Hoima High court ruled forced eviction and land grabbing case in favor of Bajenja Ziribabel who had fraudulently acquired land titles from the Hoima district Land board.
Dozens of families in Runga village, in Kigorobya Sub-county Hoima district, have lost their homes, livelihoods, and access to cultural sites and practices. The families affected belong to the Bangungu and Alur.
Bajenja carried out forced evictions in the Village last year when communities were preparing to harvest their crops including maize, cotton, beans, sim sim, cassava, groundnuts, millets among other crops.
Bajenja claimed that he has documents of the land in Runga and that because the communities have refused to pay him the money to use the land, he has asked them to vacate the land because they are not paying up their rent which is 10,000 ugandan shillings yearly.
Bajenja also claims that the families evicted were consulted, agreed to leave the land, and were given cash compensation of Ugandan shillings 50,000 each to enable them to buy new plots of land in the neighboring villages on Lake Albert. But the process was opposed by community representatives who went to court to stop it. The court ruled in favor of Bajenja because he has fraudulently acquired and forged documents of the land from the Hoima District Land Board showing that he owns the land.
However initially when the matter was still in court, the families affected asked Bajenja to share the land with them since it was communal land, but Bajenja refused because the case was in court. Claiming he owns the entire Runga Landing site. The eviction of these families was characterized by tribalism, corruption, and intimidation against leaders of the communities who were opposing the eviction process.
The victims’ families and community members forced to leave their land are now living in deplorable situations and high poverty levels; 15 women are living in one room. The eviction has divided the families, separating them from their children and even others were killed in the process.
The Albertine Watch spoke to some victims of Bajenja forced land grabbing and evictions who are currently living in different villages across Lake Albert in Waaki, Runga, Bukunyu, Kabarangwa, and Katonge village. The Albertine Watch also spoke to Local council leadership committees as well as the elders and youth among others.
Runga is a Village at the Landing site that is occupied predominantly by the Bagungu and Alur People who depend entirely on farming and fishing
However, there was land that was used by some Alur farmers for many years but later a one Bajenja Ziribabel claimed ownership of the land hence asking the squatters to vacate the land.
However, Ashraf Orom, a secretary of the LC1 Council Runga Village said the land belongs to Bajenja because the law says so even when he has acquired the land titles and ownership of the land illegally.
He said the case filed by Bajenja and 14 others Versus Denis Pithuwa and others was filed nine years ago and it dragged for long until Pithuwa lost interest in the case.
Pithuwa was sued because he is the leader of the farmers and he is also accused of asking other farmers to take portions of the land.
Orom said the reason some squatters were asked to vacate the land was that they were not paying up their rent which is 10,000 shillings yearly.
He said Hoima High court recently ruled in favor of Bajenja because he has documents of the land however initially the squatters had asked to share the land but Bajenja refused because the case was in court.
In September 2019, Bajenja brought Uganda Peoples Defense Force militaries from Watembu Barracks in Buliisa district and the anti-riot police from Hoima to enforce evictions. Residents were told to vacate the land in one week. When the victims went to Runga Police post to report the case, police also refused to register their claims
Badru Agada, not a real name, a former LC1 Chairperson of Runga Village said the land conflict has dragged for long.
He said the fencing of the land by Bajenja was shocking to the members of the community.
It was shocking because the squatters were evicted and given compensation of only 50,000 shillings.
He wondered whether someone can demolish their houses, destroy crops and gives just 50,000 shillings for compensation to relocate.
However, those paid were relocated to places that are already occupied by other people therefore they are unsettled.
He said people are confused because they have nowhere to farm and look for firewood.
Badru mentioned that the people that are renting the piece of land have not yet started stopping members of the community from getting firewood but he anticipates it in the near future.
He said there was a meeting between the squatters and Bajenja chaired by Hoima district authority where Bajenja declared his boundaries at Pente Costal Church of Uganda premises prompting the community to boo at him however the district asked for an agreement between the two parties.
They are also blaming the government for failing to solve the conflict rather they are siding with the perpetrators.
He said they currently have no land for digging toilets, farming, grazing animals and even for burials.
The entire people of Runga village told the Albertine Watch that they are living in constant fear of repeated forced evictions including through house burnings, killings, denial of movements and fishing rights as well as anticipated arrests.
Speaking to the Albertine Watch, Nwami, not a real name, an elder in Runga said they started farming in the year 2003 and it was in 2007 that they realized that the owner of the land was Bajenja because they thought it was community land.
He also complained that he left half an acre of cotton crops after the land was fenced off and animals ate all the crops.
He also told the Albertine Watch that they have no access to information about the land which explains why they took four years to know the owner of the land.
He said now it is hard to make a living because he has been a persistent farmer.
Abala, not a real name told the Albertine Watch that there is a need to bring back the land that they were used for cultivating crops and rearing animals.
Also, more than 500 families at Waaki landing site in Kibiro parish in Kigorobya Sub County in Hoima district are on the verge of being evicted from their ancestral land. The residents have been feuding with Franco Kaahwa, a prominent businessman since 2010 over 2000 hectares of land. See the reports here and also this