Local leaders in Nakasongola have taken a defiant stance against the directives of the State Minister for Lands, Sam Mayanja, regarding land allocation in the Kyarubanga forest reserve. This forest reserve, spanning eight square miles and encompassing four sub-counties, had been the subject of a Presidential order in December 2019, issued by President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni. The order aimed to degazette the forest reserve to provide housing for landless households, with approximately 400 households already occupying portions of the land prior to the decision.
However, this move has since sparked tensions between the pre-existing residents and those newly resettled, primarily over the distribution of land. The situation escalated on October 19, 2023, when State Minister Sam Mayanja, along with some settlers and district leaders, convened at Nakayonza trading center in Lwabiyata sub-county to address the matter.
During the meeting, Minister Mayanja emphasized that President Museveni’s directive intended to allocate the land to the households already in occupation, explicitly excluding new settlers. Mayanja also disbanded a committee established to resolve disputes arising from land distribution and instead called for an investigation by the State House Anti-Corruption unit into the actions of district officials related to this matter.
However, local district and sub-county leaders have now openly declared their refusal to implement Minister Mayanja’s directives. They accuse him of exacerbating tensions and making decisions without prior consultation. Vice LC 3 Chairperson Jamirah Nakiyimba of Lwampanga town council asserts that the district initially resolved, in good faith, to resettle not only the existing households but also landless people affected by floods and evictions.
Nakiyimba reveals that her town council had 360 households displaced by floods, and 36 of these households have been resettled in the forest reserve. She expresses shock at Mayanja’s directive, which seemingly favored only a few households, leaving others without a clear solution.
Livingstone Mwesigye, the LC 3 Chairperson of Wabinyonyi sub-county, insists that Minister Mayanja made a biased decision by only listening to one side during the meeting. Furthermore, he points out that Mayanja failed to consult with the Resident District Commissioner and other district leaders, further inflaming tensions between the rival groups of settlers.
Mwesigye goes on to request an apology from Minister Mayanja to Public Service Minister Muruuli Mukasa for making what he considers reckless statements. Mayanja had alleged that Mukasa colluded with the district to appropriate people’s land, even though Mukasa had urged the President to donate the land to the squatters.
Sam Kigula, the LC 5 Chairman of Nakasongola district, justifies the degazettement of the forest reserve as an attempt to rectify historical injustices that left many Baruuli people landless, some of whom were forced to settle along the shores of Lake Kyoga before being displaced. Kigula anticipates that around 2000 households will eventually resettle in the area. He emphasizes that if there are complaints about land allocations, they will be addressed collectively by the committee rather than accommodating individual preferences.
Despite this dispute, a section of residents, supported by Member of Parliament Bernard Kirya, petitioned the High Court in Luweero regarding the land matter. However, the Judge’s resolution upheld the district’s decision regarding land distribution.
In defense of Minister Mayanja, Bernard Kirya, the Budyebo County Member of Parliament, contends that the Minister’s decision was sound. He argues that some of the land was being sold to individuals unaffected by floods or evictions, emphasizing that only landless people present before the President’s directive should benefit from the land allocation.
In light of the escalating tensions, the District Security Committee has decided to deploy police patrols in the villages to prevent further clashes, following incidents in which three people were injured, and houses were burned as a result of Minister Mayanja’s directives.