Uganda: Opponents Believe Lawsuit By Museveni Army General Designed to Silence Land-grab Resistance

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MP Olanya, with Gen. Otema Awany walking behind him, at a recent event.

A Ugandan Member of Parliament who has gained international attention as a leading voice of resistance against land-grabbing by corporations and the government of Gen. Yoweri Museveni says a law suit against him and others by a general in the army is related to his activism.

Gilbert Olanya, Member of Parliament (MP) for the Kilak South constituency has been in the forefront supporting resistance by rural farmers in Amuru against attempts by multi-national company Madhvani Group to acquire about 25,000 acres. The government is a partner with Madhvani which wants to create a sugar plantation and to build a factory. In a recent incident elderly women protested semi-nude when Gen, Museveni's lands minister Betty Amongi, escorted by a convoy of security agents came with other officials to survey the land. The rural farmers fear being expelled from their land, their only source of livelihood.

The defamation lawsuit was filed by Maj. General Otema Awany of the Uganda People's Defense Forces (UPDF) the national army, against: Olanya; Simon Oyet, Member of Parliament (MP) for Nwoya; Jomeo Richard, a land-rights activist; and, Gulu FM Co. Ltd, a radio station. It is in connection to statements made on a popular local political talk show "Wii Bye" on Gulu Fm which attracts about three million listeners, May 3, 2017. It is alleged that a statement was made that a bodyguard to the general had killed a man named Alex Ocama.

Gen. Otema Awany's lawsuit alleges that Olanya the three others without any justification and through innuendos and slanderous statements defamed him by stating that he is "a killer and a land grabber."

"Right now as I speak, we have got a court summon against four of us," Olanya, the MP, said.  He said the soldier killed Ocama while guarding Gen. Otema Awany's farm in Amuru and the matter was brought before parliament by the minister for internal affairs, J.J. Odongo. Olanya said the minister "regretted the incident and apologized to the nation and said the matter will be investigated and the culprit brought to book."

Olanya says the court summon won't stop people from demanding for their land rights. "Stop grabbing our land because you have guns," he said. "Stop grabbing land of an individual using your gun. We shall continue reporting you to the president. We shall continue talking about it in the flow of parliament. Stop grabbing the land of our people even when you are soldiers.”"

Meanwhile, Simon Oyet, MP for Nwoya constituency says he heard about the law suit through social media. "We are ready to defend ourselves," because he has the evidence, he said. "You can kill the body but you can never kill information. It’s very easy to kill Simon Oyet but the spirit and information will continue to live.”"

Another defendant in the law suit, Jomeo Richard, the land-rights activist says he's been receiving death threats on his mobile phone  and he believes it's connected to his role in  the Amuru land-grab resistance. "My courage of doing right and doing justice is being threatened," he said. "As a citizen of Uganda, I don’t need to have a personal security. It is a constitutional mandate enshrined in our constitution that the state must protect its citizens. Me as a citizen and a tax payer, I must feel free to enjoy the privilege and inherent right as a citizen.”"

He said his car has been burglarized and that he is trailed to and from work and that he has met with, and reported the threats against his life to, Bosco Otim, the regional police commander (RPC) and Martin Okoyo the district police commander (DPC).

Madhvani employs about 10,000 people in Uganda according to its website and it has estimated assets worth $500 million. After former dictator Idi Amin was overthrown, the company got a $60 million loan from the World Bank to rehabilitate its businesses. Operations had collapsed when Gen. Amin summarily expelled the Madhvanis and Ugandans of Asian ancestry in 1972. An online petition supporting the Amuru land-grab resistance campaign in part states "How ironic that today the Madhvanis, who were themselves victims of another dictator, want to see rural farmers thrown off their land at the barrel of Gen. Museveni's guns to clear way for the sugar factory Madhvani Group wants to build." 

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