JINJA – I do not like to start an article with a definition since there can be as minty definitions of something as there are definers. For the purpose of this article, however, let me adopt the definition of imperialism as “a doctrine, political strategy, practice, state policy, or advocacy that consists in extending power by territorial acquisition or by extending political and economic control outward over other areas within or outside a country”. Imperialism is best expressed in grabbing of resources and imposing hegemony of the dominant power – political, ethnic, ecological or economic – over others in another area.
Property grabs. Money grabs, resources grabs, business grabs, space grabs, land grabs, ranch grabs, among others, constituted the web of grabs that characterized the early military, political and economic activities of the combatants that captured the instruments of power in Kampala on 25th January 1986. It was as if the primary aim of the combatants was to enrich themselves through dispossession and primitive accumulation of wealth. This was a new imperialism never witnessed before in post-independence Uganda.
One school of thought, which considers itself credible, is that the primary aim of the combatants was to capture power in Kampala, re-empower refugees and use the newly acquired power to install some of their kind in power in Kigali, Rwanda. The school claims that with the power acquired in Uganda and Rwanda those holding the instruments of power would use it jointly to extend and proliferate their ethnic hegemony throughout East Africa and the Great Lakes region. Another school of thought argues that it would be difficult to sustain their hegemony without erasing the time-tested land ethic Uganda and Rwanda. A land ethic, according to Wikipedia, is “a philosophy or theoretical framework about how, ethically, humans should regard the land”. According to Aldo Leopold, a land ethic changes the role of Man, Homo sapiens, from conqueror of the land-community to plain member and citizen of it. Therefore, land grabbing, according to the school of thought, was a pathway for conquest and reversal of the land ethic for the benefit of the conquerors. It was to be the basis of a new hegemony of the combatants of Luwero – some resident in Uganda and other resident in Rwanda and with all power in their hands. The school argues that the proliferating land grabbing in Uganda, which has caused a lot of tears among indigenous groups of Ugandans, can only be explained in this context. What then would have to be done by the combatants was to put in place laws that would protect them from the indigenes. These laws include the Sectarianism Law, the Terrorism Law and the Political and Other Organizations Law.
Land gabbing (also called green grabs if grabbed land carries green vegetation – some forest, some swamps, some woodland, some grassland) – started, as stated above, to take root during the Luwero bush war between 1981 and 1986. Banks and cooperative unions, cooperative societies and industries -in Jinja -lost their properties, money and land to the grabbers from the Luwero war theater. Some eye witnesses saw some of the grabbed properties and machines of Nile Breweries, for example, being carried away by the combatants who were Kigali (Rwanda) bound.
Uganda did not only lose people in the Luwero Triangle. It also lost its prosperity and future to the combatants who, through time, became stinkingly wealthy as the country and its people sunk down into a deep abyss of poverty. Individuals and families that lost everything to the marauding combatants, became the new poor and needy of Uganda. With the passage of time the victims of the land grabs, money grabs and property grabs became perennial victims of the new, impoverishment, which included being condemned to the vagaries of nature. However, the rulers in Kampala have kept on promising that they will conquer poverty, much of which is ascribed to their own action of grabbing everything that lay in their path in and as they emerged from the bushes of Luwero.
I must emphasize! The grabs did not end with the grabbing of power by the new rulers of Uganda. The grabs became magnified and widespread. Many combatants, some of whom withdrew to Rwanda, forcibly acquired plots of land in Kampala. I know of one of the top leaders in Kigali who acquired a huge plot of land in Kampala where he is constructing a state-of-the-art hotel. He is also said to have grabbed miles of land in Buganda. So if the combatants liberated Uganda, they did not liberate the land of Ugandans. By grabbing land, they have turned the once securely settled communities into communities of new age nomads with no more attachment to the land. With this accomplished the only thing left for the indigenes is to become slaves in their own country
One of the greatest grabs of our time occurred soon after the combatants steadied themselves in power in Kampala. They decreed, in what was called currency reform, that each Ugandan that had 1 million shillings would get only Shillings Seven Thousand (7,000/-) instead. They told Ugandans that they wanted the Uganda Shilling to be as valuable as the United States dollar. Ugandans lost millions of shillings. New Vision of June 14 2007 said that the currency had caused poverty instead by 1,900% since the currency exchange took place!. One can characterize it as the “Great Official Robbery” of the 20th Century in Uganda. It is comparable to the Great Train Robbery (GTR) of Great Britain that also occurred that Century.
The Great Train Robbery was the robbery of £2.6 million by four men from a Royal Mail train heading from Glasgow to London on the West Coast Main Line in the early hours of 8 August 1963 at Bridego Railway Bridge, Ledburn, near Mentmore in Buckinghamshire, England. After tampering with the lineside signals to bring the train to a halt, a gang of 15, led by Bruce Reynolds, attacked the train. Other gang members included Gordon Goody, Buster Edwards, Charlie Wilson, Roy James, John Daly, Jimmy White, Ronnie Biggs, Tommy Wisbey, Jim Hussey, Bob Welch and Roger Cordrey, as well as three men known only as numbers “1”, “2” and “3”; two were later identified as Harry Smith and Danny Pembroke. A 16th man, an unnamed retired train driver, was also present.
The once booming public enterprises were sold either to the combatants directly or through Asian fronts. Some were sold at one shilling each! These included Uganda Hotels. It was also akin to a great fraud of the Century. It explained why the rag tag combatants who stayed in Uganda and those who went back to their country – Rwanda – after dislodging the Obote and Tito Okello regimes – became instant millionaires without doing any meaningful productive work. It is very likely the combatants who stayed in Uganda, after being helped to capture power in Kampala by their colleagues who invaded Rwanda and captured power in Kigali had a long-term plan of how to get rich quick without doing any productive work. It was “disorientation” of the Uganda economy in favour of the combatants and their families and kith and kin, and the beginning of sowing the mustard seed of corruption in the country.
In effect, the combatants grabbed everything – the productive capacity of Uganda, the State and the Economy and the future of the country. Today they own everything. Some of what was grabbed is said to be either co-owned with some combatants who captured power in Kigali, or with some Asian businessmen who continue to benefit from tax holidays and State funding at the expense for domestic investors. Some former combatants have established individual investments, but others ostensibly hide ownership of their businesses by registering them in the names of spouses or children. The families of the combatants, in their thinking, belief and conviction, will never be poor again. They have been nursing the falsehood that once they ensure that power does not get out of their hands, riches will remain in their hands perpetually, and that once they exclude indigenous Ugandans from every opportunity, then not even fate will impoverish their lot again. Meanwhile they continue to create the impression that they are fighting both corruption and poverty in Uganda.
In this article, I want to concentrate on the hunger for land question exacerbated by the combatants’ excessive greed and hunger for land wherever it exists. No one and no institution is safe from their voracious behavior towards land. Most land grabs have been and continue to be mediated by the gun.
A lot of the grabbed land was and is public land. Some of the land was for ranches or farms run by government from colonial times on behalf of the people of Uganda. As indicated elsewhere in the article, no land was free from grabbing. Even land on hills and mountains parts of game reserve and national parks, and on islands in Lake Victoria, was grabbed. The grabbing is continuing in earnest.
Today, churches, schools, hospitals, local administrations, central government administration, traditional institutions and institutions of all type and manner, are losing land to the former combatants and those connected to power or to the families of the former combatants. Or else the combatants, as State power, are using their power to grab land for so-called foreign investors and government projects, but frequently even that ends up being theirs. The investors are continuing get free land, free money and free tax holidays, and are free to repatriate all their profits to their countries of origin, increasingly India and China. President Tibuhaburwa Museveni has even stated he does not mind if Indians became an indigenous tribe in Uganda. This is surprising. He had successfully inserted Banyarwanda in the Constitution of Uganda 1995, whose making he presided over. Many of them now own dual citizenship. The Chinese whose numbers are rising supersonically are nearing the numbers of Indians. If we go by the Indian example, they too could demand to be an indigenous group in Uganda during the reign of President Tibuhaburwa Museveni. Unlike Gujarati, Chinese is already being taught in Uganda, ostensibly to promote business and trade, yet Indians have been in Uganda since the late 19th Century.
Through land grabbing (including green grabbing) cultural sacred places are being desecrated in a way that has never been seen before. It is as if the aim is to disconnect indigenous peoples from their ancestral lands and create a new Land Ethic in which new land owners from elsewhere (mainly people of the nomadic pastoralist human energy system) and from other cultures have exclusive right to the land to which they have no historical, biological, ethical, moral, social and cultural attachment. Alien interactions are now part and parcel of the bio cultural landscape of Uganda. The environmental decay and collapse as well climate change, we have witnessed recently are due to the arrival of the aliens in the lands of the indigenous peoples of Uganda. The aliens have no conservation culture because for them their attachment is to grass and cow. Forests, woodlands, swamps, water and even mountains were conserved culturally through cultural constraints and restraints in local language. All this has broken down; hence the meteoric decline of environment and climate and associated agricultural production in the seven or eight bio ecological systems of the country. Aliens now occupy large chunks of them and they are reducing them to monoculture systems of productions. Others have been invaded and occupied because they contain minerals. They were communally owned and sustained but now alien cultural practices have been introduced
The President of Uganda himself used his power to unfairly occupy land in Rwakitura, which used to be a national ranch, and even personalized the animals he found on the ranch, went on to occupy the Kisozi land, which belonged to the Army of Uganda. Some people say despite this, he got sufficiently concerned about the outcries everywhere over land grabs. Others say his interest was introducing laws to help himself and others of his compatriots who had grabbed land, especially in Buganda. He erected what came to be known as the Catherine Bamugemeire Commission of Inquiry on Land because its chairperson was Justice Catherine Bamugemeire. He instituted, in September, 2016 a Commission of Inquiry into the Effectiveness of Law, Policies and Processes of land Acquisition, Land Administration, Land Management and Land Registration in Uganda”. On December 8, 2016, he appointed Hon. Lady Justice Catherine Bamugemereire to chair the seven-member Commission of Inquiry – The Land Inquiry 2017. It followed several serious incidences of land wrangles in the country. However, he was also concerned about delays in the land acquisition for government projects. He hoped the report of the Bamugemereire Commission would usher in a new era of land peace. However, land wrangles and land grabbing have continued. Some involve even the government itself and many involve disregard for the law which recognizes four categories of land tenure in Uganda.
The 1995 Constitution (Article 237) created and recognized four land tenure systems in Uganda. The Four are: Freehold (holding of registered land in perpetuity), Mailo (a tenure predominantly in Buganda premised on the 1900 Buganda Agreement), Customary (most of Uganda’s land is owned through communal means) and Leasehold (a tenure system where the landlord agrees to lease land for a given period). Land grabbers do not respect any of these categories of land tenure systems. Any land is in for grabs by them with enormous disdain for the law. Some land grabbers are protected by power and may be encouraged by power to grab.
When the President initiated the Bamugemereire Commission, he wanted it, according to Daily Monitor of June 6 2017, to do the following:
To investigate and inquire into the law, process, and procedure by which land is administered and registered in Uganda
To inquire into the role of the Uganda Land Commission in the management and administration of public land.
To review the effectiveness of the relevant bodies in the preservation of wetlands, forests and game reserves
To inquire and solicit views on the role of traditional cultural and religious institutions who own large tracts of land
To assess the legal and policy framework on government land acquisition
To identify, investigate and inquire into the effectiveness of the dispute resolution mechanism available to persons involved in land disputes
To inquire into any other matter connected with or incidental to the matters aforesaid.
According to the then Minister responsible for land in the country, Betty Among, one of the more pronounced ambitions of the government is to make changes to the compulsory acquisition of land. The government has been complaining about several projects being delayed by a hectic land acquisition process. The government wants the right to use the land for a project as disputes are being handled in order to avoid project delays” (Daily Monitor, June 6 2017). However, we know that President Museveni’s government is not a good debtor or respecter of agreements or decisions of the courts. Recently the President told Judges that his government would continue to defy Court orders (e.g., The Observer, September, 21 2022 “Museveni on Why Govt will continue to defy Court orders”). One wonders how many court orders to pay people whose land was grabbed by government would or would not be defied.
Justice Bamugemereire and Members of her Commission of Inquiry travelled to all parts of Uganda for 4 years hearing petitions and gathering information on the extent and severity of land grabbing. She and the Members of her Commission of Inquiry did their work more or less the way Justice Benjamin Odoki and Members of his Constitutional Commission had done at the beginning of the 1990s for almost 4 years.. In both cases, the target was the people and their institutions. While Justice Bamugemereire and members of her Commission specifically targeted land issues in Uganda, Benjamin Odoki and his Commission were more concerned about governance issues and sought to get how the Ugandans wanted to be governed so that a new Constitution could be drafted, discussed and passed to reflect their collective thinking.
Unfortunately, when the Uganda Constitution 1995 was passed, it contained more what the new rulers of Uganda wanted than how and what the Ugandans collectively wanted to guide the governance of the country. For example, the Benjamin Odoki Commission report recorded that 65% of Ugandans preferred Federal System of governance. However, the new Uganda Constitution 1995 completely subdued the choice of the majority. Instead, it is a monumental document known more for investing all power and authority in a single individual – the President – than empowering and protecting the public interest.
While many Ugandans thought the report of Justice Bamugemeire Commission would contain solutions to the proliferating and mushrooming phenomenon of land or green grabbing in Uganda, it seems the President wanted to use the report as a basis for his new ideas about land in Uganda. Many of the political and military big wigs had encroached, and continue to encroach, heavily on the customary and mailo land in an imposed process of self-enrichment. It was unlikely the President and his government would make laws to dispossess those who had dispossessed or were dispossessing Ugandans and their institutions.
When Bamugemeire early 2021 presented her huge report to the President he said that “the report that was compiled by the Commission of Inquiry into Land Matters led by Justice Catherine Bamugemeire would be studied with a view of turning its recommendations into law in a bid to streamline land issues in the country”. He was responding to a paper ‘Commission of Inquiry into the Effectiveness of the law, policies and Processes of Land Acquisition, Land Administration, Land Management and Land Registration in Uganda’ presented by Justice Bamugemeire to the new NRM MPs at Kyankwanzi. The paper gave an overview of the key findings and recommendations of the land inquiry.
The key recommendation that emerged from the Bamugemereire report was the need for all land in Uganda to be registered to minimize land disputes, enhance tenure security, create avenues for optimal land usage ultimately for economic growth. The report also recommended the introduction of a customary freehold, by which a certificate of customary title shall be registered. Other recommendations were the establishment of the Uganda Land Services Bureau (ULSB) by merging the land administration institutions; and introduction of a tax on idle land to be levied on privately- owned large tracts of land of half a square mile (320 acres), ostensibly to drive the landowner to better utilize the land. The latter recommendation was no doubt targeting owners of Mailo land.
When he was responding to Bamugemereire’s paper, the President said: “I think, this report shall help us to dismantle the old and barbaric laws that for long have hard-pressed our people; please help me to stabilize the situation once and for all, the commission’s report gives the government a soft landing to handle cases of eviction, tackling wetlands management, road reserves provisions when connecting water pipes, laying cables of any kind and passing electricity installations”. The President described Mailo land, which is predominantly used in Buganda Kingdom, as a “very bad and evil tenure system.” (The Independent, August 16 2016 “Why Museveni is Targeting Malo Land”). Dr. Godber Tumushabe, the Associate Director, Great Lakes Institute for Strategic Studies (GLISS), a Kampala-based public policy research think tank, who has studied and written about aspects of Uganda’s land tenure systems, was cited by Andrew Mwenda’s The Independent saying that he doubted there is a particular problem with the Mailo tenure system. “It is just like any other freehold system,” he told The Independent, adding, “Land evictions have been everywhere in Uganda, not only in Buganda. We all know that the evictions are done by people who are connected in government and the military”. The Independent also cited Peter Wandera, the Executive Director of Transparency International-Uganda, saying “Mailo Land as a land tenure system does not have inherent problems. As a land tenure system, Mailo has no issues. The people who are used to it have lived with it for many years. The land grabbing issues have just exacerbated the situation.” On the other hand, Fredrick Golooba Mutebi Frederick a political analyst and researcher was cited by The Independent of August 16 2021 casting President Museveni as an opportunist and populist: “President Museveni’s obsession with mailo land mirrors his obsession with the Buganda monarchy and the Baganda. Museveni is just trying to get back at Buganda and Baganda following what happened in the just concluded general election. He was deeply hurt by the voting pattern in Buganda. In the past, Museveni has always treated Buganda as a captive electorate. He is now trying to buy ordinary Baganda by championing the Mailo land issue. He is indirectly attempting to portray to ordinary Baganda that the monarchy does not care about them so that he detaches them from the Kingdom. He thinks by exciting the peasants that will get him support and weaken the Monarchy,” Golooba says. The targeting of Buganda is deliberate. It is a weapon against Buganda. I don’t see President Museveni going around the country with the same energy that he is showing in Buganda. The land question in Uganda is not only applicable to Buganda. In his (President Museveni) own native Ankole, who took over the communal land and government ranches? There are also land issues in the north (of Uganda).”
One thing appears to be true. Law works where those who make it respect it. The continued grabbing of land by the former combatants, people in uniform and those connected to power politically, ethnically and genetically, will continue to dictate what happens to land in Uganda; not the law. Land grabbers see themselves as being above the law and are not restrained by ethics or morality. They have no respect for the law although they want everyone else to follow the law. They have no respect for the indigenes and their ways of life, including the Land Ethic that has sustained them for Centuries. They want everything to themselves or to go their way only. The law will only work, as in the past, where it protects their interests and ill-acquired possessions – land included – and does not constrain them to grab more land to proliferate their hegemony. The rest we leave to Time to resolve, and Time is God. God has experience in dealing with imperial power.
For God and My Country.
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