Cover Story — On February 28, President Yoweri Museveni wrote a letter to Prime Minister Robinah Nabbanja. The letter urged him to stop land evictions across Uganda. Museveni said he was using his powers under Articles 98(1) and 99(1) of the Constitution which directed him to ensure good governance and protect the Constitution, President Museveni ordered the following:
“No eviction should take place in a district without the consent and direct observation of the District Security Committee (DSC), chaired by the Resident District Commissioners/Resident City Commissioners (RDC/RCC) and direct consultation with the Minister of Lands.
Museveni said that if this is not done and the illegal evictions continue, the members of the district security committee will all be held accountable and action will be taken against them. This, however, excludes UPDF representatives who may not be aware of the substance of the issues involved.
In the same letter, the president asked the Chief Justice to prevail over judges and magistrates who violate the Constitution by unlawfully evicting people in collusion with land grabbers. He further ordered the Minister of Lands to inform the Attorney General of such abuses by judicial officers so that legal action could be taken against them.
But just days after Museveni’s directive, thousands of people were evicted from land they had occupied for decades in Kyankwanzi district. Residents of Kyerere North, Kyerere East, Kiyuni Central, Kiryajobyo West and Kibanda villages in Gayaza sub-county in Kyankwanzi accuse General Aronda Nyakairima’s widow, Linda Aronda, of being behind the eviction.
Their belongings, including crops and houses, were destroyed by bulldozers under the guard of more than 30 UPDF soldiers. Residents accuse Linda Aronda of illegally obtaining a title to approximately 5 km2 of land. Locals say they have lived on the disputed land for at least 80 years and are baffled by how the late Aronda’s family came to own it.
According to Joel Sebikari, the MP for the region, more than 1,000 people whose crops were destroyed during the eviction are on the brink of starvation. Schoolchildren also saw their education interrupted. MP Sebikari called for the punishment of the soldiers involved in the brutal expulsions.
On March 6, some of the families of former bush war fighters and victims of land evictions in Nakaseke district in central Uganda instructed the government to take action against land grabbers. landowners and merchants who target bibanja holders to evict them. In a meeting with Minister of State for Lands, Sam Mayanja, residents of Nakaseke told the minister that land evictions had become a security threat.
“We fought for peace in our area, but many of the families who joined the bush war to liberate Uganda had their respective lands and properties confiscated,” local resident Steven Mugambwa told minister of Kimegere.
“When my family was attacked by another veteran claiming land that had been occupied since 1974, I was left helpless after my house was demolished.”
Just as Minister Mayanja ordered the arrest of the ringleaders of the eviction, residents remained unimpressed since most evictions take place at night under the supervision of security guards.
During Uganda’s first COVID-19 prevention lockdown, thousands of people were evicted following large-scale investments by multinational corporations in Kiryadongo district. In Okore sub-county, Katakwi district, thousands of residents were left landless when their land amounting to nearly 5,000 hectares was seized.
Transparency International Uganda’s research on land and corruption during the Covid-19 pandemic lockdown shows that illegal land evictions have also been attributed to widespread incidences where landlords were selling land without informing tenants.
“The community cited Kyayi Parish, Manyogaseka Sub-County in Kassanda District (Central West Uganda) where there have been several evictions. raped by the landowner under the protection of security agencies.”
The study indicates that as a result of land evictions, there has been the destruction of community livelihoods, including crops, livestock and other economic assets, as well as shelter. “Affected communities have become food insecure, landless and homeless as a result of these actions. Protection for perpetrators of land rights injustices has been provided by security agencies – state police, the army and private security companies”.
Increase in land evictions
Land evictions have become commonplace across the country. Some studies show that land evictions in Uganda are fueled by increased demand for land among a growing population and a desire for industrial development. Moreover, the demand for private land has increased since Uganda embarked on the implementation of an industrial policy, which requires a lot of land. This high demand for land has led to more evictions, both legal and illegal.
For example, in 2008, the government through the Ministry of Lands handed over the Nakawa-Naguru housing estate land to Opec Prime Properties to develop a satellite town, but since then nothing has been developed on the land. land and the tenants who were evicted from that land were never compensated.
The grabbing of people’s land to use it for development projects is reported as one of the causes of evictions in Uganda.
What the law says
The 1995 Constitution stipulates that Ugandan citizens can own land under four tenure systems, namely: Mailo, Freehold, Leasehold and Customary. On registered land, persons other than the owner may occupy and use the land. These people are called tenants. They too are protected by law against illegal evictions.
Indeed, the law protects residents against unlawful evictions. The police or the army do not have the mandate to carry out evictions. It starts with the acquisition of certificates, a certificate of occupancy, a title or a certificate of customary ownership.
However, often the police and military were used to intimidate and evict tenants. A recent example is the case of Lusanja in Wakiso district where 350 houses were demolished using a forged court order.
Although the damage caused by forced and often illegal evictions cannot be repaired, the injured party always has the right to access the court to challenge the evictions and/or seek compensation. In addition, the government is often required by law to support the resettlement and rehabilitation of those who have been forcibly and/or illegally evicted.
An illegal land eviction is any forced eviction of a tenant, directly or indirectly, without the prior approval of a court. Unlawful evictions involve the threat or use of violence; a landlord’s attempt to make land unlivable in the hope that tenants will leave.
Lawyers outraged by directive
Interestingly, it is the people closest to Museveni and State House who in some cases are the ones evicting the poor. To save face, President Museveni recently declared that land evictions should only take place when they have been reviewed by the district security committee.
However, the Uganda Law Society is concerned about Museveni’s directive. They say the directive undermines the independence of the courts.
The Ugandan Law Society has particularly noted that the directive to obtain consent from the District Security Committee (DSC) for an eviction when a court order has been issued seriously undermines the independence and effectiveness of the power judicial.
In a statement, Pheona Nabasa Wall, the president of the ULS noted that this practice would amount to placing the right to hear, resolve and enforce disputes in the hands of security organs that usurp the power of the judiciary.
“The police are currently involved in the execution of an eviction from the land, to provide security and to ensure the execution of court orders.
District security organs can be notified of an impending eviction as a courtesy, enhance security and restore confidence in the justice system in the eyes of the community,” Nabasa said. She explained that disputes between landowners and tenants should be heard in a competent court.