By John Njoroge
Two schools demolished
Soldiers harass villagers
Land title and transfers contested
Chief of Defence Forces (CDF) Lt. Gen. Aronda Nyakairima is at the centre of a dispute involving over 1,000 acres of land in Kyerere village, Gayaza sub-county in Kiboga district in which close to 100 families are facing eviction, The Independent has learnt.
A retired UPDF officer, Capt. George Kamanda and his family is among those battling to keep a piece of land they have lived on for generations as accusations of forgery, intimidation, among others are leveled by competing claimants.
In one incident, Nyakairima wrote a brief undated note to Capt. Kamanda on UPDF letterhead: ‘This is to request you to see me and we follow on where we left off on the matter of my land.’
The residents now claim to be under constant harassment by soldiers. They say they have been stopped from cultivating the land for food, a number of trees in the land are being felled unceremoniously by unknown persons and two schools, Kyerere Vocational Training Institute and Birama Primary School have been demolished.
Rarely in the limelight outside military affairs, Nyakairima joins the list of several senior military officials embroiled in disputes over huge chunks of land. Col. Otema, Maj. Gen. Julius Oketta and Col. Walter Ochola have been cited in several land disputes in Acholi while Col. Clovis Mugenyi is at the centre of a row over Kisekka market in Kampala.
This row comes at a time when government is pushing for an amendment to the 1998 Land Act, ostensibly to protect bibanja owners; people who occupy land without title, from eviction by those who hold the title. On July 12, President Yoweri Museveni launched an association of bibanja owners in Gombe sub-county, Wakiso district and directed Police chief Kale Kayihura to set up a special unit of the force to protect tenants.
Said he: ‘I have directed him (IGP) to set up a police unit to fight for these poor people,’ adding that most of his support during the bush war came from the poor and he cannot forsake them.
The unit has since been formed and was recently launched in Kampala. It is not clear whether a contingent will be deployed to Kiboga.
According to various correspondences, the matter has been simmering since 2002 and has at various times drawn in several senior government officials including the state Minster for Lands Kasirivu Atwooki, state Minister for Defence MP Ruth Nankabirwa and a cross-section of special assistants to the president including Maj. Jacob Asiimwe.
The Independent has learnt that the land in question, Block 710 plot 9, which is now plot 19, was acquired by three individuals at different intervals. These persons are unknown to the family of the original owner. According to a certificate of title seen by The Independent, these persons sold the land to one Gideon Kibirango Baseka. Kibirango in turn sold it to Gen. Nyakairima around July 2002.
Further details indicate that as far back as 1931, this land belonged to one Matayo Mpanga Kidimbo. In 1937, Matayo died living his son Levi Kafumbe in charge of his estate. Kafumbe, who passed away in 2003, did not leave a will and testament. His only son, Lumu Ibrahim did not have letters of administration to his late father’s estates but was recognised by the residents of Kyerere village as heir to his father.
Shortly after Kafumbe’s death, Gideon Kibirango emerged claiming ownership of this land. In his possession was a Mailo Land Title which showed that Block 710 plot 9 belonged to him.
Documents from the Mityana land office reveal that the land was first owned by a person called Yosan Ssempiima Mugenyimubi in 1950. He later transferred ownership of this land to his sons Mwasa Mugenyimubi and Laban Ssenkubuge. The two later transferred the ownership of Block 710 plot 9 to Gideon Kibirango.
Archives show that Matayo Mpanga was a registered owner of this land as of 1931. There are no other instructions of transfer after 1931 yet at the Mityana Land Office, records indicate that as of the 29th (month not indicated) 1950, under instrument number 9203, the land belongs to Yosan Ssempiima.
An earlier search conducted at the land registry failed to locate this instrument number that registered Ssempiima as owner. Peculiar to them is another fact that according to records, the two sons of Ssempiima got ownership of Block 710 plot 9 on October 22, 2002 at 10.00 am and transferred ownership to Gideon Kibirango on the same day five minutes later at 10.05 a.m.
In a telephone interview, Gideon Kibirango claimed to have lawfully bought this land and latter sold it to Nyakairima.
‘Five minute transactions are not strange. I bought this land from three people back in 2002. According to me, all the documents of this land were in order,’ he said.
Kibirango however refused to disclose to the Independent how much he paid for the land and at how much he sold it to Nyakairima. Speaking in Luganda, Kibirango insisted that the land was his and he had every right to sell it to Gen. Nyakairima. ‘If there were any disputes over my transaction with the general, the concerned should seek legal redress from the courts of law,’ he said.
But Lumu Ibrahim, grandson of the late Matayo Mpanga, says he believes Kibirango facilitated fraud at the land office to rob him of his family’s land.
‘Two learning institutions were violently demolished under military supervision. More than five people have been arrested for mobilising the residents to resist the eviction. If this was a genuine transaction, why is their so much harassment from the military? The residents received a letter introducing Gen. Nyakairima as the new owner. They came to me and I wrote to the general informing him that he was trespassing on my property.’
The Independent has seen a UPDF headed letter from the office of the CDF written to one of the residents, retired Capt George Kamanda asking him to meet him.
‘This is to request you to see me and we follow on where we left off on the matter of my land’ the undated letter said. The letter was signed by Gen. Nyakairima himself.
Details of whether or not this meeting took place; where and when it was supposed to be were not available to The Independent by press time. It has however been established that Capt Kamanda was one of the people who were arrested for mobilising the residents to resist eviction.
A meeting held in Kiboga late last year between the area RDC (name), Gideon Kibirango, Lumu Ibrahim and residents failed to come up with solid decisions on the way forward. The residents had requested to be allowed to continue with their seasonal agricultural activities until the real owner is ascertained, just as State Minister for Defence Ruth Nankabirwa had advised but were denied access to their gardens by Kibirango.
‘This land was mine. I sold it off. The new owner wants to use this land. You were informed in April 2007. You must leave,’ he reportedly told the meeting.
In a report prepared by the Director of Land Disputes in the office of the President, Mr Isaac Kashaija, who has also visited the disputed area, evidence of tree cutting for timber and charcoal was everywhere. He also confirmed that a number of plantations had been cut down while two schools had visibly been demolished. The Bibanja holders had been stopped from cultivating the land and evidence of detention of some residents was available at the nearby Ntwetwe police station.
He indicated that there was need to fairly establish the ownership of the land, protect the Bibanja holders and compensate them for any malicious damage caused in the process of trying to evict the 100 families. There is need to prove that the documentation of the transfers was a forgery and that the military was involved in this dispute.
A visit to the Kampala land offices yielded no fruits as the documents of Block 710 plot 9 (now plot 19) could not be found. At the Mityana Land Office, officials were tight-lipped about the row. Efforts to view additional documentation were met with resistance.
‘This is a sensitive issue that affects many families. They are facing a possible eviction. The media should not use this dispute to get mileage,’ an official told this reporter.
Another official of the Mityana Land Board when contacted on phone was willing to help only that he was out of his office.
‘That is public information and should be availed to anybody who wants it, more so the media if accurate information is to be communicated. Those are agents who want to be bribed. We will get to the bottom of this.’
In the meantime, the residents of Kyerere village are not allowed to practice subsistence agriculture on the land they have lived on for more than 30 years. Their burial sites have been vandalised and strangers move freely within their midst.
Lumu Ibrahim explains. ‘The residents no longer have control of their own boundaries. They are crying out to me. Strangers freely move around my land. You cannot tell who is who. A wire fence has been erected around my land and small permanent structures have been erected by a group of herdsmen. I wrote to the area LCs about the building activity. Even though they were ordered to stop, they completed the structures. The herdsmen sleep their. Am told the cattle belong to CDF. Its chaos down here I don’t know what to do. I feel powerless and subdued.’
When asked to comment on this issue, State Minister Ruth Nankabirwa said that due to her heavy working schedule, she has not been able to follow up on the issue closely as yet.
‘I was alerted about this issue and I immediately went to Kiboga. I interacted with the residents on site and discovered that they were genuinely facing possible eviction. I have not been able to discuss this issue with Gen. Nyakairima because he too is very busy.’
She added that it was paramount that the residents are not evicted until it is conclusively ascertained who the actual owner of this land was before it was acquired by Gideon Kibirango who sold it to the general.
‘We cannot rule out fraud in such issues. I talked to the RDC and officials at the land registry. I also received documents for a representative of the families, Rtd Capt. Kamanda. We are investigating the issue, but in the meantime, I advised that normal life should continue. I have not been to the site since,’ she said.
Efforts by The Independent to reach Gen. Nyakairima for a comment were fruitless as he was reportedly busy. His telephone calls were answered by his assistants.
Now the residents have pinned their hope on Parliament. Last week, a petition signed by 60 representatives of the 100 families was delivered to Speaker of Parliament Edward Ssekandi.