A group of over 30 community leaders in Hoima district have signed a petition sent to President Yoweri Museveni on the widespread land-grabbing cases that is threatening tenure security in the oil rich region.
The community leaders want the President to revisit the executive ban on land titling in the Albertine region and further instruct his office to investigate the irregularities that have marred land ownership and acquisition.
While speaking at a strategic meeting held in Hoima recently, the group, led by Benon Tusingwire, Executive Director for Navigators of Development Association agreed that petitioning the President was the only alternative the communities were left with after exploring other possible avenues with no avail.
“We are tired of land evictions. We have been pressed to the wall for a long time and petitioning the President is the only alternative to curb the rampant land grabbing here in Hoima,” he said while addressing the team of local government councils.
“The rich, powerful and opportunistic people anticipating to benefit from oil discoveries are fraudulently acquiring land and evicting people who own land customarily and labelling as encroacher,” he added.
Since the discovery of commercial quantities of oil and gas in the area, there has been a rush for prime land with potential buyers flinging in from as far as Kampala.
According to John Peter, leader of evictees in Kiziramfumbi sub-county, the communities are scared, tired and are ready to come out boldly and defend themselves rather than hide behind Non Governmental Organizations.
“We are not getting any immediate assistance from the courts of law and our leaders either. For us we have decided that if we must die fighting for our lands then so shall it be” he sternly said.
He further added that the President should commission an inquiry to study all the cases of illegal land grabbing in Hoima and investigate the land titles awarded by Hoima District Land Board between June 2003 and June 2004.
The community leaders also requested that the land dispute cases currently being handled by Masindi High court be given top priorities since people are living in disparity following illegal evictions and displacements.
According to a recent report ‘Up Against Giants’ launched by Transparency International Uganda and Civic Response on Environment and Development, Communities in the Albertine Graben are being regularly disenfranchised and displaced due to the massive oil-influenced land grabs and evictions.
Ms. Kathleen Brophy, Extractive Governance officer at Transparency International notes that communities that own land under the customary tenure in Hoima are being oppressed due to the lack of formal justice systems that are accessible and compatible with the needs of the rural poor.
“We agree that the country needs investments but it should not be at the expense of grossly violating citizens’ rights,” she notes.
Agreeing with her, Bashir Twesigye, Director Civic Response on Environment and Development recounts that the communities move to petition the President has been catalyzed by the rampant land evictions and land grabbing in Hoima that has been left undressed for a long time.
“There seems to be a big force hindering the attempts of the communities to be heard by the instituted authorities and petition the President is the last resort,” he argued, adding that the communities plight need to be addressed and an inquiry on the illegal land evictions instigated.
The oil sector development is undeniably and significantly affecting the communities and people living within the Albertine Graben as it is the nexus of oil exploration and production. Since the discovery of commercial deposits of oil in 2006, Uganda has seen a number of unintended consequences and negative externalities f from the rapid transformations in the region.