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Most oil wells are in my land-Kaahwa

Mr. Francis 'Franco' Kaahwa

Mr. Francis ‘Franco’ Kaahwa

When one brings up the subject of land anywhere in Buliisa district, one man’s name inevitably comes up: Francis Kaahwa-locally known as Franco.

He is arguably the biggest land owner in Buliisa, laying claim to several prime pieces of real estate where some of the district’s oil wells are found.

The locals freely talk about his ‘great’ wealth and power, as well as his seemingly unstoppable quest to own every single decimal of land in this oil-rich district. According to them, Mr. Kaahwa is either incredibly lucky or he has ‘connections’ to top government officials who inform his acquisitions.

“We wonder how he knew there was oil,” says Eriakimi Kaseegu, the area LC 1 chairman.  “He only buys land where oil is now being discovered.”

Eriakimi accuses Kaahwa of intimidating the locals and grabbing their land.

“The whole of Buliisa district is being tortured by this man,” he says.

Just a businessman

Kaahwa denies grabbing any land, and maintains that he is only a businessman.

“It is true that most of the oil wells are on my land, but not all of them,” he said. “I am a businessman who is into real estate. People call me and request me to buy their land,” he explained.

To stress his point, he phoned one of his ‘boys’ in Buliisa who informed him that someone was selling twenty acres of land at a paltry two million shillings ($800).

“My dealings are all transparent,” he said. “I have documents from the district Land Board stating what I own and what others own.”

The list of land owners Kaahwa claims he obtained from the Buliisa District Land Board

The list of land owners Kaahwa claims he obtained from the Buliisa District Land Board

Kaahwa showed Oil in Uganda  documents that he reportedly obtained from the Buliisa District Land Board that indicate the other prominent people who own land in the district. Top on the list is area MP, Stephen Mukitale, with fifty acres in Kilyango village.

“These allegations about me grabbing land are just perpetrated by my enemies because there are a lot of other people buying land in Buliisa, not me alone,” he argued.

The soft-spoken Kaahwa also dismisses the locals’ allegations that he is a front for powerful individuals in government.

Locals vulnerable

Meanwhile, the locals remain vulnerable as money exchanges hands  over the  very land that gives them a livelihood.

The land tenure system in this area is overwhelmingly customary. Most occupants do not possess land titles and are ordinarily not entitled to sell the land.

According to Richard Aneuru , Programs Director at Recreation for Development and Peace, a local NGO, the  buyers are taking advantage of the locals’  naivety on land issues.

“People here do not know the value of land. They do not know anything to do with land titles,” he noted.

The women are particularly vulnerable given that the ‘selling’ decisions are mainly taken by the men. “When land is sold, it affects the entire clan or family, however the immediate impact is felt by women who have to provide food for the family,” observes Fridah Kabayaga a resident of Kankindo village in Ngwendo sub-county.

“Women are not involved. They are sometimes given papers to sign when the money has already been taken by the men.”

Isaac Nkuba, the Buliisa district NGO Forum Coordinator agrees.

“It is only of recent that a handful of women can talk in public, but again they can’t make decisions,” he notes. “Women have no right to participate in or question any land transaction.”

 Report by Beatrice Ongode and Flavia Nalubega, additional reporting by William Rwebembera