Kampala — The fight between three city tycoons over ownership of buildings yesterday left hundreds of traders stranded as they were locked out of seven popular commercial buildings.
The buildings closed include Namaganda, Zai, Majestic and M.M. plazas, all on Luwum Street, and Jumbo Plaza on Parliament Avenue.
Others also closed are Mini-Price on Ben Kiwanuka Street, and Energy Centre on Sikh Road.
City tycoons Mansur Matovu, alias Young, and Mr Drake Lubega said they were saving their buildings from being taken over "illegally" by another city tycoon, Mr Charles Muhangi, who has already forced them out of Qualicel Bus Terminal, Qualicel building and Nabukera Plaza.
There was heavy police deployment in all the affected areas as hundreds of traders and shoppers were left stranded.
Mr Muhangi claims ownership of the 0.518 hectare of the land on which Qualicel Bus Terminal, Qualicel building and Nabukera Plaza.
But Mr Matovu and Mr Lubega insist they legally own the land on which they have had developments for more than 13 years now.
Mr Matovu yesterday told Daily Monitor that their move was intended to counter the police, who a few days ago ordered them out of the buildings to give way to Mr Muhangi.
"We decided to close our buildings because we could not look on as police guards somebody else to take them over forcefully. Police had first come and chased us away to force other people in without a lawful court order," Mr Matovu said.
But Mr Muhangi hit back, saying he legally owns the land on which the buildings sit and advised both Mr Matovu and Mr Lubega to cooperate and vacate peacefully since he had defeated them in all court cases stretching over 13 years now over ownership of the land. Mr Muhangi, who said the whole land is valued at about $30m (about Shs112.2b), said he has been the rightful owner of the land since 2002, but the two tycoons forcefully occupied and developed it leading to a 13-year battle in court.
"Those men should just surrender as quickly as possible because if they don't quit, their destination is Luzira prison. I have suffered with them going through court for 13 years. I defeated them in the High Court, the Court of Appeal and also in the Supreme Court," Mr Muhangi said.
Mr Muhangi said there is no turning back since he has finished executing the eviction order issued by court and is now in possession of the land and the buildings thereon.
Asked why he would take over buildings that he did not invest in despite being illegally sited on his land, Mr Muhangi said "they constructed in defiance of my warnings to them and now the houses belong to me."
He, however, declined to explain whether he is taking over the houses due to Mr Matovu and Mr Lubega's failure to pay costs awarded to him by court or as result of court ruling that he automatically takes over the investments.
Mr Matovu on the other hand insisted that they do not have any problems with Mr Muhangi, saying if he won the case of land ownership in court as he claims, the process on taking over the same property would have been smooth.
"He should have first claimed his land before jumping on our buildings. We have been here for 13 years and have not had any problem with him (Mr Muhangi)," Mr Matovu, who declined to comment on whether they have been involved in any court battle as claimed by Mr Muhangi, said.
On their part, Kampala Metropolitan police spokesperson Luke Owoyesigyire said their work was only to provide security.
The chairperson of Kampala Arcades Traders Association (KATA), Mr Godfrey Katongole, urged the government to intervene so that traders resume businesses even as the tycoons sort out their ownership battles.
"We ask the government to intervene so that tomorrow everyone is back to work or else we shall decide our next course of action," Mr Katongole said.
Some of the traders, who spoke to Daily Monitor, said they were set to lose millions of shillings should the rift between the tycoons not be resolved quickly.
Similarly, Ms Muruhura Atwiine, who operates a shop in Zai Plaza, wondered why the issues of ownership cannot be settled peacefully without affecting the tenants.
She said they had just paid rent at the start of the month and are now destined for losses should the buildings remain shut.
But Mr Matovu said the buildings would be accessible to the traders today.