to the PSU because your level of disobedience of court orders is unacceptable," Justice Catherine Bamugemereire, the chairperson of the commission, ordered during the hearing at the National Achives and Records Centre on Yusuf Lule road.

Bamugereire's commission was set up in February 2017 at the urging of President Museveni to investigate, among others, the rampant land grabbing in the country.

Akankwasa is accused of deploying police officers to protect Hoima Sugar Ltd officials and facilitating the eviction of a number of families from what they claimed was their customary land.

The 1,300 acres of land under dispute were leased to the late Herbert Rwakiswaza Kimera, a prince in Bunyoro kingdom, for 49 years. On July 4, 2014, High court judge Justice Simon Byabakama issued a restraining order, directing Kimera not to demolish structures and existing gardens of people on the land.

However, Kimera went ahead and sold the land to Hoima Sugar Ltd and evicted the occupants. Pictures before the commission show police forcefully evicting people in total disregard of the court order.

Akankwasa told the commission that he did not know the origin of the people evicted and currently settled in two IDP camps in Kijayo, Buhanguzi county, his area of jurisdiction.

"Can we agree that police evicted these people from the land [and sent them] to the camps?" the assistant lead counsel, John Bosco Suuza, asked as he cross examined Akankwasa.

"There were some people called by local leaders to get land, I don't know about those ones [in the IDP camps]," Akankwasa responded.

On September 6, 2017, 57-year-old Muhereza Asaba told the commission that he has lived in Hoima since his childhood. [See: Hoima sugar firm forced 398 households to refugee camps, The Observer September, 8].

Other police officers implicated in the land grabbing by area residents include the Mid-Western regional police commander, Charles Sebambulide, and Augustine Kasangaki, who is attached to Hoima district police station.

It's alleged that a two-year-old child died during the eviction process due to excessive use of force by police. Other people were allegedly tortured by police.

"The child could have had pneumonia that could have been compounded by whatever was going on. This is blood on people's hands. It's unacceptable," Bamugemereire fumed.

IDP CAMP STAGEMANAGED

The son of late Kimera, John Bernard Winyi, who is the chief finance officer at Masindi local government, told the commission that the Kijayo IDP camp in Hoima is not real.

"This camp is stagemanaged for the benefit of some few people who want to dupe the investors. These are fraudsters trying to kick up a storm where there is none. If they hear that the commission will be coming, they quickly erect their tents and leave their homesteads. This case should be dismissed," Winyi said.

He said the indigenous people were compensated and that those currently in IDP camps are coming from other areas such as Rwanda, DRC, Kanungu and many others from the western region.

According to Rajasekaran Ramdo, the agricultural officer at Hoima Sugar Ltd, about 146 people were compensated. He said some people received as little as Shs 30,000 in compensation for an acre of land.

Ramdos said the company will go into fresh negotiations with the aggrieved locals currently suffering in the camps.

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