When Ms Damalie Namaganda Kayondo late last year wanted to mortgage part of her land to get money to cushion her through the financial distress caused by Covid-19, Wakiso Land board would not let the transaction succeed.
"I was shocked that I couldn't do any transaction to fetch me money from land that I have lived on since my childhood and yet my family was struggling to survive in Covid times," said Ms Kayondo, a former employee of the Uganda Revenue Authority (URA).
"So, I took the initiative to know why, and I discovered that there was a caveat on the land. But before I could establish the person behind it, I got served with court documents wherein I was, along with 69 others, a defendant," she added.
The caveat, a formal notice barring performance of certain acts on the land in question, had been lodged by Ms Justine Nakamatte Namusisi on March 1, 2019.
Ms Kayondo claims that she got the land from her parents who in turn inherited it from her late grandfather Isaaka Kasana.
However, in her court documents, Ms Nakamatte alleges that the late Kasana, from whom Ms Kayondo indirectly acquired the land, fraudulently took possession of it and registered it on Plot 38, Block 191, in Kyadondo.
Through her lawyers of Kajeke, Maguru and Co Advocates, Ms Nakamatte on various dates in June 2020 sued all the current occupants of the one-square kilometre (640-acre) mile land in Magere, Wakiso District, seeking, among others, declaratory orders for vacant possession of the suit land.
The case puts at stake the ownership of land in the area by National Unity Platform (NUP) party leader Robert Kyagulanyi, alias Bobi Wine, and other residents that the village chairperson, Mr Yekosofat Makubuya, estimates to number 2,000.
Ms Nakamatte wants court to cancel all titles on the suit land so that she can repossess the property she claims to have inherited from her great grandfather, Akula Ssematimba. She also wants the defendants to compensate her for any losses incurred.
The people affected by the suits range from senior political leaders, military officers and top corporates. There also major religious institutions and an entertainment centre on the land.
News of the suit struck Ms Kayondo, a retiree who said she was born and raised on the land, like a thunderbolt.
"Since land matters are delicate, I had to move and that's how I ran to the LCI [chairperson Makubuya] to report the matter, only to be notified that I was not alone," Ms Kayondo said.
It emerged that Ms Kayondo and other 66 people on Block 190 had been served with same court documents and faced the possibility of eviction from the land and loss of whatever developments thereon should court rule in favour of the Plaintiff, Ms Nakamatte.
Also sued are 23 administrators of estates in Block 191 who have sold some of the land to several newcomer residents, among them Bobi Wine.
The two blocks originally formed one square mile, an equivalent of 640 acres. However, the land has undergone several mutations and sub-divisions into multiple smaller plots over the years.
Since the matter covered the entire village of Magere, the affected persons, through the LCI office, formed a committee to jointly draw measures to save their land.
"Given the complexity of the situation we were trapped in, we formed a committee that collects views and discusses how we are to save our land. It is from one of the meetings of the committee that we decided to get a joint lawyer," Ms Kayondo told Daily Monitor.
Considering her 20-year experience as an auditor with Uganda Revenue Authority, the Magere Village committee appointed Ms Kayondo treasurer to the committee to muster resources from residents to meet legal costs.
The lawyers have so far billed the residents Shs20m for handling suits regarding Block 191 and another Shs28.6m to fight the Block 190 case.
For a start, members agreed to contribute at least Shs100,000 per household.
The committee has so far convened five meetings, with the latest having been held on March 28 this year, at St Mathew Church of Uganda, Magere, itself a target of the suit.
It was also resolved that all affected persons avail, among others, all duplicate copies of documents to prove transfer of ownership, purchase of land and copies of land titles. The centralised information would then be furnished to the lawyer to aid legal defence.
By the time Ms Nakamatte filed the case in June 2020, the government had through the ministry of Lands, among others, halted all land transactions and evictions during the national lockdown period. This was because movement was hard and many people were not working besides being faced with hardships induced by the Covid-19 pandemic.
Lands minister Beti Olive Kamya at the time said: "During this period of Covid-19 lockdown, there can be no land transactions, titling or land sales. All our offices are closed hence police and other authorities should not allow any transactions during this period..."
Affected Magere residents accuse Ms Nakamatte of lacking transparency throughout the transactions. For instance, Mr Peter Njegula, the father of late comedian Paddy Bitama, said Ms Nakamatte first offered to sell land with her parents' graveyard, but changed position after he raised concerns about the transaction. Mr Njegula and wife, Ms Mary Namuddu, ended up buying a plot from Ms Nakamatte in Block 191.
"At first she wanted me to pay for the two acres on Block 190, but I declined and told her the graveyard would put me at logger heads with many people," Mr Njegula said.
He added: "So, she eventually brought me here and I signed the agreement with her sons."
Land-sale agreements that appear to be original seen by this newspaper indicate that the land transaction signed on May 12, 2005, was between the seller, Ms Justine Nakamatte Namusisi, and Ms Mary Namuddu, the buyer. The agreement lists Joseph Mutebi, Edward Musisi Kafero and Peter Njegula as witnesses.
On his one acre, Mr Njegula has since built a house and settled his family. He has also established his poultry farm and now engages in crop production to support his family and other relatives under his care. However, Mr Njegula is worried all this could be lost.
Like Mr Njegula, Mr Yekosofat Makubuya, who has served as the chairperson of Magere since 1997, fears that the three acres he took over from his parents would be lost.
What land search shows
Land search documents dated October 16, 2019, show that Mr Robert Kyagulanyi is the rightful owner of Plot 778, measuring approximately 1.8 acres (0.7390 Hectares).
"Kyagulanyi Ssentamu Robert of P.O Box 9564, Kampala registered on 05/01/2011 11:40am under instrument No. KLA483238," the land document reads in part.
Ms Damalie Namaganda Kayondo is also captured as the owner of 5 acres (2.0234 hectares) on Plot 38 found on Block 191, according to a land search dated February 7 2010.
Mr Makubuya, the village chairperson, said a total of five primary schools, which include Maranatha, Seed of Wisdom and Shawal Primary School could be demolished if court rules in Ms Nakamatte's favour.
Other public facilities that are likely to be affected are the Buganda Buladde, a recreation centre, St Mathew Church of Uganda, the Wakasanke Mosque, five Pentecostal churches and one Seventh-Day Adventist Church. There are also burial grounds of several families.
"We need to scale up our efforts in the pursuit to save our land because many know little about this matter. Our church is everything to us and embodiment of hope, especially in trying moments of the Covid era," Mr Edward Kiraga said, in reference to the St Mathew Church.
Also located on the one square mile are estates, apartments, business enterprises and homes of some unnamed high-ranking government officials, doctors, judicial officers and politicians such as Members of Parliament, among others. Magere Police Post's two structures are also located on the contested land.
The land in question comprises Block 190 and Block 191, which originally totalled up to a square mile (approximately 640 acres). It is found in Magere, Wampewo Parish, Kasangati Town Council in Kyadondo County, Wakiso District, which is approximately 16 kilometres north of Kampala on the Kampala-Gayaza road.
Cadastral sheets and microfilms records of 1906 show that the land belonged to late Akula Ssematimba.
Who is Nakamatte
Ms Justine Nakamatte Namusisi is the daughter of late Edward Nsereko. Her grandfather was Musa Kiraga while she was a great granddaughter of Akula Ssematimba - all deceased, according to the plaint seen by Daily Monitor.
Before she was made the administrator of the said estate, Ms Nakamatte is said to have been exiled in Kenya around 1966 during the Kabaka crisis. In 2003, after her return to Uganda, she processed and was granted letters of administration to her father's estate. This was on June 4, 2003.
Considering that she was the only surviving beneficiary to the estate of her great grandfather, she opted to process letters of administration for his estate, which was granted on July 6, 2009.
Between 2003 and 2009, she is said to have traced the estate and found that the land had allegedly been alienated by 'strangers.'
When contacted, Ms Nakamatte said: "I won't comment on this issue or say [anything] unless I am in the presence of my lawyer. I can't say anything to you." However, our attempts to reach her legal team for comment on the matter were futile as our repeated calls on known contacts went answered. Our messages to their mobile phone handsets were not replied either.
Entries of transactions in Wakiso land office correspond with documents sources shared with us about the suit land.
Other residents in Magere declined to speak about the move to evict them and during investigations turned away our journalists who were in the company of local leaders.
Fraud, the ground for Ms Nakamatte's suit, is any act done by an individual to deny another their rights or claim of rights in relation to land, city lawyer Noah Muwanguzi said.
One of the underlying reasons for the surge in land conflicts is the weakness or failure of existing land tenure systems, and President Museveni about a fortnight ago asked newly-elected lawmakers to help him fix the problem once and for all.
Lawyer Muwanguzi agreed that some of the land laws are obsolete.
"Uganda still relies on some laws inherited from our colonial masters," he said, adding: "Recent reforms in our land laws have not been able to adequately address some of the challenges facing the peculiar nature of our land tenure. For example, there are legal gaps in the law relating to customary ownership of land."
In December 2016, Mr Museveni appointed the Catherine Bamugemereire Land Commission to, among others, inquire into the efficacy of Uganda's land law, policies and processes of acquisition, administration, management and registration of land in Uganda.
The Commission completed its work and recommended, among others, that all land in the country be registered to lessen land disputes and enhance tenure security.
Defendants in the case
Robert Kyagulanyi Ssentamu
Samuel Ssebuliba Kiyingi
Yusuf Mukoloze Male
Damalie Namaganda Kayondo
Dr Livingstone Makanga Kyegombe
Ahamad Hajj Golloba
Commissioner Surveys and Mapping
Commissioner Land Registration
Sarah Nakalembe B.
Kesi .S. Mugambeko
Bashir Juma Kizito
Moses Kyazze Sseruwu
Edith Kakembo Nanguma
Sula Sunday Lasa
Ronald Mawanda Kalema
Dr Theoley Rutagwenda
Dr Winyi Kaboyo
A. S Kuwokulya
Ronald Kitaka Mulindwa
Robert Musoke Kasasa
Robinah Grace Nantongo
Herbert Samwiri Katabalwa
Charles Segawa Mboozi
Gedion Musoke Mukiibi
Irene N. Mbahita
Dr Kibuuka Kiyingi
Rev. William Ssentubwe
Muro Farm Enterprises Ltd