HUNDREDS of bibanja owners (tenants) in Mukono district last evening blocked the Mukono-Kayunga road in protest against their imminent eviction by the landlord, Sheikh Obedi Kamulegeya.
Kamulegeya was the Chief Khadhi of the Uganda Muslim Supreme Council in the early 1980s.
Armed with sticks, machetes, stones and placards, the demonstrators blocked the road at Ggavu village, paralysing transport along the busy road for over one hour.
The affected tenants are from several parishes in Kasawo and Namuganga sub-counties in Nakifuma county, north of Mukono town at the border with Kayunga district.
The parishes include Kasana, Namaliri, Kiyagi, Bwegire, Namaliiri, Kituula, Kigolola and Kiyini.
Between 300 and 400 people took part in the demonstration, but they said over 1,000 families were to be evicted.
Led by Hajji Abdullah Ssempebwa, the tenants threatened to harm anybody who dared try to evict them. Most of them said they had stayed on the land for decades.
In the early 1990s,the tenants said, Kamulegeya also tried to evict them, but the eviction was blocked by the late Lt. Colonel Kateregga, who owned land in the area.
Ssempebwa said the victims legally owned bibanja on the land, which is about 700 hectares.
Some residents claimed the landlord had sold the land to a sugar company that intends to set up a sugarcane plantation.
Mzee Scovia Namakula, 80, said her crops had been destroyed by Kamulegeya’s men, who were clearing the land.
Another demonstrator, Mariam Namusoke, 70, said: “I acquired this land (kibanja) in 1973. I have developed it since; I have a house and a cemetery on it. But the landlord is evicting me without any compensation. I don’t have anywhere to go with my grandchildren.”
Francisco Kaweesa, 73, said he was born and raised on the land. “My father, Yeeko Walusimbi, died in 1995. We buried him and other relatives on this land. How can Kamulegeya say that we acquired this land illegally?” he asked.
Wilson Bakabulindi, 67, said he had stayed on his plot for over 30 years and that his family had nowhere to go.
The residents accused area local council officials of siding with Kamulegeya. Some rowdy demonstrators raided the home of Kiyagi village chairperson, Twaha Nakikubye, demanding that he explains why he blessed the eviction, but they found when he had fled with his family.
Residents accused Nakikubye and his counterparts in neighbouring villages of having been compromised by the landlord.
However, Kamulegeya said he had paid off all the tenants.
“Most of those people illegally occupied my land, whose lease I acquired 30 years ago. In spite of that, I paid them off three years ago in the presence of area LC officials,” he said.
Kamulegeya added that he had reported the matter to Naggalama Police Station, where files had been opened in reference to the matter.
He accused area politicians of politicising the matter. One aspiring MP for Nakifuma County, Eng. Ssenabulya Kateregga and Isaac Bwekwaso, who is contesting for councillorship, were also involved in the demonstration.
Kamulegeya vowed to proceed with his plans and threatened to take legal action against whoever attempts to stop him.
Asked whether he had sold the land to a sugar company, he said it was his land and he plans to develop it. “This is my land and many people will be evicted because I paid them. It doesn’t matter whether I sold it or not,” he said.
Early this year, the Government enacted the Land Amendment Act prohibiting eviction of tenants without a court order.
A person who is found in breach of the law can be jailed for seven years.