Kyotera, Uganda | THE INDEPENDENT | Close to 1,000 residents occupying the former Sango-bay sugar estate in Kakuuto sub county, Kyotera district are resisting their impending eviction to pave way for a palm oil project.
The government has given the occupants a one-month ultimatum to vacate the 14,000 hectares of land that formally belonged to Sango-Bay Sugar Estates Limited, to pave way for the expansion of the National Oil Palm Project-NOPP which is implemented under the Ministry of Agriculture.
However, the current occupants in a meeting with Hajj Moses Ddumba, the Kyotera Resident District Commissioner vowed never to vacate the land, arguing that they became bonafide tenants whose interests of ownership are protected under the law.
The tenants who are using part of the land for settlement, cattle grazing, and crop cultivation blame the government for moving to take over the land where they have settled for decades.
Patrick Ssenfuka, one of the occupants on the land, indicates that many of them obtained lease offers through the District Land Board and that their leases are still running, wondering how the government can reclaim it without prior negotiations with residents.
The disputed land reverted to the government in 1972 following the expulsion of the Asians by President Idi Amin Dada. But according to Ssenfuka, people have since occupied part of it and established permanent settlements many of which were formalized.
Cupriano Muhereza, another occupant demands that the government finds alternative land for the palm oil project, other than interfering with the livelihood of hundreds of people who have settled on the land for years and have nowhere to relocate..
Zephania Katuuro, a resident of Bukaala village who also occupies the targeted land, wonders why the government did not give the current occupants the first priority before considering the palm oil project. He challenges the government to encourage and support the growth of palm oil trees among the current occupants other than evicting them without providing alternative land for settlement.
The residents have told the RDC that they will invoke all possible means to resist eviction unless the government resettles them before the project commences.
But Kyotera Resident District Commissioner Hajji Moses Ddumba says that the government has already taken a decision to recover the said land and have it utilized for the public good. He says studies have established that many occupants encroached on the government land after utilizing it for grazing and cultivation, and because they were not stopped, they took the land to be theirs.
In the meantime, Hajji Ddumba says they are going to survey the estate, an exercise through which they will establish the number of occupants on the land and how they came to acquire it before the government can make a decisive decision about their fate.