Residents of Kanyege village in Budongo sub-county, Masindi district, have accused Shiraz Walji, the managing director of Jamal Walji Limited, of grabbing their land. Walji is the proprietor of Nyakafunjo and Kanyege estates, which run several sugarcane plantations.

The estates have undergone changes in ownership and Walji is the fifth proprietor in line since 1926. Stephen Babyesiza Semwemba, the team leader of the affected community, said 13 families were evicted from the land in 1996.

Babyesiza said they started the process to reclaim the land in 2017 after realising that they had been wrongfully evicted. He said another group of people, mainly farmers, had started using the same land, but were also evicted. On July 8, 2009, Walji wrote to the farmers in Kanyege Estate ordering them to vacate the land. However, the letter does not indicate the total land area that the farmers were using.

“We have given you enough time to harvest your crops. Please be informed that we need you to vacate our land by August 2009,” the letter read. The locals have continuously sought help from different authorities, including the LC3 chairpersons and the resident district commissioner (RDC). In November 2017, Masindi RDC Godfrey Nyakahuma wrote a letter instructing the estate owners to open boundaries and restore peace with the residents.

“You have been given until November 20, 2017 to re-open your boundaries in the presence of your neighbours and LCs to ascertain true boundaries of your land with a view of providing redress to the land dispute between you and your neighbours,” Nyakahuma’s letter stated. A letter written by Walji on the issue of boundary-opening read: “Testified before the LC2 office of Nyabyeya on July 26, 2019.

The company only owns the legally leased land. The issue of the land outside the leased land can only be handled once the boundary is opened.” Walji also requested the district surveyor to open the boundaries. According to a report from the district surveyor, James Babinge, the estate measures about 274 acres and is under leasehold for a period of 99 years since July 1919.

Walji has untitled land where he planted sugarcane measuring about 28ha. The land is attached to the titled land fully cultivated with sugarcane and surrounded by a firebreak,” the surveyor’s report read.

The Masindi senior lands officer, James Mugoya, said the contested land should be referred to as ‘public land’ because none of the two parties owns it legally.

However, residents insist that they have been living and operating on the said piece of land for decades and own it customarily. On Tuesday, a meeting for hearing was organised by the LC2 office of Nyabyeya to listen to both parties. Joseph Nasur Nyolonga, 41, one of the affected people, said the contested land should be left for the residents because they have lived on it for decades.

“We are being told to produce documents to prove that the land belongs to us, yet it is customary. Even our grandparents lived on the same land. That land belongs to the community and not the investor,” Nyolonga said. The local area leadership said it would make the final resolution on the matter in two weeks.

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