Is use of criminal gangs a new solution to land disputes in Uganda?



By Mwijukye Francis

As I lie in deep pain at Nakasero Hospital, I pen this letter to the Uganda Police and other security agencies with hope that it becomes a stimulus for the protection of millions of suffering Ugandans due to land grabbing.

As you may now all know, I am in hospital after being attacked by hired goons on Sunday, 12th May 2024, at St. Jude, Rwanyamabale Catholic Church in Buhweju District. Being hit in the head with a panga and a stick with nails and you survive death is a miracle. Had it not been God’s grace, I would not be alive to tell this story. Certainly, this is a deep reflection of the decay and rot of systems in Uganda and the fate that ordinary people are headed for if it is not checked.

First forward, I am a member of Butare Catholic Parish Council in charge of the Parish land and therefore St. Jude, Rwanyamabare Catholic Church is under my ecclesiastical jurisdiction. The said church has existed for many years. The disputed land also houses a school, community, water source, tea gardens, and a number of homesteads.

It’s this land that one Frank Kamugisha and his son Edwin, a lawyer, are claiming ownership and attempting evictions.

These did not go to court to secure any court orders but have opted to use force. They have fenced off the land, hence stopping the christians from accessing the church, Children from accessing the school and locals have also stopped from fetching water nor accessing their gardens in the said land. In order to enforce their impunity, Edwin Burimbare has hired goons (Kanyama’s) who are not known in the area and housed them in his house near the said church. These were not introduced to the local authorities.

Prior to the Sunday incident, the said goons have terrorised the locals, beaten them up as they attempted to access the church, and they have even gone ahead to allegedly rape young girls on their way to school. On the 11th May 2024, the area LC1 Chair person and Sub County Councilor tried to intervene and the goons beat them up which prompted a demonstration by the locals hence Police intervention. To our surprise Police responded by dispersing the locals who were gathered at the Church instead of arresting the goons who were being accused of raping innocent girls but also who had beaten their local leaders. Since Kamugisha didn’t have any court order, we could not see the justification for Police to side with him against the church, which has existed for many years. This shows that there was was conivence!

The church leaders called me afraid that they would not be allowed to attend Sunday prayers, and I promised to pray with them the following day. Indeed, I went and met the frightened congregants, and prayers went on smoothly. After prayers at around 4:00 P.M, as we gathered outside the church, the hired goons came from Kamugisha’s house opposite the church holding pangas, sticks and machetes, and started beating up everybody including a TV West journalist called Kyarisiima whose camera was destroyed and laptop confiscated. About ten people were beaten and they sustained injuries.

As I tried to intervene, Kamugisha and two of his goons approached me holding pangas and machetes, I thought they were coming to dialogue with me. Unfortunately, Kamugisha boxed me on the face and I fell down as one of the goons swung into action to cut my head with a panga. If i had remained standing, my head would have been chopped into two pieces, and I would be dead, but because I was falling down, the panga reached me when its force had a bit reduced. At the same time, the other kanyama hit me with a stick that had nails at the edge, but luckily, the nails missed the target of my head since i had turned. I was rescued by the christians who carried me into the church, and because the goons were armed with pangas, the locals could not confront them as they ran back to Kamugisha’s house near the church.

Police was informed and it responded after one hour but when the locals showed Police the house where the goons ran to, they claimed that they wanted to save my life first and they took me to Nsiika Health centre IV for first Aid. It’s said that the Kanyamas/goons stayed in the house for the whole night and left the next day at around 9:00AM, probably after having breakfast. Police came to pursue them at 11:00AM two hours after they had left, and 15 hours after they had wreaked havoc on us!

If its not conivance, why didn’t the district Police bring enough manpower to arrest the goons since they had been in the same location the previous day? Why would Police let those goons stay in that village terrorising people for over three weeks? Why didn’t police deploy at the church that day since they knew about the controversy? Why did Police first wait for the goons to leave and then pretend to be pursuing them?

This incident confirms that the district Police only sides with the rich regardless of whether they are wrong or right. It left me wondering whether Police in Buhweju still plays the role of keeping law and order or if it is now protecting law breakers and promoting disorder!

Whereas these incidents have been happening in Buganda and around Kampala, we thought it was because of the high value of land, but also we thought the government was dealing with it. Now that they have descended in villages as deep as Buhweju where our people are too vulnerable, who will survive?

Has the state abandoned its mandate and handed it over to militias and paramilitaries? If an MP can be beaten and his head almost shuttered by goons and nobody is arrested, what will happen to the ordinary citizen?

Police in Buhweju must explain to us why they are supporting land grabbers. My blood that has been shed in the hands of criminal gangs should be the last drop of blood to be shed in Buhweju over land matters.

Mwijukye Francis

MP Buhweju County and Shadow Minister for Works and Transport

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