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Unresolved Bukakata land dispute delays Masaka oil palm project

Some of the residents who are facing eviction in Kasanje-Nakigga village. URN photo

Masaka, Uganda | THE INDEPENDENT | A mega oil palm project has failed to take off in Kasanje-Nakigga village in Ssunga parish, Bukakatta sub-county in Masaka district due to a dispute on over 700 acres of land. At least 100 households use the land for settlement and grazing.

The land is a subject of contention between over 200 residents and Nakigga Ranching Farm Cooperative, which comprises 37 subscribers. The disputed land is part of the 15 square miles (10,000acres) which Masaka district allocated to the National Oil Palm Project (NOPP) to expand oil palm production, create employment, and boost the agricultural sector and the economy.

According to Joseph Kintu, the Kasanje-Nakigga village LC I chairman, the land has been under the cooperative since 1988 when they got a 44-year lease. He adds that the cooperative members and other residents mostly pastoralists have also been using the grasslands to graze their livestock. Kintu noted that along the way, the caretakers of the cooperative, Achilleo Kayemba and Julius Yiga transformed the leasehold into freehold title to obtain full control of the land.

However, after learning about the upcoming oil palm project, Kayemba and Yiga told the residents and its members to stop using the land forthwith. He says that the two want to sell the land to potential investors for oil palm growing, which has raised protests. They want to be relocated somewhere they can graze their livestock.

Achilleo Kayemba says the occupied land will be left untouched for the good of the people, adding that they only want to give away the grasslands. He explains that they resorted to giving away the grasslands because they have few animals since the operations of the ranch stopped.

Evans Kanyike, the Bukoto East MP says that apart from the residents in Kasanje-Nakigga village, the project would also affect people in Kiteredde, Musajja, Muddu, Komoni, Biriinzi, Lutukuma, and Kigo villages. A joint meeting was convened at Nakigga on Sunday to chat the way forward to end the longstanding grievances over the land.

Peter Ssenkungu, the Male workers representative for Masaka district presided over the meeting on behalf of Eliasto Akatuheebwa, the Masaka Resident District Commissioner. Ssenkungu accused some politicians of fueling the dispute by giving wrong information to the public with intentions of winning cheap popularity. He explained that all land matters are guided by documents that prove true ownership.

Fridah Kemirembe, one of the affected residents says that the majority of residents lack documentation for the land they have occupied for over the years. Peter Nsaba, another resident says that evicting him without any option may force them to sabotage the project.

According to Anthony William Wanyoto, the Communications Officer-NOPP, they are still following certain processes to ensure they start without holding back. He adds that they are planning an entry meeting with Masaka district leaders since the district council must pass a resolution to allowing NOPP activities to start in Masaka.

He noted that they are targeting over 40,000 hectares of land in Bukakata because of the good soils.

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