Land Tensions Roil Uganda

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[Africa News Update]


Addressing a charged meeting here in London, a Ugandan Member of Parliament denounced the government’s unilateral land Bill and urged people to oppose the measures by petitioning the country’s legislature and executive body. The government's proposed Bill would give huge powers to a minister appointed by the president to rule on land ownership disputes; critics say this will increase corruption and disputes.

The Ugandan lawmaker said President Museveni had paved the way for his generals to grab land from their rightful owners. The issue of control over land has created much anxiety in the East African country, which recently hosted the Commonwealth Heads Of Government Meeting. In Buganda, people believe the president wants to award huge tracks of land to cronies, generals and favored investors.

In Acholi, members of parliament from that region have also denounced strong arm tactics by the government to award land to investors—in some cases the rightful owners of the land are still confined in wretched camps where the World Health Organization reported in 2005 that up to 1,000 excess deaths occurred per week. Some Acholi have for years claimed the camps were created to depopulate Acholi and redistribute land by foreign investors.

Earlier this year, when the government wanted to award land in Mabira Forest preserve to investors in a sweetheart deal. When word leaked out huge street demonstrations –which resulted in at least four deaths— forced the government to back off from the plan.

The member of Parliament, who spoke here in London last week, Beti Kamya, MP for Rubaga North, says the Museveni government wants to weaken the Buganda Kingdom through the land-grab policy. Buganda is the largest of the country’s hereditary monarchies.

“This Bill was amended without any consultation from Mengo establishment, the Buganda’s institution which own that land,” she said, referring to the seat of the monarchy government, Mengo. She wondered how government could “come out with a Bill without consulting the owner if it is in good faith?”

She was addressing UK and Northern Ireland-based Ugandans at St. Andrew’s Church, Short Street-Waterloo.

“The government passed the Amendments to the Land Act 1998, claiming to be vesting all the powers to the minister of land and the RDCs to do with land registration, distribution, arbitration, determining ground rent with a sinister plan,” she continued. “The law grants powers to the squatter to sell or subdivide the land holding or registration and if the landlords don’t reach agreement the squatters will have to run to the minister—Given the powers to the squatters, the only reason he or
she can be evicted is when they default the rent.”

“Surprisingly, in Buganda we have never had any problems with tenants. It is Museveni and his generals that have created the current environment when they fenced off several miles of land,” she added. “It dangerous to pass a Bill without consulting the owner of the land. The only long-standing plan for Museveni is to have his generals and so-called investors to grab land.” 

She urged Diaspora Ugandans to unite as a “single voice,” and “pass resolutions from here.” She added: “Send formal petition from the Diaspora to the Speaker of Parliament, addressed to the president, Parliamentary Buganda caucus and to the human rights commissions.”

She called on Ugandans in other parts of the country to resist the land-grab:  “What is done in Buganda will be done all over the country. Museveni’s plans is to weaken Buganda and then embark on other region.”

The meeting formed a committee led by Fred Semugera to file the Diaspora’s resolutions on land issues—other members are Christine Musaala, Dr. Rashid Kasaato, a spokesman for G-6, which is an umbrella for all Uganda’s opposition parties, Michael Senyonjo, Sam Lubega, Derrick Mutema, and Sylvia Lubega.

Some attendees proposed petitioning the United Nation’s Peace Conflict Resolution, and the British Parliament, with the position that land disputes could spark civil unrest in the troubled East African country.

“Other nations have filed charges against Museveni, why not petition to those who are funding his regime which encourage civil unrests in the country?” one speaker, Godfrey Nkata, said.

“The former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan already proposed to the donor countries not to fund African regimes that encourage conflicts, then what is stopping us from petitioning the country that pledged to fund Uganda with £700 million.”

Nkata was referring to the recent pledge by the United Kingdom to fund development in Uganda with $1.4 billion over a 10-year period.

“Let us petition the Peace Conflict Resolution in Arusha-Tanzania and The Hague International Criminal Court because Museveni is inciting the conflicts in the country, destroying our culture and other people’s cultures.”

Investigative news reporter Miwambo writes for The Black Star News from London.

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