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Raid on Wakiso District Land Offices -Gen. Museveni's Scheme to grab Buganda Land

By Norman Kay

A scheme by the First Family to legitimise land grabbing in Buganda went into full throttle on Thursday, December 20, 2018, when armed State House operatives raided the Wakiso district land offices in a morning surprise operation.

Reportedly, all staff at the land office were held on yet to be established offences. Wakiso is the biggest amongst the 115 or so districts that make up the politico-administrative structure of Uganda. It encircles the capital, Kampala, and is home to the relatively wealthy and influential emerging middle class.

It is also home to two leading opposition figures, long-term opponent to Gen Yoweri Museveni, Rtd Col. Dr Kizza Besigye and youthful presidential hopeful, musician and legislator, Honourable Robert Kyagulanyi Sentamu aka Bobi Wine.

Land in this is at a premium, and many of the ruling elite reside here or have interests in land here. Wakiso district also hosts the country's only International Airport and the ultra-modern State House, the official residence of the president, at Entebbe - a picturesque lakeside town, also the ancient capital of the Kingdom of Buganda. Rampant evictions, allegedely with the acquiescence of the powerful and well-connected, have gathered momentum in the district in recent years despite widespread protestations by the masses, judiciary and adhoc organs set up to check them.

Land ownership and tenure in Buganda, where Wakiso district is located, is a cultural and highly sensitive matter. The protestations have still amounted to naught, and statements and orders made by the President in the aftermath of such evictions are invariably curiously ignored, and left without effect, which understandably begs questions.

Generally, land in the centrally located Kingdom of Buganda has been a target for powerful land grabbers. Large scale land grabbing in Buganda is a thorny issue, and the resultant rampant evictions, which have raised the political temperature in recent years in the country, on President Museveni's watch, is arguably becoming a national security threat.

At the time of writing, several hours after the raid, it is not clear whether those held have been charged with criminally recognisable offences or allowed access to their lawyers, doctors and families.

Under Uganda's constitution, anyone arrested must be informed of the nature of the charges against him or her and cannot be held for longer than 48 hours without being charged. It is also not clear how many people are being held following Thursday's raid.

However, illegal detention and torture of suspects in custody are very common in the Ugandan criminal justice system, with the rich and powerful known often to connive with security and law enforcement officers to abuse suspects whilst in custody with impunity.

In an exclusive telephone interview with this newspaper, a reputable and experienced human rights practitioner, Stephen Lwetutte, who previously worked with Amnesty International, said: "The emperor is naked: Mr Museveni tells anyone who cares to listen, how conducive Uganda is for foreign investors. Yet the country is truly sitting on a time bomb."

"With all that land grabbing allowed to fester on his [Museveni ] watch, it is only a matter of time before this bomb goes off," Dr Lwetutte added in reference to the land grabbing trend in Uganda. "Now, how is that for conducive investment conditions?" rhetorically asks Dr Lwetutte.

Tactically, it would appear that this raid is the first of many more we are likely to witness in the coming months and years aimed at intimidating offivial recalcitrant with the ain of legitimizing grabbed land.