Uganda: Land grabbers hire police officers, kidnap a community land rights defender at gunpoint

Witness Radio | 31 July 2023

Land grabbers hire police officers, kidnap a community land rights defender at gunpoint
Four armed men cladding police uniforms working for land grabbers in Kiryandongo district have kidnapped a community land rights defender for resisting an illegal land eviction targeting a community of 3000 people. 
Mr. Masaba Micheal, a community land rights defender based in Nyamuntende village in Kiryandongo district, was kidnapped over the weekend at 6:30 East African Standard Time. Eyewitnesses say Masaba was kidnapped when he tried to confront workers of the land grabbers that had entered on communities’ land and were mercilessly plowing down people’s food crops without compensation or resettlement. 
The land being grabbed is aimed for growing large-scale sugar by Somdiam Company, owned by ‘investors’ from India. The land measuring 809.3713 hectares is occupied by over 3000 residents.
Witness Radio – Uganda research, establishes that Somdiam Company Limited was incorporated in Uganda in 2011 and deals in imports of assorted food commodities among these are rice, sugar, vegetable cooking oil, biscuits, salt, tomato paste, powdered milk, pasta & spaghetti.
“My husband, being a community land rights defender was informed by community members that the Company tractors are digging people’s land without offering an alternative settlement, so he decided to go there and ask them why they are plowing the land. When he asked them, there was no good response. He was instead rounded up and handicapped before being taken to an unknown place. Right now, we do not know where he is.” One of his wives told Witness Radio.
“I feel bad because he was kidnaped for no reason, we have lived on this land on this land for more than 18 years peacefully, but now the Indian says he wants it. I am currently sick and my helper has been taken away from me,” The Puerperal wife added, calling for the immediate release of her husband and a father of 13.
Trouble started last week when armed police hired by Somdiam Company Limited renewed their intentions of grabbing the community land. Mr. Mushija Caleb, the chairman of the affected community, says the group of land grabbers started clearing land belonging to Community members without their consent while forcing some of them to receive the little compensation offered for their land at gunpoint. 
“We are illegally evicted because we refused the little compensation that they are giving us imagine being paid 2 million Uganda shillings for 10 acres, 20 acres. These are peanuts compared to the value of our land and how much we earn from it. When you refuse, your land is plowed and when you ask them why they are plowing it, they arrest you.” The chairman of the affected group said.
According to the chairman of the affected persons, acreages of plantations belonging to over six outspoken families have been destroyed by tractors guarded by armed Policemen in uniforms. The destroyed crops include maize, beans, sweet potatoes, and cassava among others. 
“Many people have lost many acres of their plantations, for example, I have lost 4 acres of beans, Masaba himself lost 4 acres of maize, Mulega Jackson lost 8 acres of potatoes, maize, simsim among others.” Mr. Mushija added.
According to the residents, the evictors informed them they were okayed by the office of the President of Uganda to evict locals off their land.
“They are promising to finish us all just because the project was cleared by the president. When we requested it, they didn’t show it to us.” One of the affected residents revealed.
When contacted to understand the whereabouts of the defender on Saturday morning, The District Policer officer in Kiryandongo district Edson Muhangi said he is not yet aware of any arrest in Nyamuntende village.
“I do not know any arrest that was conducted out in that area. Let me investigate and find out, then I call you back.” He added.
Our efforts to talk to the Resident District Commissioner (RDC) of Kiryandongo district Dan Mugganga, were futile as our calls on his known contacts went unanswered.
The RDCs, according to the recent order banning evictions by President Yoweri Museveni, are the only ones supposed to clear evictions.
Witness Radio also wanted to confirm allegations if the president cleared the company to evict the residents but our efforts were futile as the President’s Press Secretary Faruk Kirunda’s known contacts were off.
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