The Western Uganda cultural institution of Bunyoro Kitara has come out to lament over the unregulated settlement of non Banyoro including foreign nationals in Bunyoro sub region which they say has displaced the indigenous land occupants.
The Omuhikirwa (Prime Minister) of Bunyoro kingdom, page Noah Lukumu together with other kingdom officials on Thursday told the commission of inquiry into land fraud that the alarming numbers of settlers in Bunyoro doesn’t only pose political and cultural threats but could also fuel conflict.
Historically, Bunyoro kingdom had vast areas of unoccupied land and government (pre and post colonial) has since created settlement for refugees especially from Rwanda, migrants from Kigezi and internally displaced people.
In 1972, the Rutete settlement scheme was established and some 1,000 Bakiga from Kigezi settled.
In Bugangeizi, some 27,000 non Banyoro settlers were offered land and in 1997, government allocated land to at least 7,000 demobilized soldiers in Mpefu.
However, the kingdom Prime Minister told the commission that upon settlement of these groups of people, the rightful occupants of the land were displaced and no compensation was given.
“We recommend that the influx of settlers be regulated. Today, many Banyoro have become squatters on their own land,” the Omuhikirwa said.
“People come from different parts of the country and outside with different cultures and can’t appreciate our traditional customs of Bunyoro. Resettlement isn’t bad but the problem is – our people are being displaced and dominated even politically,” he added.
He hinted on the fact that the foreign settlers are deliberately organizing themselves to dominate political leadership against the dwindling indigenes.
“In Buliisa for example, the LC5 and LC2 are both from Congo. And the problem is that the numbers of settlers multiply abnormally during elections. Some come from Congo and then go back.”
“Some areas in Bunyoro that traditionally had indigenous names have since been renamed by settlers to Kololo, Kanyegaramire, Kinyarwanda. We think this is deliberate to make Banyoro inferior,” he said.
The other land concern raised before the commission by the officials was the issue of refugees who are acquiring land outside the rightful channels.
In the Kyangwali refugee settlement camp, Lukumu said, refugees have annexed land beyond their confines. Some of the refugees have even gone as far as selling land to investors, he said.
Central to the tense relations between Bunyoro kingdom and the central government is the claims by the former of the properties (majorly land) that were never returned to the kingdom in 1993, most of which had no land titles.
The uncertainty in ownership has facilitated continuous bickering between the two institutions.
“All land occupied by county and subcounty headquarters were restituted back to the kingdom but government has been adamant to pay rent to us as required. Surprisingly government has leased out and sold part of this land with impunity,” Lukumu told the commission.
He said that government has taken the patient and civil approach employed by Bunyoro to get land titles adding that “I don’t know how long we shall maintain this civility”.”
The Prime Minister accused National Forests Authority (NFA) for encroaching on the kingdom forests and frustrating its efforts to carry out economic activities on part of the Bugoma forest which was planted by Bunyoro.
“NFA lacks a good will because they have refused to sit with us and come to a consensus. They continue to ferry timber from our forests. They claim the forests but how can they be sure when government forests aren’t surveyed?”
Last week, the NFA Executive Director Michael Mugisa informed the same probing commission that NFA was meeting resistance from a ‘militia’ called Bunyoro Kitara Repatriation Agency which was claiming some forest reserves on behalf of the kingdom.
On Thursday, asked what relationship the kingdom had with the said militia, the Prime Minister responded that; “We know the group. It is a pressure group that is championing the fight against the historical injustices that the kingdom suffered.”
He however denied that the definition by NFA of the group as a militia saying; “NFA was never attacked by the group and it is neither armed. It is a blatant falsehood and the kingdom deserves an apology.”
The commission of inquiry into land fraud was appointed by President Museveni earlier this year to investigate into matters of land management, registration, processes and registration in Uganda.
This came in the wake of a nationwide outcry over rampant land theft linked to high profile officials in government, investors, and cultural institutions among others.