Namanve Veterans Split M7 Cabinet
By John V Sserwaniko
Key members of President Museveni’s government are sharply divided regarding the impending eviction of thousands of families occupying Namanve Forest Reserve.
The forest sits on over 2,000 acres of land in Kiira Municipality near Bweyogere. The encroachers, who have illegally been occupying it, having repeatedly thwarted NFA efforts to evict them, are in two groups.
One comprises of people who previously occupied Kabaka’s land nearby and the other group comprises of veterans.
However, a recent report by Veterans Minister Bright Rwamirama shows most of these are kiwaani veterans. In a secret report to Museveni, Rwamirama shows that of those claiming to be veterans only 10% are genuine.
Others are just proxies being planted by speculators targeting billions in government compensation allocated under the Standard Gauge Railway, Bukasa Port, UEGCL power lines and Jinja Express Highway.
We have established that, backed by their speculative sponsors, these encroachers said to represent 6,000 families have for years been obtaining dubious court injunctions and orders to frustrate efforts by NEMA and NFA to have them evicted.
In 2011, NFA instituted a caveat emptor requiring them to quit but they circumvented it by running to court. In the same year, then lands minister Werhike wrote letters asking then line Minister Mutagamba to compel NFA to surrender the land to resettle these same speculators whom he referred as bonafide Ugandans entitled to resettlement.
Werikhe inadvertently categorized them as Ugandans who had been evicted from Naguru estates, Kisenyi and other Kampala areas. Mutagamba stood firm and Werikhe backed off. Uganda Land Commission then took up the matter with it boss Kintu Mubbala protesting to DPP Mike Chibita as to why NFA caused the arrest and prosecution of private surveyors that had been sent to survey the land for eventual distribution to these very veterans.
NFA is part of the Presidential taskforce overseeing land acquisition for SGR and other mega projects which have to pass through Namanve. NFA bosses are charged with clearing this forest reserve area to enable SGR managers properly budget how much will be spent compensating PAPs.
Sources say the forest body has so far failed in this job because the veterans have always frustrated its efforts. The other weapons the encroachers have used are the president’s directives which they present in a distorted form to create an impression Museveni gave them this land.
Some years ago, the President in writing halted all evictions from forest reserves on grounds these had been created by colonialists who had no heart for people. Issued over 10 years ago, Museveni’s directive has clearly been overtaken by events but the veterans still quote it as something legitimizing their forceful occupation of public land.
One time NFA gave a 21 notice after whose expiry it had moved in to forcefully evict them. Some became cowed and quit but the operation stalled mid way when then police operations commander halted it citing orders from above.
This left NFA vulnerable as it has no enforcement of its own and must rely on police. Having come under pressure that potential funders were going to cancel funding commitments for SGR over the Namanve Fiasco, Museveni recently a one page executive order (similar to those of Trump) directing IGP Kale Kayihura to mercilessly evict the Namanve veterans.
Kayihura called meetings with all stakeholders and directed NEMA to write a public notice giving them strictly 21 days whereafter teargas would be unleashed. In numerous SGR-related meetings, a disgusted Museveni had dismissed the encroaches as crooks and criminals who must be forcefully crushed for standing in the way for development projects.
Back then he resisted all pleas by ministers like Ronald Kibule to go meet them on the site. He later on reluctantly agreed to meet group leaders to corroborate on contents of Rwamirama’s report. He met this group in Luwero during his irrigation tour and assured them there would be no compensation though he was open to getting them some “small relief package.”
CABINET WARS BGN
Two days to the Kayihura operation, State Lands Minister Parcis Namuganza drove to Namanve and encouraged them to fight on. It was claimed she had been sanctioned by the president who had directed Kayihura action. Namuganza created an impression whoever opposed her was in trouble with the big man.
This created more anxiety and divisions. The likes of Rwamirama supported the idea of Kayihura rushing to Rugunda seeking some guidance. As PM, Rugunda was too busy and delegated his deputy Moses Ali who has been chairing ministerial meetings.
The last meeting was last week and Finance Minister Matia Kasaija attended it and blasted the Namuganza and Rose Seninde group for supporting groups whose acts sabotage government programs. He warned donors may quit if project implementation continues being delayed by criminal groups like the Namanve veterans.
In that meeting, Moses Ali was unhappy that chaotic Namuganza was at it again-fermenting confusion. He recalled how Namuganza’s reckless comments last year regarding Zoka forest caused anxiety in West Nile until Museveni intervened.
While addressing forestry governance group at Protea hotel in a meeting organized by ACODE, Namuganza casually said government had degazetted Zoka forest for sugar cane growing so as to free up some of the over cultivated land in her native Busoga. Betty Amongin called a meeting of West Nile leaders and blasted Namuganza.
Not done, after the Amongin meeting, the West Nilers petitioned Museveni threatening to decampaign him. He called a meeting and apologized for Namuganza’s remarks. Ali said government wouldn’t allow Namuganza to turn the Namanve veterans’ issue into Zoka-like saga. The other minister backing the Namuganza view is Rose Seninde who is also area woman MP.
The excited veterans have since vowed to name two of the villages after these two lady Ministers should they succeed in blackmailing Museveni to stay in the forest land. The two female ministers manifested influence two weeks ago when they convinced Museveni, who had always declined, to drive to the scene and address the illegal veterans and other claimants.
Though he came, Museveni didn’t do what Namuganza might have wished him to do. He refused to grant land to the veterans and dismissed them as opposition activists ever voting Semujju Nganda and are now out to dupe him into a fake land transaction.
He said there are illegally there and will have to go though he is open to helping them with some “relief.” There is also Justice Steven Kavuma who recently acted very prudently by overturning High Court’s Justice Nehamya’s judgment awarding one of the Namanve groups Shs40bn against the AG.
The Kavuma-led Court of Appeal panel held Duncan Turyatunga Rujojo & 50 others (claiming to have lawful claim in the land) should ordinarily have sued the veterans and other encroachers and not the AG for the trees illegal encroachers are claimed to have illegally destroyed.
Sources blamed part of the problem on Museveni who remains ambivalent-sometimes backing the encroachers and sometimes bashing them. We are told some of the actors supposed to evict the encroachers fear he may change his mind some day and embarrass them for evicting the rampaging veterans.