Uganda Land-grab: Is Gen. Museveni Trying to Erase Finger Prints With Raid on Registry Offices?

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Gen. Museveni. Uganda's dictator of 32 years. Photo: Facebook
 
As tensions bubble all over Uganda over unprecedented land-grabs, many involving what people believe are members of dictator Yoweri Museveni's family, armed security operatives Friday raided the Wakiso district land offices.
 
The operatives were from State House, the official residence of Gen. Museveni. Critics believe they were sent to seize records that may implicate the dictator's family and associates in the many land-grab schemes around the country which are part of the mounting corruption revelations.
 
The corruption of Gen. Museveni and the country's foreign minister Sam Kutesa --Museveni's son Gen. Muhoozi Kaenerugaba is married to Kutesa's daughter-- was recently exposed to the world when Chi Ping Patrick Ho, a former Hong Kong home affairs minister was convicted Dec. 5 in federal court in New York for paying a $1 million bribe to Museveni and Kutesa on behalf of CEFC China Energy which wanted oil concessions without bidding.
 
Critics believe by seizing documents during the Dec. 20, armed raid, the role of the dictator's family or close associates in ousting people and grabbing their land can be concealed.
 
Reportedly, all staff at the land office were held on yet to be established offenses. Wakiso is the biggest amongst the 115 or so districts that make up the politico-administrative structure of Uganda.
 
It encircles the capital, Kampala, and is home to the relatively wealthy and influential emerging middle class. It is also home to two leading opposition figures, long-term opponent to Gen. Museveni, Dr. Kizza Besigye and youthful presidential hopeful, musician and legislator, Robert Kyagulanyi Sentamu a.k.a. Bobi Wine.  
 
Land in this area commands a premium, and many of the ruling elite reside here or have interests in land here. Wakiso district also hosts the country's only International Airport and the ultra-modern State House, the official residence of the dictator, at Entebbe - a picturesque lakeside town, also the ancient capital of the Kingdom of Buganda.
 
Rampant evictions, allegedly with the acquiescence of the powerful and well-connected, have gathered momentum in the district in recent years despite widespread protestations by the masses, judiciary and ad hoc organs set up to check them.
 
Land ownership and tenure in Buganda, where Wakiso district is located, is a cultural and highly sensitive matter.  The protestations have still amounted to naught, and statements and orders made by the President in the aftermath of such evictions are invariably curiously ignored, and left without effect, which understandably begs the question as to whether they are real directives or for public relations.  
 
Generally, land in the centrally located Kingdom of Buganda has been a target for powerful land grabbers. Large scale land grabbing in Buganda is a thorny issue, and the resultant rampant evictions, which have raised the political temperature in recent years in the country, on Gen. Museveni's watch, is arguably becoming a national security threat.
 
At the time of writing, several hours after the raid, it is not clear whether those held have been charged with criminally recognizable offenses or allowed access to their lawyers, doctors and families.
 
Under Uganda's constitution, anyone arrested must be informed of the nature of the charges against him or her and cannot be held for longer than 48 hours without being charged. It is also not clear how many people are being held following Thursday's raid.
 
However, illegal detention and torture of suspects in custody are very common in the Ugandan criminal justice system, with the rich and powerful known often to connive with security and law enforcement officers to abuse suspects whilst in custody with impunity.
 
In a telephone interview with this reporter, a reputable and experienced human rights practitioner, Stephen Lwetutte, who previously worked with Amnesty International, said: "The emperor is naked. Mr. Museveni tells anyone who cares to listen, how conducive Uganda is for foreign investors. Yet the country is truly sitting on a time bomb."
 
"With all that land grabbing allowed to fester on his watch, it is only a matter of time before this bomb goes off,"  Dr. Lwetutte added in reference to the land grabbing trend in Uganda. "Now, how is that for conducive investment conditions?"
 
Tactically, it would appear that this raid is the first of many more we are likely to witness in the coming months aimed at intimidating official recalcitrant with the aim of legitimizing grabbed land.
 

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