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Land Grabbers Now Target Judges, Supreme Court’s Mary Babirye Becomes First Victim

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Since buying land (65 acres) in Luwero’s Bwaba village in Bamunanika County in 2004, Mary Babirye (a Deputy Registrar at Supreme Court) had lived in peace only for things to turn round some 2-3 years ago. Acquired through purchase of small pieces over a long period of time, the land in question is particularized as Bulemezi Block 426 Plot 165 and is scattered at Matende, Wakivule, Gaga, Kalwe and Bwaba in Luwero’s Bamunanika County.

On acquiring the land and having the same titled and registered in her names, Babirye took possession of the same by planting eucalyptus and pine trees. Unable to raise much money at one go, she bought the land from Paul Kiraza (who is still alive) in small bits effective from 2004 which makes it 19 years of undisputed ownership.

As of that time, the land was unoccupied and generally unencumbered except for two residents who had small houses at the extreme end of the land. These she offered to negotiate with having recognized their rights as Bibanja owners on the land at the time of purchase in 2004.

At that time a Magistrate, Babirye would be away most of the time from the land apart from planting trees and its this absence that land grabbers characteristically exploited to keep encroaching on her land. Some of these were incited by local area elected leaders and neighbours or fellow landlords who kept arguing ‘we can’t allow this Musoga, moreover a woman to own so much land in our area.’

On realizing this well syndicated encroachment was growing, Babirye petitioned the Bwaba LC1 Chairman first time in June 2020 imploring him to convene a meeting of stakeholders to deescalate and harmonize growing tensions. She listed names of encroachers she was complaining about to include John Walugondo, Khalifan Majwala, Daniel Wamala, Paul Lutozi, Lawrence Sekyanzi, Noah Nkwangu, Harriet Ninda, the notorious James Lukoda, Ronald Wasswa, John Kaluzarira, Jane Nakaggwa, Issa Kabindi, Nabwire and Senoga Kiwanuka. The meeting was indeed convened by the LC1 Chairman but only a few turned up. Some agreed to negotiate and denounced their claim on Babirye’s land upon some consideration being provided to them.

When encroachment activities, incited by some the Sub County’s elected politicians (some of whom demanded a bribe of Shs10m to abandon incitement), Babirye escalated things by petitioning the State House Land Protection Task Force headed by Gen MS Lukyamuzi who is also the SPA to the President. This was towards the end of 2022. On 14th November, Gen Lukyamuzi wrote to the impugned encroachers (12 of them) inviting them to a locus meeting during which he intended to sensitize them regarding rights and duties of the landlord and kibanja owners.

He clearly pointed out the rights of Babirye as the registered land owner and the team of lawyers he came with emphasized the same. The impugned land grabbers didn’t like this and immediately dismissed Gen Lukyamuzi as being biased in favor of Babirye. Gen Lukyamuzi demanded that whoever claims to be a legitimate kibanja owner produces documentation and witnesses from among the LC leaders to back up their claim.

Having just come around to impose themselves on Babirye’s land without any demonstrable claim, many of them didn’t have any such documentation to corroborate their claim. That’s how they originated propaganda that the State House land Taskforce had been compromised and was working against them. As he intervened into the clear case of land grabbing, through fictitious kibanja rights claims, Gen Lukyamuzi closely worked with and involved local elected leaders, the RDC’s office and the area Police leadership.

Failure to make much progress through all these efforts compelled Babirye to escalate matters to the High Court where Civil Suit no 255 of 2023 has since been commenced. The idea is to compel the 14 fictitious kibanja owners, who her lawyers insist to call land grabbers, to back off her land, a significant part of which they have already encroached upon besides maliciously cutting down her pine and eucalyptus trees.

Through their lawyer Baruga Associated Advocates based in Luwero Town Council-based Kaludo Complex, the disputed bibanja owners have filed their defense and gone ahead to counter-claim against Babirye who they curiously accuse of being the land grabber.

Some of them have been going through neighbours to justify encroachment on the senior Judicial Officer’s land. This encroachment by neighbours has gone ahead even after both sides’ surveyors conducted boundary opening and produced joint reports clearly indicating the extent of criminal encroachment into Babirye’s land.

Through her Bulange Mengo-based lawyers of Alma Associated Advocates, Babirye is demanding that Court declares the 14 trespassers and goes ahead to compel them to pay damages to atone the consequences of their illegal activities on her land. Besides the money to be paid in damages, Babirye also wants the Luwero High Court to protect her through issuance of a permanent injunction restraining them from further encroachment.

It’s clear from reviewing Court papers that Babirye, who has been paying for a second time to buy peace from these fictitious and very menacing kibanja claimants, wants her tormentors to be made to pay for their transgressions and anomalous conduct. On her Court filings, Babirye also attached several agreements signed between her and some of the now remorseful Kibanja claimants who have since backed off and denounced their claim.

Riding on what State Minister for Lands Dr. Sam Mayanja recently proclaimed during a land baraza in Bamunanika, the same tormentors have lately resorted to using media platforms like Bukedde’s Agataliiko nfufu to demonize and character-assassinate Babirye well knowing that, being a Judicial Officer, she will naturally be constrained to fight back using the same media platforms.

It’s a plight many holders of public offices in contemporary Uganda are enduring-unable to fight back using the same media fearing to disparage their own names while attracting damaging media publicity to their own names. Besides, the Judicial code of conduct bars an officer like Babirye from making any media utterances. This exactly is the calculation of the area MP Robert Sekitoleko, the area LC3 Chairperson (a female) and local councilors who are quietly inciting these fictitious bibanja claimants well knowing the same people can use their ill-gotten wealth to support and embolden their reelection in the community come 2026.

In fact, security agencies are investigating some of the very inciteful elected councilors who have been trying to engage in extortion efforts so as to stop inciting the community and media activism in the area against Babirye who continues to be demonized simply because she originates from Busoga and only came into Bamunanika through land purchase as is permitted for any other citizen of Uganda desiring to acquire land and engage in economic activities in any part of the country.

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