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Bunyoro land woes need quick solution

By Vision Reporter

Added 12th February 2006 03:00 AM

MASINDI district has 637 villages, 48 parishes, 14 sub-counties (including one town council) and four counties. It has a population of 520,000 people with 57 tribes. We have registered thousands of land disputes especially after the enactment of the Land Act in 1998.

MASINDI district has 637 villages, 48 parishes, 14 sub-counties (including one town council) and four counties. It has a population of 520,000 people with 57 tribes. We have registered thousands of land disputes especially after the enactment of the Land Act in 1998.

By Steven Birija

MASINDI district has 637 villages, 48 parishes, 14 sub-counties (including one town council) and four counties. It has a population of 520,000 people with 57 tribes. We have registered thousands of land disputes especially after the enactment of the Land Act in 1998.

Land problems in Bunyoro date back to the colonial administration in the region. Some of them were a direct creation of the colonial government while others stem from post independence Uganda governments.

Most of the land was gazetted as wildlife conservation areas. Murchison Falls National Park and Bugungu and Karuma wildlife reserves are examples.

Government allocated the biggest part of Budongo and parts of Bwijanga sub-counties to Asians, and established a sugar estate at Kinyara. Parts of Kimengo, Miirya and Masindi Port, Kiryandongo and Mutunda sub-counties were allocated for ranches, while forest reserves including Budongo were gazetted in several parts of the district. Arising from those government policies, the people have been affected in various ways and to date some still suffer, as they have been left landless without any means of sustenance. It is against this background that I wish to highlight the major land problems in Masindi.

A number of people were evicted from the wildlife reserves right from 1911. Though an aerial survey of the reserve boundaries was done in 1968, it was not accompanied by a topographical survey to show actual boundaries on the ground until 1998. During the process of shifting the park boundaries our people have always been treated harshly and left landless, not compensated or resettled.

The latest evictions of 1999, some of them fatal, saw at least 583 families move from five villages in Kiryandongo and Kigumba sub-counties. Only 125 families from Kigangara village were relocated by EPED Project, an NGO, to Pakanyi sub-county. In 1976 people were evicted from the villages of Kiroko, Masamba, Nyakagando and Kitaleba in Kiryandongo sub-county to create space for the Palestinian farm of approximately 14 square miles.

The NRA/UPDF took it over in 1986. All this was done without compensating our people as the law required. Now it has been allocated to Mukwano for a vegetable oil project. There is a tendency to use the military to harass and intimidate the communities. In 2003, the farm boundaries were re-opened using armed personnel. It is my humble request that the section of land bordering this farm be left for the community and Mukwano concentrate on unencumbered land. Bunyoro Ranching Scheme in Kiryandongo and Mutunda sub-counties also displaced people in Kibanda County. The government’s decision to restructure the ranches and allocate land to the communities in the early 1990s was welcome but the exercise was not concluded. The allocatees have gone ahead to develop the land.

Whereas it was formally discussed and resolved that eight ranches and portions of two other ranches be surrendered for a forest reserve along the Victoria Nile, and the people allocated the original forest reserve area in Kibeka and Nyamakere, this process was not completed. Government’s failure to implement agreed positions has inconvenienced the local communities who were allocated land, paid the survey fees and developed it.

For a long time, grazing land in Kiryana and Kyempisi ranches had been accessible to pastoralists. However, when they were privatised to Zziwa Ranchers and Bunyoro Kitara Kingdom, the local communities could no longer access the only natural water from River Kafu. The new management has blocked all access routes to the river without any alternative. Forceful evictions are the order of the day.

These partly explain land disputes in Buliisa County as most of the landless pastoralists moved to occupy the communal land there. In some situations police and Deputy RDCs escorts have been involved in violent evictions/intimidation. Some of the rich people have allegedly gone ahead and leased off the areas grabbed from the poor.

I request that all such allegations be thoroughly probed, culprits loose the land titles obtained through intimidation, and land returned to the original customary owners. Due compensation should also be paid where people’s property was destroyed.

There are cases where customary tenants were leased out within Kinyara sugar estate and they have never been compensated. These communities are not allowed to grow cane on the land they inherited from their forefathers. It is likely that they will get a bad deal in the process of privatising Kinyara. These people’s land should be curved off Kinyara land title before privatisation, or government resettles them elsewhere.

Some unscrupulous people have taken advantage of landless Baraaro pastoralists who were chased from ranches in Kimengo and Miirya. This has caused unrest, insecurity and loss of lives. Some individuals have also obtained lease offers on the communal land, worsening the problem. The biggest challenge in the area is how land ownership can be changed to allow individuals and families own land and register it in their names with clear demarcations. This calls for massive sensitisation on the Land Act to help communities reach consensus on individual or household land acquisition.

Many aliens from the DRC have settled in the area, taking advantage of open access to communal land. This explains the recent conflicts between the Bagungu and the Congolese Alur. Unless the border access is restricted, this problem will continue.

There is also need for expeditious demarcation of the area earmarked for the military barracks in Butiaba parish, Biiso sub-county, so that people can plan their developments with certainty. We recommend that the government deliver on all its promises to resettle or ensure compensation of the people displaced from areas in Kiryandongo and Kigumba. The district should be allowed to exercise its authority over land and the rights of communities as lawful or bona fide occupants be observed.

All cases of grabbing and acquisition of land should be investigated and customary ownership rights be restored. The National Forestry Authority is free to take over the ranches reserved along Victoria Nile as agreed in the process of restructuring. Some parts of the wildlife reserve should be de-gazetted for human settlement.

Besides, there is need for clear marking of the wildlife conservation area boundaries so as to forestall the temptation by the communities to encroach on these areas. For instance, the area from Katulikire to Karuma where the main Kampala-Gulu highway marks the boundary line clearly has never been encroached on. There is need to strengthen the Immigration Department by establishing strict check points to limit free movement of foreigners in Buliisa County and other areas that have open access to Lake Albert in the entire Bunyoro.

Foreigners who recently entered the country and settled need to be registered and their stay in the country formalised in accordance with the existing immigration laws. Likewise those who came in early 1950s and 1960s need to be helped to formalise their stay as Ugandan citizens if they so wish.

Zziwa and Royal Ranchers in Kimengo need to be prevailed upon to allow the pastoral communities in the area access water along River Kafu, or the government should provide alternative watering points. The land law should be applied uniformly, not to favour the rich.

The writer is the LC5
Chairman of Masindi

Bunyoro land woes need quick solution

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