Settlers on the land belonging to Uganda Investment Authority (UIA) at Kiryana Village in Kimengo Sub-county, Masindi District on Thursday blocked the Masindi-Kafo Road protesting the suspected plans to evict them from the land.
The protesters were those who established businesses on the UIA land that was 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 protesters used concrete poles the company is using to fence the land, leaving drivers stranded for several hours without any other alternative route to use.
Ms Justine Tushabe, one of the protesters told Kazi-njema News that the residents acquired bank loans to establish the businesses fearing that once they are evicted they may fail to service them especially during this lockdown due to the coronavirus.
“Let the government help us. President Museveni should come up here and do us a miracle. Just three miles. We don’t see the investor. We only see soldiers beating us. We spend nights in the bush. Our children don’t go to school, we have spent three years without growing crops and we don’t have any food. Coronavirus is also dealing with us and now we are being arrested, where should we go?”
“Let us be compensated and we leave. Let us be given land as Ugandans. Now we are like refugees from (South) Sudan, Rwanda. We are now refugees in our own country, we don’t have any land. Land belongs to investors which Ugandan can fail to rent three acres of land?”
The village secretary, Mr Geoffrey Musiimenta, wondered why the investor was as suspected planning to evict the residents from the land on which they have settled for 15 years even during this lockdown period when they do not have any other land on which to settle.
“When [Justice] Catherine Bamugemereire came to make a report in 2018, she found out that there were many people who had lived on that land for many years. She recommended that the occupants should be relocated to another land or be compensated. But the occupants have been compensated by being beaten, arrested and charged with criminal trespass!” he said.
“After every two weeks, people are paying Shs300,000 are being charged with criminal trespass yet their families have lived on the land for 30 years. We have tried by all means to discuss with the investor if he can either relocate the residents or compensate them but we have failed. The occupants have nowhere to go. President Museveni stopped evictions during this lockdown but UPDF soldiers from Masindi barracks are escorting labourers planting fencing poles around the land,” Mr Musiimenta added.
Led by the officer in charge of Kimengo police post, Mr Steven Mukosa, police officers ordered the residents to remove the barricades and reopen the road.
Mr Mukosa said that the residents’ land grievance with the investors should not disrupt road users since they are not a party to it.
When contacted, the Masindi District LC 5 Chairman, Mr Cosmas Byaruhanga, condemned the suspected eviction plans wondering how the residents could be evicted from the land on which they have lived for several years without being compensated.
The chairman appealed for peaceful co-existence between the residents and the investors before calling for a presidential intervention.
“It disturbs when the residents of Kiryana village who have settled on that land for more than 30 years with some losing their cattle even paying land tax to Bunyoro Growers are now being forcibly fenced inside by the investor who would instead be helping them and yet their land grievance is not yet over.”
“As district leaders, we are behind these residents saying since the Bamugemereire report (Land Inquiry Commission) was released, let these people be compensated so that they find somewhere else to go because some have banana plantations there and don’t have anywhere else to take their cattle. The residents asked the investor to cut off at least four acres of land for Kiryana trading centre that has been in the area for many years. The trading centre is fostering development and also helping employees in the new sugarcane plantation at Kiryana,” Mr Byaruhanga said.
During a meeting with the residents who stormed his office on Monday, the Masindi Deputy Resident Commissioner, Mr Longino Baheebwa, said that all investors who UIA allocated land in Masindi were advised to fence it off.
However, Mr Baheebwa assured the residents that nobody will be evicted from the land illegally.