Benard Kakuru Byemera Jooks across to two distant hills a mile away with a frown on his face, Cleary disturbed by proceedings around him. The 66 year old Byemere and more 2,000 others are on the verge of being evicted from the land they have lived on for about 27 years.
Kakulu byemera narrates his ordeal from a community market in Kiwolw village, Butoloogo Sub County, Mubende district, an area with horrifying tales of land grabbing.
“I have been here since 1989 when government resettled us from Kakopo in Kiboga. The then resident district commissioner (RDC), Zeridah Rwabusagala ordered the then gombolola chief to give us this land. And we were told it was public land. We have been here until this date,” he said.
In 2003, however, Samwiri Bivanju, who locals say was unknown in the area before, came, claimed ownership of the land and asked the more than 300 families to vacate within seven days.
The land covers the three villages of Kisagala, Kisagazi and Kawololo, all in Butoloogo Sub County.
Bivanju faced resistance from the community who doubled the validity of the land title he had and he disappeared, only to reappear 13 years later with a court order.
“We asked him who he knew in the village, because he claimed he lived here years back, but he didn’t know anyone. We asked him about the old but he didn’t know them either,” Byemra said.
On October 10, 2016, Justice Elizabeth Ibanda of the High Court at Mubende issued on order allowing Bivanju to open boundaries of his “compromised land” in plot 22 in Kawololo.
Bivanju returned to the village with a different title, police and army to affect the order, leading to a massive demonstration by the residents and a confrontation with the police.
At that point, residents blamed the district police commander (DPC) and the resident district commissioner (RDC) for siding with “rich” people to oppress them.
“We are here suffering because of the rich people conniving with the district authorities to torment us,” Byemera said. “The RDC and the DPC came with tear gas and we asked them which war they are fighting; were they fighting for the people and their property or the rich man?”
However, Mubende DPC Patrick Byaruhanga said they were simply executing a court order.
“I went there as a police officer after a court order issued. With a court order asking me to open boundaries on the land, would I refuse?” he asked.
The situation is currently tense with the residents vowing not to leave the land and those pushing for their way. Various meetings have been organized by the district leadership to solve the standoff but in vain.
Steven Kinkumu, the son of Bivanju, told the observer by telephone that his father legally owns the contested 480 hectares of land that whoever is on it is a squatter who should vacate.
“mzee has the title which no one is challenging. If anyone says this is their land, let them bring proof. When you ask them who sold them the land, they someone is an absenteelandlord, does it give you mandate to take over his land?’ he asked.
Kinkumu blamed the area leadership of politicizing the issue for selfish gains instead of seating all the parties down to draw out a “plan B” following the court decision.
“We want to know how many people are on our land and then we see how we can compensate them. However long it may take, we shall eventually get our land,” he said.
However, the leaders and residents are contesting the validity of the land title that Bivanju has as it contains irregularities.
For example, the first land title he presented in 2003, a copy of which the observer has seen, shows that he was the first proprietor of the land yet he verbally said that he bought it.
When he returned in 2016, he had a different one showing he bought the land. Bur to complicate things the more, documents at the district land board have a will purportedly by Bivanju’s father saying he left the land for him to inherit.
However, the names of the two are not of the same clan, locals says.
“The solution we want is to validate the title, “said Butoloogo sub county councilor. “If he claims he bought it and the records say he inherited it, we want to know (the truth). Secondary, that land was public land and we don’t know how it became a private mile with the names of Bivanju yet all this time, we knew it was government land.”
The residents are unsure of what the future holds. Many of those on the verge of eviction have lived their entire life on the land under contention and have nowhere else to go.
Byemera, for instance, lost his first wife and three of his children, all of whom he buried on his land.
“I have nine children left behind by my first wife (and) now I have a second wife with whom we have five children. At this age where can I take my children? Where?” he asked.
He also expressed concern on leaving everything that he had earned on this land and no being compensated. If at all there is compensation, he believes that he might be undercompensated.
“On my land, I have a banana plantation, I have trees and I have a coffee plantation; everything that a man must have. We have accumulated wealth on this land and now they are telling us to leave,” he said.
Mubende has grappled with widespread land grabbing in the recent past, most of it apparently orchestrated by various government and army officials and rich individuals.
For example, in Kirwanyi village, residents are complaining of an army major who has evicted over 1,000 people without compensation. In Kigondo village, residents are complaining of a one Donald Kananura and similar evictions of locals are being undertaken in Kitanda village.
The Mubende deputy resident district commissioner, Evelyn Kizza Tinkamalirwe, whose name came up during various engagements on the matter. She said she was on leave and reffered us to the RDC, who kept telling us to “call later.”