By Davis Buyondo
When the EACOP project was announced back in 2018, Ugandans along the pipeline route were filled with high hopes of receiving fair compensation to make way for this multi-billion-dollar enterprise.
However, what followed was a series of uncertainties, starting from the mapping and valuation exercise to the resettlement action plan and compensation for the people directly affected by the project for their properties including plants, land, houses, historical sites, sacred places, burial grounds and so on.
As the compensation process for the landlords is now underway, a troubling development has emerged. Several impostors have crept into the process, seeking to exploit the EACOP funds.
The alarming situation in Kijumba and Kabaale-Kooki villages in Lwanda sub-county, Rakai district, has taken many residents and tenants by surprise. Consequently, numerous individuals have lost a substantial amount of money which has sparked widespread protests in the area.
It is said that the alleged impostors managed to seize control of 641 acres (one square mile) of the affected land on Block 84, plot 1, belonging to Gayo Jemera’s family. They have not only secured titles for the said land but have gone even further to coerce the tenants (kibanja holders) who have occupied this land since the 1960s into purchasing the land officially instead of paying the required busuulu.
Busuulu is the legally stipulated amount payable by a kibanja holder to the rightful land title holder, either as defined by law or as agreed upon between the landlord and the tenant (kibanja holder). By the time the legitimate landowners became aware of the situation and sought to rectify it, land titles had already been processed and registered in the land system.
According to Edward Kalanzi Jemera, the administrator of Gayo Jemera family Estate, their great-grandfather acquired a square mile of private Mailo land on January 8, 1853 on Block 84, Plot 1 at Kijjumba-Kooki village in Rakai district.
Through a will made on January 3, 1967, Jemera passed the land on to his son Julius K. Kalanzi who is the father of the current estate administrator (Edward Kalanzi Jemera). Since then, the land has been managed by the family without any internal wrangles with their tenants.
For several decades, documents from the Ministry of Lands’ land registration system and district land board indicated that the land belonged to their Late grandfather Jemera until recently when they got a shocker after a group of people unlawfully altered the titles to claim ownership of the family land.
To their surprise, people in the names of Solomon Ssendi Mpagi, Alexander Masembe and Sarah Nambasa transferred Jemera’s family title into their names to target EACOP funds. It is said that Kalanzi, both Mpagi and Masembe have never been administrators of Late Gayo Jemera’s land (Block 84, Plot 1) and he has never sold it to anyone.
On November 17, 2018, the EACOP project developers informed communities in Lwanda sub-county about the pipeline route. In conformity with Article 26(1) of the 1995 Constitution of the Republic of Uganda which asserts the right of every individual to own property, people affected by the pipeline including landlords, tenants and others would be fairly and adequately compensated before their property is acquired.
However, according to Kalanzi, in 2021, New Plan Ltd and ICS, who were subcontracted by TotalEnergies/EACOP to do the mapping and valuation of people’s property for compensation left out Gayo Jemera’s family, were left out.
During the Resettlement Action Plan (RAP) exercise, Kalanzi explained, information regarding who to be compensated was displayed in public places in different communities. “Unfortunately our family was not part of the beneficiaries of the compensation yet our land (Block 84, Plot 1in Kijjumba village was affected,” he recounted.
“If EACOP goes ahead to pay conmen it will be upon them because we shall not allow their projects on our land without compensation. We wrote to them and they received the petition and stamped it but we have not heard from them. But they should be very keen in this regard to avoid making losses,” he warned.
According to the distressed landlords, they have also reached out to the Rakai Resident District Commissioner’s office, Rakai District Police Commander, and further sought assistance from Edward Kamya Kabuye, the Deputy Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) who doubles as the District Secretary of Lands and the EACOP focal person in Rakai, but nothing paid off.
The officials confirmed receiving the complaints but did not divulge much regarding the matter.
In the letters dated 13th and 14th of September 2023, the affected landlords respectively petitioned the Managing Director EACOP –Martin Tiffen and the minister of land, housing and urban planning seeking intervention in their issues.
Nevertheless, Kalanzi appealed to EACOP to suspend the compensation process in Rakai until a thorough review of the situation is conducted to prevent disbursing funds to the wrong people.
They further emphasised that if EACOP proceeds with compensating the unlawful landlords, it will incur significant losses as they will not be allowed to use Gayo Jemera’s family land without following the appropriate legal channels.
In another petition, the family of Sereyi Buzinde in Kabaale-Kooki village in Lwanda sub-county seeks to be compensated for their land on Block 83, Plot 23 which was affected by the oil pipeline.
The Constitution does not contain a specific provision explicitly granting the State the authority to expropriate property. Nevertheless, the presence of this authority is inferred from Article 26(2), which outlines the conditions that must be met before property can be deprived of any person.
In their letter to the EACOP Managing Director-Martin Tiffen dated September 13, 2023, the family led by Ali Ssengero, the Sereyi Buzinde family explained that they have owned the private mailo land for several decades since their grandfather bequeathed it to them.
According to Ssengero, the family contracted a surveyor who opened boundaries of the 15.398ha (38 acres) that was affected by the EACOP project. However, they are worried that they may lose compensation for their land in unclear circumstances.
The family explained that the sub-contractors New Plan Ltd and ICS confused EACOP directors by insisting that the said land was not affected by the pipeline yet they had already compensated the tenants on it. These include Edrisa Kasozi, Charles Ssentamu, Kagga, Kyinja and others.
“We have presented the letters of administration of our estate from the Chief Magistrate’s court in Rakai on March 15, 2023, while the Ministry of Lands verified the letters of administration on April 25, 2023. We need to be considered for compensation,” he stated.
In their petitions, they are requesting EACOP to engage the family and compensate them as landlords of the land (Block 83, Plot 23) because the letters of administration are in place. “Our communication is to prevent clashes between the family and EACOP when the project starts. Because without compensating us, what do you expect?
However, in response to this grievous deception, some of the tenants have fallen victim to this scam sparking off a protest which has entered the third week.
During the second village meeting with residents, tenants and landlords, the affected parties demanded that their LCI chairperson- Moses Kasiita Mugabi be arrested for conniving with the accused persons to grab land and extort the tenants’ hard-earned money.
According to Emmanuel Mulugwe, the Kijumba village secretary for information, these alleged impostors promptly sold each acre of the land at Sh130,000 promising them titles in return.
Mulugwe explained that the chairperson- Mugabi bought 50 acres. “As a leader, he would have held a meeting and called all concerned parties rather than dealing with strangers to take people’s land and money,” he added.
Joseph Ssekyewa, an elder in his 80s, expressed that he bought his land in 1960s and he has been making Busuulu payments to Gayo Jemera’s family for many decades. He found the sudden presence of unfamiliar individuals requesting money to be unsettling, which led him to decline their request. Instead, he chose to inform Gayo’s family about this suspicious scheme that was unfolding.
Harriet Nalwadda, one of the affected tenants, said their LCI chairperson introduced the strangers as the rightful landlords to her to discuss how she could pay for her five plots. They asked her to pay five million for every plot but they negotiated up to Sh4 million.
She was instructed to make an immediate payment of the funds she had available that day, with the promise that they would collect the remaining amount at a later time. Nalwadda complied and handed over Sh300,000, the sum she had on hand at the moment.
“However, I did not receive any receipt for this payment. But days later the actual landlords appeared and invited us to a village meeting. It is during this meeting that I have come to realise that I was deceived and conned out of my hard-earned money,” she recounted.
Joseph Ssenyomo, one of the concerned elders, turned away a group of surveyors who arrived to survey his land, citing that they had purported instructions from the landlord. However, he was well aware that Gayo Jemera’s family was the legitimate landlords, and he had been consistently paying Busuulu to them for many decades.
They are now demanding the intervention of the EACOP authorities, police, Petroleum Authority of Uganda and Human Rights Defenders. They want the compensation process to be immediately suspended until they investigate to establish the true landlords and to force the accused to refund their money.
On Friday last week, John Bosco Sseguya, the Butiti LCII chairperson, found himself in a dangerous situation as he narrowly escaped a mob that was intent on lynching him.
The rowdy residents and tenants accused him and Mugabi of collaborating with impostors to facilitate the theft of their money, even though they were fully aware that the Gayo family was the rightful landlord in this situation.
According to Sseguya, he was not aware of who the legitimate landlord was because the Gayo family had never formally introduced themselves to his office.
When contacted for a comment, Stella Amonyi, the Communication Lead EACOP, confirmed receiving the petitions from the Late Ssereyi Luzinde’s family in Kabaale-kooki village and Gayo Jemera’s Family in Kijjumba village saying they have already intervened to address the two issues.
Regarding Ssereyi Luzinde’s land, Amony said that they have already dispatched teams for boundary opening to ascertain whether their land was affected by the pipeline project or not.
And once it is confirmed it was affected, then the family will be compensated. Amony explained that they (EACOP) are already in touch with Ssengero, the administrator of Ssereyi Luzinde’s estate and his legal team.
“We asked him (Ssengero) to produce his land titles and now our team is doing a survey in the area to ascertain whether his land is within the project area. He (Ssengero) has been asked to bring all the Bibanja owners during the surveying process,” she said.
According to Amony, following the petition by Edward Kalanzi Jemera, the administrator of Gayo Jemera family Estate on block 84, plot 1, EACOP promptly halted the compensation process since there are two parties claiming to be rightful owners of the land.
Moses Kasiita, the Chairperson of Kijjumba’s Local Council (LCI), refuted accusations of purchasing land from Solomon Ssendi Mpagi, Alexander Masembe, and Sarah Nambasa.
He clarified that the land in question was sold to his father by Edward Kalanzi’s father, Julius K. Kalanzi, and he possesses all the necessary agreements to substantiate his ownership claim.
According to Kasiita, he expressed his support for Ssendi because they had initially presented themselves to the Local Council Authorities as legitimate landlords.
Still, Ssendi, one of the accused individuals, contended that Julius K. Kalanzi had sold the land long before the EACOP project came into play. He asserted that he possessed all the legal documents required to validate his rightful ownership of the land.