KAMPALA – The Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC) tribunal has temporarily stopped the eviction of 30,000 residents on the contested Sango Bay land.
Hon. Habiibu Sseruwagi, the Presiding Member of the Tribunal issued an injunction restraining the government and other respondents, their agents, workmen, servants, and anyone acting under their authority or direction from trespassing, burning, and destroying crops, livestock, and property and forcefully evicting the residents off their land until the determination and final disposal of the application.
“I am also satisfied that there is a real threat and imminent danger to the suit land before the disposal of the substantive application,” Sseruwagi wrote in a ruling delivered on Wednesday.
“In the premises, Interim Orders are hereby granted to maintain the status quo on the suit land until Miscellaneous Application No.30 of 2023 and EOC/CR/753/2023 are disposed off and I hereby direct expeditious investigations and hearing of this matter,” he added.
Measuring 247 square miles, the land covers Kakuuto, Kabira, Kyebe, and Kasasa sub-counties and the Mutukula town council. It was formerly leased to the defunct Sango Bay Sugar Estate Limited but reverted to the central government following the expulsion of Asians in 1972.
The government repossessed it for the expansion of the National Oil Palm Oil Project, which is being implemented under the Ministry of Agriculture, Animal Industry, and Fisheries.
In the petition, Kanyaihamba Yusuf & Others Vs. Attorney General & Others, the complainants through the lawyer Mr. Mukasa Mbidde told the tribunal that the original owners of the contested land were being forced off the land without compensation or proper re-location.
“What we are addressing today here is a scheme that has been established as a vertical process established by a cross-sectional command structure of leadership from the top under the clog and guise of implementation of the presidential directive to commandeer and seize people’s property and land parcels that ideally that belonged to them originally,” Mr. Mbidde said.
“This happens because of the directive of the President, which includes among others, a distribution of parcels of land the equivalent of 22 hectares particularly buttressed from land register volume 149 and 549 land at Buddu Masaka. But instead, by chicanery, the thieves have themselves now masterminded a sequence to steal people’s land under the guise and display of the presidential directive which he said is being now anomalously, implemented.
In a letter dated March 1, 2021, President Museveni allocated 22028.6 hectares to Bukora Estates Limited and OPUL Sango Bay Limited in equal proportions.
“The practice of encroachers who have been obtaining illegal titles on the land and want to disrupt the development is not acceptable and must stop,” the President directed.
But Mbidde said evictions have been extended to other parts that are out of the allocated land.
“The directive is not implemented, it is not mss-implemented, but what has been done is using the directive as a material for purposes of seizing, commandeering and sequestration people’s land,” he said, telling the tribunal that illegal evictions are being propagated by the leaderships, under the chain of implementation of the directive ranging from the minister, the resident district commissioner, the CAO, the chairman of the district. He told the tribunal that the land distribution itself now is amongst those who occupy positions of authority including the DPC and all those who occupy positions of security.
“I can tell you that the population living a life of fear,” he said. Everybody is a candidate for prison and others are here on bail. We don’t know whether the laws of Uganda extend to Kyotera District. What is being done is extremely odious and detestable.”
Mbidde said that the President’s directive isn’t being applied to the piece of land that he directed. It is not being distributed amongst the two companies that he directed. Instead, leaders are distributing amongst themselves for their own private use, and the population, on the other hand, is being flashed out of occupancy without compensation.
Francis Kizza, Kyebe Sub County LC III chairperson whose sub-county is one of the most affected says that people’s crops and houses have been destroyed through illegal eviction, yet they have not been compensated or relocated as had been agreed in their joint meetings with the lands minister.
He adds that there is no proper plan for the affected occupants on the land, yet they have been given an eviction notice.
“This whole exercise has been abused. When we inquired from the district administrators as lower local government administrators on the matters at hand, they said they didn’t know but on our search reports, we got to know that Kyotera District administration had been given a share of more than 1401 acres of land in the Kasanvu an indication that they had got their share and hadn’t bothered upon the original natives,” Mr. Kiiza said.
Although the local leaders of the affected villages and sub-counties say there are 30,000 people occupying the land, Ignatius Tumwesiga, the Liaison Consultant of Sango Bay Estate, insists that the government only considers 300 households as lawful occupants, who will be compensated.
Godfrey Matte, the Assistant Commissioner of Police who is overseeing the vacant possession of the land, says the encroachers were asked to return to their original homes.
Some of the homeless residents have resorted to crossing into Tanzania to look for a place to stay, while others are searching for land within the Kyotera district.