Evictees return to their land with arms, security in Hoima challenged

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A man stands armed with bows and arrows after returning on the land where they were evicted. (All photos by George Niyonzima)

The return of more than a half of the approximately 500 persons brutally evicted from their homesteads at Rwensambya Village in Butema Parish, Buhanika Sub-county in Hoima District last year, has posed a security threat, local authorities say.

Mr Jamil Kasangaki, the Buhanika Sub-county LC 3 Chairman, says that he is not comfortable seeing the disgruntled evictees who lost their land under unclear circumstances reoccupying it on their own.

“Now the problem is that they are armed with machetes, spears and bows and arrows. It means they are ready and determined to defend their rights by hook or crook after a year of homelessness with their children and wives,” he says.

Mr Kasangaki adds that he was not involved during the initial eviction exercise but was rather shocked to hear gunshots rocking the area with widespread anarchy early in the morning just like his constituents did.

Audio: Kasangaki on eviction (Runyoro/Rutooro)

A day after the evictees’ return, the Hoima district security officials led by Mr Martin Okoyo, the District Police Commander (DPC), visited the disputed land; formally politically recognised villages whose biggest part has been turned into sugarcane plantations.

Mr Okoyo did not find it easy accessing the Internally Displaced People’s camp-like setup as a base for the restart of life.

Kazi-njema News has learnt that suspicious returnees did not allow any member of security agency nearby unless he was ready for bloodshed basing on the previous eviction they describe to have been unlawful and marred with opportunism and bribery.

However, after selecting representatives from either side of the security and returnees, a meeting was convened on site in the middle of the two groups that were on guard, each for the security of their allies.

The DPC is quoted to have honestly explained to the returnees how his force only wanted to ensure peace and tranquility prevails despite the dispute.

He asked the tenants who had newly occupied that land get way and also cautioned them against damaging any properties on the land until court decides to avoid acting illegally over an alleged illegality.

Mr Julius Allan Hakiza, the Albertine regional police spokesperson, says security is monitoring the situation to avoid another eviction as it investigates the legality of the eviction order that caused all the trouble witnessed today.

Audio: Hakiza on land eviction (English)
A woman lights a fire in preparation for lunch.

Background

Initially, Yosamu Nyendwoha, Remijo Jawiyambe, Richard Byamukama, Yostance Kiiza and Jackson Kandole disagreed with tycoon John Magara and an army officer, Lt Innocent Ayesiga Kasimbazi over ownership of a one acre piece of land sitting on Block 20, Plot No. 151 at Katereiga village.

Kasimbazi is alleged to have struck a deal to rent a huge chunk of land to sugarcane plantation investors.

Before the end of the court battles over an acre of land, scores of poor residents had been jailed and charged with serious crimes including aggravated robbery and malicious damage.

Finally, a court eviction order was issued by the Hoima Grade One Magistrate, Harriet Atim, relating to one acre of land alone.

But surprisingly, it was implemented to four villages including Kisuuga, Rwensambya, Rwenjubu and Lutukuma.

All efforts by the victims to get justice were futile in the district until they sought help from the Police Land Protection Unit at Kibuli police headquarters in Kampala and the State House.

The two offices discovered some truth about the illegality of the eviction and documentations that called for the status quo as they waited for justice.

What distressed the evictees was the failure of the sugarcane investors to respect the order but instead continued to till more land for large scale sugarcane growing and renting land to other persons too continued.

This prompted the evictees to return to their land for fear that it will be completely covered with sugarcane as they wait for justice to prevail.

The evictees mobilised themselves from the neighbourhood where they had sought residence from good Samaritans or rented houses to aggressively reoccupy their land they say contains their grandparents’ tombs.

Voxpop: Returnees on eviction (Runyoro/Rutooro/Luganda)
Women prepare lunch

Life after eviction

After being thrown away from their land and subjected to homelessness and loss of property either to looting or destruction allegedly by the military and police that effected the eviction court order, a village that had a legally recognized Charmin as a political leaders and his executive was no more and replaced with a bush and sugarcane plantations.

Some rented houses at Butema and Katereiga Trading Centres in Hoima district, Katanaabirwa in Kyankwanzi district while others went out to look for shelter from their relatives wherever they are in the country including Nebbi district.

Scores pitched camp at the home of Bugahya County Member of Parliament, Mr Pius Rujumba Wakabi, seeking protection and justice that has since delayed.

This is one of the groups of victims of suspected land grabbing plots that has fought back with an impending mob injustice action in Bunyoro sub-region during the Coronavirus pandemic period after that of Kiryana Village in Kemengo Sub-county in Masindi District that blocked the Masindi-Kafu Road on Thursday.

The protesters were those who established businesses on the land belonging to Uganda Investment Authority (UIA) that it leased to Mena Foods Limited among other investors after Kinyara Sugar Limited established a sugarcane plantation on the former Ziwa Ranch in the village.

The demonstration broke out after Mena Foods Limited began fencing off the land including the trading centre which the residents perceived as a ploy to evict them.

The number of persons rendered homeless under the legally hard to justify circumstances during the coronavirus pandemic in Bunyoro is threatening the achievement of all the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) have been reproaching the government for failing to weed out some underhanded elements within its circles that ignore the correct procedures of eviction, thus, subjecting innocent citizens to uncalled-for suffering and poverty.

Mr Bashir Twesigye, the Chairperson for the Civil Society Coalition on Oil and Gas says all evictions conducted without observing the court order issued are regarded as illegal.

According to him, the court order specifies the location and size of the land among others to avoid victimising innocent people for unscrupulous individualistic interests.

Women sort beans for lunch.

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