By Eric Kashambuzi
Writing about Uganda and the Great Lakes region isn’t fun. You are either correcting distortions or reporting on wars, human rights violations, genocide and other crimes against humanity; land grabbing and stealing elections; corruption and sectarianism; people dying mysteriously or of negligence and others of starvation in a region that has the potential to produce surplus food over and above domestic needs. In many of the interviews I have been asked why I don’t report on good news. Frankly I would love to but there isn’t much good news to report and twisting things to please isn’t my cup of tea. I am writing these stories not to start trouble but to prevent one. In this article, I will focus on Tutsi land grab in Uganda and the implications for the landless.
Museveni’s hidden agenda
Yoweri Museveni came to power with a clear but hidden agenda from the majority of Ugandans. You have to study Museveni dialectically to find the truth which many of us haven’t done or those who know don’t want to say it for various reasons mostly selfish ones. He also came to power with a conviction that he could do whatever he wants with impunity as long as he has his AK 47 and full support of security forces and some western backers.
Because many of us were busy trying to prevent the return of Obote and UPC to power, we didn’t pay much attention to what Museveni and his Tutsi generals were doing. Some of the complaints including land grabbing that was made in 1989 were dismissed as sectarian.
Let me tell you what Museveni long term goals are. He is in the process of turning Uganda into a medieval Europe or pre-colonial Rwanda. Like in medieval Europe and pre-colonial Rwanda, Museveni wants to become the landlord, dish out land to his Tutsi generals in return for keeping him in power and turn the rest of Ugandans into serfs to labor with their muscles for the benefit of the lord and his knights. His second goal may sound incredible but it is true. As pastoralist, Museveni would like to turn Uganda into a grazing land away from crop cultivation. That is why he hasn’t paid much attention to environmental degradation that is making Uganda drier and more suitable for grazing than crop cultivation. Switching ministers of environment won’t dilute his philosophy.
Tutsi land grabbing begins
Immediately after capturing power in 1986, Tutsi soldiers began grabbing land particularly in Buganda and Ankole. In 1989, Ugandans complained to Museveni about this land grab. In 1990, it was decided that Tutsi as refugees should not own land in Uganda. This was superseded by a clause in the 1995 constitution that allows free mobility and ownership of land anywhere in Uganda where people could speak their languages. With Museveni in power and anti-sectarian law in force, classifying Tutsi as refugees ended and opened the door for Tutsi with money and access to credit to own large swathes of land to the detriment of indigenous owners.
I am asking all Ugandans to go back to their communities and find out who owned land before 1986 and who owns it now. I know there are some Ugandans who don’t care about land because they prefer town life to bush hazards but even in town you need land to build a house but urban land is being grabbed by Tutsi generals and you will soon have nowhere to construct a home. Greater Kampala has been placed under the supervision of the president, not the mayor. Do you know why? If you don’t know find out.
Struggle over land ownership
Before outlining the disadvantages of losing Uganda land to Tutsi foreigners, let me outline struggles over land ownership from time immemorial. As early as A.D. 61 Britons fought against Roman rule when Roman soldiers grabbed their land. French, Mexican, Russian and Ethiopian Revolutions, among others, had an element of land ownership. In Russia, Lenin gained popular support by promising peace, bread and above all land. He captured power in October 1917 and ended the Romanov dynasty. In the Mexican constitution of 1917 “All land was declared the inalienable property of the state” presumably to prevent private land grabbing.
African decolonization struggle was longest and bloodiest in countries of white settlers including in Algeria, Kenya, Namibia, Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) and South Africa. You could say the struggle was largely over land ownership.
Land ownership struggle in Uganda
In Uganda a number of factors prevented foreign land ownership including the failure of plantation agriculture in the 1920s and some colonial officials like Governor Bell, Director of Agriculture and Provincial Commissioner of Eastern Province who reasoned and won the debate that Uganda land belongs to Ugandans. A law was passed prohibiting foreign land ownership.
While he was still mobilizing support of Ugandans, Museveni declared in 1985 in the ten point program that one of the actions his government would take immediately was return land to the rightful owners including Mailo land and forests that Baganda owned and were protected in the independence constitution. However, no sooner had he settled in State House than he began to dish out Uganda land to his friends claiming that some of the land was government owned. But government is the people and the people of Uganda have never given Museveni authority to change land ownership.
Museveni has used various methods to grab people’s land that are very difficult to understand.
1. He hired Uganda intellectuals or created conditions for them to write articles in support of privatizing Uganda land and allowing Ugandans in densely populated areas like Kigezi and Ankole to resettle in areas that are less densely populated including in Buganda, Bunyoro and Toro. Most of the settlers from Kigezi and Ankole are Tutsi who sought refuge in these two districts from Rwanda following the 1959 Hutu Social Revolution that forced Tutsi to flee. Most of the people in new areas of settlement are not Bakiga and Banyankole but Tutsi. Check it out if in doubt.
2. Museveni advocated that Uganda had plenty of unused arable land which needed to be developed and contribute to Uganda’s economic and social transformation. At the same time he called for liberalization of immigration policy to allow outsiders to come to Uganda and help in economic transformation including land ownership. People in land hungry Kenya, Burundi and Rwanda are keen on East African economic integration because it allows free mobility and settlement in any part of the community. Uganda and Tanzania will receive more people and livestock than they will send out.
3. Under the NRM government, Uganda embarked on the policy of willing seller and willing buyer of land to enter into transactions regardless of customs or laws that prevent such transactions, allowing individuals to sell communal land that has led to serious disputes including in the northern region. The government has also encouraged rural -urban migration so that more land is available for purchase by wealthy Tutsi.
4. The expansion of municipal boundaries appears good at face value: it creates more constituencies for parliamentary representation but at its core the idea is to place land ownership into the hands of municipal authorities and dispossess peasants. Municipal councils can then sell it to the highest bidder. In Rukungiri municipality boundary changes affected only areas settled by Bairu people. Nyakagyeme inhabited by Tutsi was spared.
5. As if all the above methods were not enough to
make enough land available for Tutsi ownership, the prime minister presumably with the president’s instruction announced not too long ago that all land in Uganda would be placed in the hands of large scale farmers to increase productivity and feed the nation and generate surplus for sale in external markets because peasants had failed to do so. Sadly, the reason he gave isn’t correct. There is overwhelming evidence worldwide that when facilitated small holder farmers are more productive, more efficient and environmentally and socially friendly than large scale farmers. That is why the international community including the United Nations and G8 has agreed to support small holder farmers including in Uganda. It is therefore baffling how the prime minster could make such a statement in view of what is happening around him.
Why Ugandans can’t afford losing their land
Uganda peasants need their land more than ever. Without functional literacy to find a job outside agriculture, with Uganda de-industrializing and shedding jobs, with Uganda government focusing on the service sector that is capital intensive and with rising unemployment, the only hope of survival is land ownership. Once you have a piece of land and a hand hoe and the blessing of rain you can survive. I therefore urge all Ugandans to dedicate 2013 the year to stop Tutsi from grabbing our land and to return what they have already stolen.
If we know why haven’t we acted?
Some Ugandans have complained that I tell them what they already know but if you know that land is being grabbed at breakneck speed what have you done about it? Sometimes I wonder who these people are. There are those who are saying that Tutsi are well entrenched, powerful and rich and nothing can be done about taking land away from them. They add that after all the constitution allows them free mobility, settlement and landownership anywhere in Uganda. But the constitution is a living document subject to amendment and it will be amended at an appropriate time to suit the interests of everyone. We also know that some of the contentious provisions in the constitution were passed without a quorum.
How should we deal with this land issue and NRM behind it?
Many Ugandans want change in Uganda but there is disagreement about strategy. There are those who want to use force in the first instance. But they don’t compare the costs and benefits of war in the short, medium and long term. I have studied the costs and benefits of war in historical perspective. By and large, wars deliver more costs than gains. The end of WWI led, inter alia, to the rise of European dictatorships and totalitarian regimes in Italy, Germany and Spain that spiraled into economic depression and devastation of WWII. The Korean War left the peninsular divided to this day.
In Uganda the damage to Mengo in 1966, to Mbarara and Masaka towns in 1979, to Luwero Triangle in 1981-85 and to northern and eastern Uganda from 1986 until very recently is still fresh in our minds. What makes some of us assume that the next one will be less destructive in fighting Museveni who is armed to the teeth and has been preparing for a show down with guerrillas? Second, what makes us believe that once Kampala has fallen, the guerrillas will hand over power to civilians? I am hearing stories that theirs is to lay a foundation for true democracy and civilian rule. But that is what Amin told us after he captured power in 1971. He declared that his was a caretaker government and he would return to the barracks once elections were held. A few years later he declared himself president for life.
Museveni said that he used the military temporarily to solve a political problem implying he would handover to DP that claimed its victory had been robbed in the 1980 elections. Museveni also assured the nation that once peace returned to Uganda he would exit Uganda politics and focus on pan-African issues or his cows. It is now 26 years and he is still in state house and has already served notice that he is competing in 2016 presidential elections.
We have witnessed enough
Fellow Ugandans we have seen enough of military regimes and the destruction they have caused. Surely we don’t need more of it no matter what sweet words are used. Ugandans don’t have appetite for another war. Besides, indications are that NRM will implode from internal decay, opposition and external pressure. The president is already under stress if we go by the language he is using against those opposing what he is doing. What we need is to come together under one umbrella organization and establish a transitional government that prepares for free and fair multi-party elections. UDU is already in place with a credible National Recovery Plan and record of what it is able to do. We are compiling a list of Ugandans to lead the transitional government. Please join us instead of reinventing the wheel and scatter efforts. United we shall win – definitely.