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Battle for Kasokoso

By Flavia Nassaka & Ian Katusiime

Politics, violence take toll as residents fight National Housing projects

Mohammed Oloya, 51, is a man whose family is on tenterhooks. Every day puts them in an endless state of agitation due to uncertainty. Though he is an Acholi, Oloya has never been to his ancestral home after his parents left the north in 1964 to work in a tea estate around Kireka. Now, his business and home are located in the troubled Kasokoso area, which the National Housing and Construction Corporation Ltd (NH&CCL) is claiming.

“My children are in school. All my investments are here. It’s the only place I’ve known for I have lived and worked here all my life. I have no village to run to because all my relatives are here,” says Oloya.

He wasn’t lucky enough to attend school as he started fending for his six siblings at as early as 12 years of age because their father, the family’s only breadwinner, disappeared without a trace to date.  Oloya is not alone in that predicament. He is one of over 100,000 people who are required to vacate the 292.6-acre area.  When the Independent visited Kasokoso recently, the area was a beehive of activity, almost oblivious of the fact that the graders are getting ready to roll. Boutiques, big hardware and general merchandise shops were already open, while work on new construction sites was going on.

This type of activity sometimes gives Oloya confidence to believe that he might after all not lose his property. But the goings on in Parliament and the NH&CC’s resolve to take the land at all costs is what is giving him a few sleepless nights. The feeling keeps coming up that all the modern bungalows and well-furnished apartments sprouting out in the area could soon be no more. For many years, Oloya has been supplying these construction projects with hardcore stones, which is his main source of income.  From the proceeds, he has acquired four plots of land of his own in Kasokoso, and built houses for his three wives and 11 children.

Now, the NH& CC wants the ‘squatters’ off the land over the next five years. Oloya therefore lives in fear of the looming evictions especially after Parliament gave the government parastatal the green light to proceed with the project dubbed Kasokoso Slum Redevelopment Project (SRP). Parity Twinomujuni, the acting NH&CC CEO, says their plan is to put up 5,000 modern housing units in the area over a period of five to six years. But he suggests that the residents shouldn’t fear too much as the whole project won’t set off at once.  He says they’ll be evicting people gradually over the next five years. For the first phase, they’ll need to free up at least ten acres of the land to start the project. All the same, Ali Mwandah, the area LC 1 chairman, says the development is ‘bad news’ for almost 100,000 people whose homes, business premises and schools face eviction.

Unwanted squatters?

Off the Kampala-Jinja highway, Kasokoso was first settled in the 1930s by workers of the East African railways. The majority of settlers were from northern and eastern Uganda. Some of them later joined Asian plantations as workers, while others started stone quarrying after leaving work for the railway corporation. They built houses and had children here. But a few years ago, Oloya and his fellow residents woke up to the news that the land that they’ve known as their only home was being claimed by the ‘rightful owner’ for re-development. NH&CC is in doubt about the authenticity of their claim to the land.

Amb. Agnes Kalibbala, the board chairperson of NH&CC, says they hold two titles and that the land was acquired through a lease from Kireka Estates Ltd in 1966 and 1968. Later in 2012, the company acquired a free hold revolutionary interest in the land.

Records show that Asians leased this land from the colonial administration around 1930 for farming under the name, Mengo Planters. The leases were for 90 years and another for 49 years. Mengo Planters later became Kireka Estates Ltd. The residents disagree with all these facts and have instead been engaging NH&CC in running battles, most of which have often turned bloody and political.  The climax of the violence was on Nov. 05, 2013 after angry residents set ablaze a car belonging to Mamerito Mugerwa and almost lynched the Kiira Town Council mayor when he called for a meeting to convince them to give way for re-development. Parliament had no choice but to intervene after area MPs Ibrahim Semujju Nganda (Kyaddondo East), Rosemary Seninde (Wakiso) and Fred Ruhindi (Nakawa) – for obvious political reasons – petitioned Parliament opposing the company’s plan to demarcate and re- develop the land. Curiously, even President Yoweri Museveni has not said a word about the politically sensitive matter and understandably so given that the next round of general elections is around the corner.

After a tedious investigation, the Parliamentary Committee on Physical Infrastructure, which is chaired by Buhweju County MP Ephraim Biraaro on March 06 presented its report to the Plenary. The findings of the MPs did not surprise the Kasokoso residents. The report said the people who currently live on the land are not bonafide occupants. It went on to say that the parties to the conflict had re-entered a memorandum of understanding allowing the Resettlement Action Plan to go on.

The records show that about ten years ago, NHCCL had made three compensation proposals to Oloya and his fellow residents to give way for the redevelopment project, which they agreed to and on June, 05 2006. Mwandha, on behalf of the residents, wrote to the company requesting for a grace period of six months for the squatters to vacate the land. But NH&CC did not want every house demolished. It asked those whose houses fitted the urban plan to acquire titles for their property.

It was also agreed that those whose houses are in poor shape and may have to be demolished would have their property valued by the company and a house of befitting standard built in their place.  For example if a house is valued at Shs 30m, if the new house built is going to be constructed at a cost of Shs 70m; the owner of the house would only have to pay the difference of Shs 40m. They would be allowed to pay in instalments over a period of time and get their titles after full payment.   The third proposal was to compensate those who would want to leave so that they settle elsewhere.

Rosemary Seninde, the Wakiso woman MP who has been siding with the residents all along, says she doesn’t agree with NH&CC’s proposals. “When you consider the status and income level of the majority of the people living in kasokoso, can they afford the mortgage the company is talking about?” she asks.

Asked why he signed on the documents asking for a six month grace period, Mwandha said they “were ignorant of their rights at the time” and that the company failed to handle the situation before it went out of hand.

“We now understand the law,” says Mwandha, adding, “We are not opposed to the government’s development programmes as long as it’s within the limits of the laws and not abusing our constitutional rights of land ownership as bonafide occupants.”   However, the government is bent on insisting that the residents have no right to resist eviction.  Dennis Obbo, the permanent secretary at the Ministry of Lands and Urban development doubts the legitimacy of the Kasokoso residents’ claim on the land.

“If you ask the people of Kasokoso when they acquired the land, they don’t know yet the law protects lawful and bonafide occupants only as defined by law,” he says.

The law, he adds, protects only those who lived on the land before the 1995 Constitution promulgated yet the Kasokoso people started building houses around 2005. Mwandha however says the fact that they didn’t build on the land at first doesn’t mean that there was no development for people were farming and quarrying on that land.

Section 29(2) of the Land Act defines a bonafide occupant as a person who prior to the 1995 Constitution had occupied and utilized or developed any land unchallenged by a registered owner for 12 years or more.

MP Biraaro told the Independent that they had done their part and it’s now up to government to ensure that a verification exercise is undertaken within two months after the adoption of the report. After verification, the exact number of those to be compensated will be ascertained since the company claims the area is populated by 10,000 occupants whereas the civic leaders claim that the number of people affected is between 100,000 – 150,000 residents.

The residents argue that while the development is good, the manner in which the project is being executed is wrong. Mwandha says the residents insist that they should not be compensated as a group but rather as individuals on the basis of ‘willing buyer, willing seller’ rather than people being driven out.

Given that there are many areas in the country where residents face similar challenges to the ones Kasokoso residents are in currently, Seninde sees a need for the Ministry of Lands to sensitize Ugandans on land laws and people’s rights as many of the land conflicts are rooted in ignorance of the laws.

For now, Oloya is keeping his fingers crossed. He says whether or not he will be kicked out is all in God’s hands.

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