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Kibaale time-bomb is ticking

By Vision Reporter

Added 24th June 2003 03:00 AM

THE influx of immigrants should be stopped forthwith by whatever means to avert the looming threat of ethnic cleansing,” reads one of the recommendations of a June 2003 study by the Uganda Land Alliance (ULA) on the Kibaale land crisis

THE influx of immigrants should be stopped forthwith by whatever means to avert the looming threat of ethnic cleansing,” reads one of the recommendations of a June 2003 study by the Uganda Land Alliance (ULA) on the Kibaale land crisis

By Gerald Businge

THE influx of immigrants should be stopped forthwith by whatever means to avert the looming threat of ethnic cleansing,” reads one of the recommendations of a June 2003 study by the Uganda Land Alliance (ULA) on the Kibaale land crisis.

The study, done by Eddie Nsamba-Gayiiya — a land policy consultant — also calls for more commitment by Government to solve the century-long land issue in Kibaale District where the problem has degenerated into a land and (inevitably) political crisis.

Land related tension has already claimed more than 10 people in the mid-western district; five during the February-April 2002 Local Council elections and another five in the violence of May 25, 2003 at Kabamba in Kiryanga Sub-county.

The findings of the study, presented Monday, June 23 at Grand Imperial Hotel, show that Mailo land, which makes up 70% of Kibaale's 3,681km2, is owned by Baganda absentee landlords, while the 30% of former public land was made customary by the Land Act 1998, but most of it is occupied.

The recent clashes erupted when the district, through the Land Board, was attempting to allocate the formerly public land to mostly Banyoro, yet most of it is occupied by Bakiga settlers. The land distribution has been stopped.

“The land question in Kibaale is a time bomb, which if not defused in good time will explode anytime now. Due to lack of commitment on the part of Government to effectively resolve the issue, tensions are already building up,” Nsamba says.

In the 31-page booklet, Nsamba says tensions are rising due to the failure to solve the historical land issue, which has been complicated by the social, economic and political impact of the influx of settlers over the past three decades. This is complicated by the significant degree of land tenure insecurity that exists in Kibaale, while knowledge of land rights is poor, if not based on tribal reasons.

The researcher who visited Rutete, Mpeefu, Muhoro, Kasambya, Nalweyo, Kisiita, Kakindo sub-counties and Kibaale Town Council traces the history of the Kibaale land question and its connection to Buganda, and explores the two resettlement schemes in Kibaale coupled with the recent upsurge of Bakiga immigrations there.

Over 3,975 families, 50.8% of them Bakiga, live in Rutete Resettlement Scheme, covering about 100 square miles. The Bakiga move into the area in 1960s followed a request by the late Paul Ngorogoza, then secretary General of Kigezi, to Omukama Sir Tito Winyi for land to resettle Bakiga. The latter accepted. The area was officially made a resettlement scheme in 1973.

In 1993, the Kisiita Resettlement Scheme was established in Bugangaizi for the 3,000 Bakiga families evicted from Mpokya in Kabarole District. Nsamba says this scheme has been a source of confusion, as 6,000 families live in the scheme and the local people were not involved in the resettlement process: “The resettlement committee established by central government became impotent. LCs were taken over by Bakiga, who were now the majority. They started dishing out land to their fellow kinsmen...a mere sh5,000 for land as big as 20 acres, irrespective of whether the land is mailo or public,” he comments.

It is estimated that out of all the land occupied by this scheme, 75% is private mailo: “The owners of this land were never consulted and only one of them has been compensated after he dragged the Attorney General to court,” says Nsamba.

This is in addition to voluntary settlement by Bakiga outside these resettlement schemes, as the author quotes several cases of willing land transactions between indigenous Banyoro and Bakiga. He, however, cites several cases of “land invasion by non-indigenous people” of supposed free land, especially on forest reserves:

“Indigenous Banyoro fear that if this immigration continues at the present rates, the balance of power will soon be shifted to the Bakiga. There are also concerns of a land shortage problem developing within the district,” Gayiiya notes.

This fear is not far-fetched, since Bakinga are overwhelmingly winning Local Council positions in Kibaale. Apart from Fred Rulemera, who was deprived of the LC5 post he won in the February 2002 election, six of the eight sub-county chairpersons in Buyaga County alone are Bakiga, as are four district councillors from Bugangaizi.

Nsamba says Uganda needs a comprehensive national resettlement policy: “Matters concerning resettlement have become so complicated that ad hoc interventions and uncoordinated responses to crises as they arise can no longer work,” he says.

The land fund from where Government is supposed to pay off absentee landlords and return land to people in Kibaale also faces challenges. “Overall, the criteria of utilising the Land Fund should seek to target redistribution towards the Poverty Eradication Action Plan and Plan for the Modernisation of Agriculture objectives of increasing access to land for the rural poor and improving productivity,” Nsamba says.

Also, the Banyoro occupiers never recognised the rights of the Baganda land owners, most of whom never occupied the land and thus have never exercised any of the usual rights associated with ownership. Nsamba says up to 700 of the original mailo titles have never been collected from the Fort Portal land office.

“Some of these were surveyed and titles were issued. For others, the land was never surveyed, nor were titles issued, and there are no proper addresses of the owners. Locating the owners and verifying ownership over these plots will prove a complicated endeavour.”

While the land fund is provided for in almost every budget, no funds are available for its implementation. This is because government lacks the money, while donors have been unwilling to sponsor a program that will essentially benefit the already rich absentee landlords of Kibaale.

The study does not say if Government’s fulfilment of its legal obligation to apply the land fund will ease social tension in Kibaale, where Banyoro’s long-fought-for land interests may not rhyme with Government interests.

Although Government recently named the long promised commission of inquiry into the Kibaale land crisis, much of the information is known, but acting on it has been the problem. Most of what Nsamba proposes in this ULA study has been highlighted by earlier inquiries, like the Kiyonga Committee of 2002.

The former lost counties of Buyaga and Bugangaizi, which make up Kibaale District, are part of the six counties given to Buganda in the 1900 Buganda Agreement for its help in the defeat of Bunyoro’s Omukama Kabalega. While the people in the two counties voted overwhelmingly to return to Bunyoro in the 1964 Referendum, the land question was not resolved.

Kibaale time-bomb is ticking

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