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Rwamutonga land dispute: Minister sets up probe committee

Lands Minister, Betty Amongi, on Monday visited the disputed Rwamutonga land in Hoima District and set up a committee to investigate and establish its rightful owners.

Lands-Minister-Betty-AmongiC-with-Hoima-RDC-Isaac-Kawooyaleft-and-the-Hoima-woman-MP-Tophas-Kaahwa-at-Rwamutonga-village-in-Hoima.Photo-by-Francis-Mugerwa

Lands Minister Betty Amongi at the meeting in Rwamutonga. Left is Hoima RDC Isaac Kawooya and right is Hoima Woman MP Tophas Kaahwa. (Photo: F.Mugerwa)

The committee is headed by the Resident District Commissioner, Isaac Kawooya, and is mainly tasked with determining which of the parties involved in the case have a legitimate claim on the land and qualify for compensation.

Hon. Amongi ’s Rwamutonga visit was prompted by a petition she received from  Hoima Woman MP, Tophace Kaahwa and  her counterpart from Buhaguzi County, Muheirwe Mpamizo Daniel.

Over 250 families were evicted in August 2014 after the supposed owner of the land on which they were living, Joshua Tibangwa, leased it to an American-based waste management firm, McAlester, to set up an oil waste treatment plant. The transaction collapsed but the locals have never regained their land and they have been living in a make-shift camp ever since with little food, medicine and other basic needs. At least 27 people have so far died from diseases and starvation.

According to the Minister, preliminary findings reveal that the contested piece of land was public land which was supposed to be under the management of the Hoima District Land Board. “Whoever had interest in the land should have applied to the District Land Board for a lease or freehold title,” she said. “My hardest job is to determine the rightful land claimants because the land titles were processed when there were sitting tenants whose interests should have been protected by the board. The titles were processed beyond the acreage which the applicants legally owned and the survey did not involve the neighbours,” added the Minister.

Some of the evicted people living in the camp

Some of the evicted people living in the camp. (Photo: F.Mugerwa)

Some local leaders who attended the meeting informed Hon. Amongi that many of the evicted families settled on the land as early as 1968 and are therefore protected by the Constitution and the Land Act as bonafide occupants. “They have evidence of receipts for Graduated Tax and sale agreements. Others were allocated and by parish chiefs while others bought from customary land owners in the area,” revealed Nelson Atichi, an area Chairman.

However, Joshua Tibagwa, the Hoima businessman who is at the centre of the land dispute, insists that he is the registered owner of the 1000 acre piece of land and that the people he evicted were trespassers on his estate.

“I acquired the land in the 1960s and in 1972, I set up a farm in that area,” he explained to the Minister. “These people crying that I evicted them encroached on my farm, killed my animals and destroyed my property.”

According to Tibangwa’s daughter, Robinah Kusiima, some selfish individuals are merely seeking to jeopardise their legitimate ownership of the land. “We are a minority but we have rights to own property,” she told Oil in Uganda.

Among the tasks of the committee will be to establish the exact boundaries of Joshua Tibangwa’s land. Tibangwa’s family, as well as that of Bansigaraho, another key figure in the dispute, are represented on the Committee. The evicted families also have people on that Committee.

“After getting a report from the committee, I will be guided by the laws and policies to reach a conclusion,” pledged Amongi.

Report by Francis Mugerwa, James Muhindo and Beatrice Ongode

editor@oilinuganda.org