What has land inquiry achieved after 60 days?
Kampala, Uganda | JULIUS BUSINGE & RONALD MUSOKE | On May 9, a renowned advocate became the first witness to testify before the seven-member Land Inquiry 2017 Commission headed by Lady Justice Catherine Bamugemereire.
On July 6, Bamugemereire informed the media that they had so far interviewed 150 witnesses and recorded a total of 1,567 complaints mainly from Kampala and the neighbouring districts.
President Yoweri Museveni appointed the commission last September to inquire into the effectiveness of law, policies and processes of land registration, administration, management, and registration in Uganda.
When it went into a `technical break’ on July 6, it had just heard testimony from one, Ambrose Murunga, a Kenyan national who allegedly masquerades as a personal assistant to Inspector General of Police, Kale Kayihura, and claims to own 255 acres of land in Luweero.
At one point in the testimony, Murunga was quizzed by the Assistant Lead Counsel of the Commission, Bosco Rugajaata Suuza.
Suuza: Is it true that you have been going around claiming you are a personal assistant to Kale Kayihura?
Murunga: No, that is not true.
Suuza: Have you ever been a personal assistant to Kale Kayihura?
Murunga: No, that is not true.
Suuza: Now that you have known the law and it is clear that you illegally own that land. What do you think are your options?
Murunga: I have been on that land for six years, not a single person has been evicted.
Suuza: Now that you know that you violated the constitution of Uganda and the law under it, would you like to apologise to citizens of this country?
Murunga: My lord, on the issue of nationality and land tenure I admit. I made a mistake. I also realize that I am not supposed to hold that tenure of land owing to my nationality.
It was a humbling moment for Murunga, the once powerful and feared technical advisor to Gen. Kayihura until 2014 when the Uganda Police cut him off. The session was typical of what has been happening at the Land Inquiry as individuals who behave as if they are above the law in land transactions are humbled before Justice Bamugemereire.
The commission has on several occasions detained some culprits and forced them to reveal information in camera with its investigators. Bamugemereire said a comprehensive draft report for the work so far done would be ready by end of August.
Initial observation indicates, however, that contrary to pessimism that some sections of the public have been spreading since the commission of inquiry into land matters started its work nine weeks ago, senior experts and researchers in land matters are urging Ugandans to take keen interest in the proceedings of the committee work if they are to benefit from it.
In an interview with The Independent, Agnes Kirabo, the executive director of Food Rights Alliance, a local NGO and a member of Uganda Land Alliance, a consortium of 80 local and international organisations involved in advocacy for fair land governance in Uganda, says Ugandans should take interest in following what the commission is doing.
She said government officials and land are inseparable but it is critical to make people understand their rights on land and strengthen land institutions at all levels to manage land conflicts.