A Museveni-appointed land commission winds down with only disappointment for ordinary Ugandans
By Charles Kamya Ssentamu
A hugely expensive land commission has wound down, and the Ugandan public is coming to the realization that once again Museveni has toyed with their misery.
Nearly three years to the day after President Museveni’s much vaunted commission of inquiry into the mess that Uganda’s land sector has become (due to his misrule!) was appointed, it is winding down its activities. Yet even after burdening the taxpayer with the equivalent of US$ 15 million it has woefully fallen short of its mission.
Daylight robbery has been the order of the day, with members of Museveni’s closest family being the main land grabbers. The infamous Lusanja incident is a case in point whereby it has been widely reported Saleh was behind the evictions of the peasants off over 500 acres of land.
Last week, Justice Catherine Bamugemereire, who headed the attempts at assuaging the angry public met Museveni in an effort to get his testimony on land issues. Unsurprisingly, Museveni kicked the can down the road saying he would make a written submission to the commission that was on the last leg of compiling a report of its findings.
That aside, Ugandans that had naively placed much faith in the commission are feeling the familiar bitter aftertaste of disappointment.
According to remarks to media in which she communicated what she sees as the achievements of her lengthy inquiry, Bamugemereire listed them as: saving the government from paying one trillion Ushs in fraudulent claims; cancellation of land titles in wetlands and forest reserves; exposing fraud in the land sector; investigating “untouchables”; multiple titling of parcels of land, and evictions.
For the record, the commission was appointed at the height of a public outcry against dispossession of the poor of their land by the mighty and powerful. To the average Ugandan its formation meant that at last something was being done at the highest levels of the state to deal with one of the most pressing social issues of the time.
Yet as is typical of Museveni, he was only exploiting the desperation of the public to appear to be doing something when in actual sense using the commission to legitimize the massive land grabbing that has plagued Uganda. The first red flags lay in the terms of reference, none of which directly mentioned land grabbing or illegal evictions.
Indeed even as the commission went through its 30 months of public hearings of complaints, land-grabbing continued with impunity as the like of Moses Karangwa of Kayunga and Bosco carried on with clear protection from Museveni’s proxies.
From central to northern Uganda, Museveni’s grabbing continues through pseudo investors; and through projects such as the Atiak Sugar estate in which the state has reportedly bought a stake without going through any formal process. In Nakaseke, Museveni’s young brother Salim Saleh is presiding over an industrial complex in the making on land he got under dubious circumstances.
Characteristic of anything Saleh does, there is a strong smell of fraud about the whole affair, with the true owners of the land not daring speak up, if they in fact still are alive.
In the typical Museveni fashion of using drawn out processes to give cover to ongoing deep mischief, the commission never gave the grabbers reason to pause in their tracks. Even as Bamugemereire was giving false hope, five miles from her air-conditioned room a one Medard Kiconco was grappling with protesting peasants.
These were people whose houses and other structures – on a four-acre piece of land that he grabbed – had been razed to the ground. Kiconco had the last laugh on last month on 4 October when a Kampala court declared him rightful owner of the land.
Further afield in Buhweju District a daughter of the minister of natural resources was allocated mining rights in a forest reserve. The artisanal gold miners that had made their living there were forcefully evicted to make room for her. Such things underscore the brutality of the Museveni regime.
Given that the father of this woman is from eastern Uganda, it is difficult to understand how Museveni, well known for his clannishness and nepotism, would allow a Karamojong to displace people in western Uganda whose votes he holds so dear. The tradeoff must be so huge to be irresistible, people commented.
In the sparsely populated Karamoja region, from where the minister alluded to above hails, thousands of hectares of communal grazing lands have for no fathomable reason been converted into restricted “security facilities”. The only thing locals know is that this action followed a series of aeromagnetic surveys for precious metals the results of which have never been made public.
If anybody had any doubts about the fraud that the land commission was, Museveni’s real intentions for it became clearer during his interaction with the commission last week. That’s when he told them how to ‘angle’ their report.
According to sources familiar with those interactions, Museveni told Bamugemereire to focus her report on how land “can be used as a tool for transformation”, with Malaysia as a case study. That amounts to changing the terms of reference, observers commented.
One supposes the messier it gets the better for Museveni who in his greed does not give a hoot about the stated “transformation”.
To put the Ugandan land mess into perspective the biggest grabbers are people close to power. A good number of them are serving army officers, cabinet ministers and others he has many means of sanctioning, if he really wanted that. For instance as the commission was preparing to meet him, in parliament, there was an uproar over how Minister of Justice Kahinda Otafiire had secured ownership of an agricultural extension facility in Jinja.
That was a 900-acre farm owned by the government. Otafiire was now evicting the government he serves.
Museveni knows very well that he cannot touch the Otafiire’s without opening a Pandora’s box that would shine the light on his own land grabs. So, short of buying time for him and his thugs to grab even more, Bamugemereire’s commission has achieved nothing for the ordinary Ugandan.
It was a dose of palliative care, albeit at the taxpayers’ expense, which for a while dulled the pain and gave false hope on an issues Museveni lacks the political will to do anything about.