11 October 2017

Uganda: Judge - Most Land Grabs Are By Govt Officials, Soldiers

Photo: The Observer
Lands minister Betty Amongi, left, with Lady Justice Catherine Bamugemereire during the launch of the inquiry earlier this year.

Preliminary findings of the ongoing inquiry into land matters have revealed "a worrying trend" of highly placed individuals colluding to rob ordinary Ugandans of their land, the commission chair said on Tuesday.

Lady Justice Catherine Bamugemereire said the commission's investigations have established a disturbing relationship between government officials, security personnel and politicians ganging up to evict locals from their land.

"This situation is critical and is a problem as far as customary land ownership is concerned," Bamugemereire said yesterday at Boma hotel in Gulu municipality as the commission kicked off public hearings in the Acholi sub-region.

"In other districts, we observed that government officials, security agents and politicians are ganging up [on locals] and unlawfully evicting entire communities to create societies that are homeless," she said.

Bamugemereire said information obtained from public hearings and investigations over the last six months majorly in Mubende, Wakiso, Masaka, Hoima and Jinja districts, shows that the situation in land management, registration and acquisition is worrying.

"We have also found that there is heavy encroachment in some places and depletion of protected areas such as forests, wetlands, and wildlife reserves. This encroachment is done with impunity and total disregard of the law and future of our country and we find this very worrying," she said.

In those areas, she said, they have established cases of fraud in land registration including multiple titling, forgeries of letters of administration and court orders to illegally obtain registration, on top of outright forgeries of registration particulars.

The registration of one's name onto a title should be conclusive evidence of their ownership of land in question. However, Bamugemereire said where multiple titling has occurred and outright fraud discovered, the existing system of registration will be rendered irrelevant.

LAND WRANGLES IN ACHOLI

Yesterday, the commission started their sessions by hearing from some of Acholi's leaders. Martin Ojara Mapenduzi, Gulu LC-V chairman; Francis Barabanawe, the municipal town clerk; retired Supreme court Justice Galdino Okello, Richard Santo Apiire and Rwot Kweri [clan leader] of Atiak made presentations.

Apiire said land wrangling has spread throughout post-conflict Acholi as a result of more refugees pouring into the country from South Sudan.

"The war in Sudan didn't start recently...so the black people in the southern part of Sudan had to flee and when they fled, we accommodated them in the various parts of Acholi," Apiire said.

"But they have remained refugees. One man was registered as a refugee in Adjumani refugee camp. He started claiming land and unfortunately sold this land to Uganda Revenue Authority at a price of about Shs 600 million. We have objected to this and told URA aliens don't own land."

In the Acholi sub-region, land is predominantly under customary ownership. The commission of inquiry plans to traverse the entire Acholi land which comprises of Gulu, Nwoya, Omoro, Agago, Amuru and Pader districts.

After two decades of armed conflict between the government and LRA rebels, people returned to their homes to find most land boundaries had either been destroyed or obscured by overgrown vegetation. Many elders who knew the history had also died, resulting in disputes between families, clans and individuals.

Acting Aswa regional police commander, Osteen Wilber Wanyama, said majority of crimes reported to the police are land-related.

"In terms of crime categorization, 80 per cent of the crimes that we handle are land-related. The commonest areas of crime here are mainly criminal trespass, malicious damage [of property] and assaults over land," Wanyama said.

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