Former MP deplores Land grabber

By Okello Okello
Gen. Yoweri Museveni
Gen. Yoweri Museveni

Mr. Yoweri. K. Museveni
State House,

Dear Sir,

On July 28, 2011, you hosted members of the Uganda National Teachers Union (UNATU) at State House, Entebbe, to try and persuade them to call off their proposed strike. You mentioned my name, as being partly responsible for the current shortage of sugar in the country, because according to you, I stopped you getting land in Amuru for growing sugarcane.

While talking on Bukedde T.V. on Friday August 5, 2011, you blamed Members of the Opposition from Acholi, in the 8th Parliament, for denying you an opportunity to acquire land in Amuru for sugar production. I was the leader of that group.

Again last Saturday, August 12, 2011, you repeated the same statement while addressing over 1,000 district officials and agriculturalists at the same venue, State House, Entebbe. This statement was reported in The New Vision of Monday, August 15, 2011 on page 3, among others.

While I do not know your intention, agenda and mission in mentioning my name each time you address the public on the current economic crisis in the country, I find myself compelled to respond, as I do here below, to protect my name and integrity.

It is unfortunate that you seem to have gone out of your way to hoodwink the people of Uganda and make them believe that the current economic crisis is only about sugar-shortage. Far from it! 84% of Ugandans, who live in the country-side, wallowing in abject poverty, do not need sugar. They cannot afford it. The economic crisis is so serious and demands deep thinking by those who call themselves leaders of this country, to find lasting solutions. Knee-jerk gimmicks, which seem to be common practice in your regime, do not help the people of Uganda in any way. A serious government would have addressed the pump-price of fuel already. For this is key to the cost of living.

You should know from your legion presidential advisors that Uganda has no comparative advantage in producing sugar. The unit cost of production is just far too high, compared to others elsewhere. The world retail price of sugar has jumped to an equivalent of about 2,000/-, per kilogram recently, due to the world economic crisis. Uganda would, therefore, be much better off importing sugar instead of grabbing other people's land to produce sugar they cannot afford to buy.

Back to your favorite topic – land for sugar production. Both the Constitution and the Land Act,1998, are very clear on the ownership of land
in this country. The Head of State has no role to play in land transactions, because no title is vested in him. You cannot, therefore, give away any parcel of land to an investor and pass good title to the recipient. You have no good title vested in you by any law or instrument. Those
so-called investors acquiring land by having it given away to them by you are taking big risks. Their title will remain valid only as long as you are
still in power.

It is true, in the 8th Parliament; I was the Chair of Acholi Parliamentary Group (APG). In that capacity, I went to Amuru (and Nwoya now) many times with my colleagues to sensitize the people about their rights over their land. The decision to take the Madhvani Group to court was taken by the people of Amuru themselves. As leaders, we had to spearhead the struggle by our people to protect their rights. We still do. Mr. President, this case is still before court. And for you to order that it must be resolved within three (3) months, as you did last Saturday, worries me a lot. Is the Judiciary still independent?

What is this craze about Mabira and Amuru land? Is there no land anywhere else? The truth of the matter is that even if SCOUL had acquired part of Mabira Forest in 2007 and the Madhvani Group had also acquired land in Amuru in 2008, sugar from these two areas would not yet be on the market today. The plan of the Madhvani Group was to start producing sugar in 5 to 8 years from 2008 or 2009. So they would have nothing to do with the current sugar-shortage. It, therefore, appears to me, Sir, that you are speaking from a very uninformed position. In my view, it borders on crime to give away big chunks of land to the so-called investors. Is it a give-away free of charge or a well disguised sale where the proceeds go where no one knows?

Your determination to give-away part of Mabira Forest is a catastrophic error of judgment, which must not be allowed to succeed.

My advice to you, Sir, is that you should frontally face the many problems we have in this country and make attempts to solve them: wicked corruption in government; profligate spending of public funds; dysfunctional road networks; hospitals without drugs or adequate staff; inadequate power supply; child sacrifice; road accidents; food insecurity; lack of fuel reserve; inflationary administration( government); tribalism and enthnicism; the falling value of the shilling etc, etc. Your job is well cut out.

Passing the buck, which has for a long time been your escape route, can no longer work. It must stop, because it ridicules you in the eyes of right thinking members of society. Everyone knows that the buck ends with you. Period.

Mr. President, let me illustrate to you how much the shilling has actually fallen in value under your mis-rule. In 1987 when you imposed a currency reform on Ugandans, the exchange rate was Shs. 1,400/- to one United States Dollar. You knocked of two zeros from the exchange rate and lumped a tax of 30% on the balance of everybody's money.

No accountability for the proceeds of this illegal tax has been given up to now. As I write the exchange rate is Shs. 2,680/- to one USD. If you put back the two zeros removed in 1987, you get the actual current exchange rate of Shs. 268,000/- to one USD – i.e. a fall of 19,042.86% in the value of the shilling since 1987.

Lastly, Sir, let me state as follows: I am a simple, law-abiding citizen (I am a citizen by decent) and I would not want to be intimidated by anybody. I, therefore, kindly request you to get off my back and give me a break; I wish to remind you that in the 1970's we had a President called Idi Amin. When he talked negatively and publicly with the name of a citizen, that citizen would disappear the same night. Are those days coming back to Uganda?

Land is the most precious asset anybody can own. How come you are determined to give away our most precious asset free of charge?

Yours sincerely,

J.L. Okello Okello

The writer Mr. Okello Okello is a former Member of Parliament in Uganda