By: Ismael Kasooha
Since 1970s the Catholic Church at Kitezi in Kikagate Sub County at the border of Uganda with Tanzania has been embroiled in a land conflict that has led to the loss of lives and property.
Margaret Kwatiraho Kibundugwize, in her late 70s said that when she was getting married to her late husband Kurineriyo Kwatiraho in 1975, she found that the Church was conflicting with him and to date the issue had remained unresolved.
She claimed that late Kurineriyo acquired the disputed land in 1962 and won a court case against the church prior to his death.
“When I got married to Kurineriyo, I found him battling with the Church over this same piece of land and the struggle has been on since his death,” said Kwatiraho.
The contested land measures 12.5 hectares.
Kibundugwize explained that since then she has been winning several cases against the church including her petition she filed before the Justice Bamugemreire land Commission in 2018.
However, the church refused to vacate until his death in 2001 when the church chose to evict her.
However, Rev. Fr. Lodoviko Ahimbisibwe, the Kabuyanda Catholic Parish Priest, said that the land initially belonged to residents that migrated from Kabale in 1956 who came together and offered it to the church.
Ahimbisibwe said that all the documents used by the late Kibundugwize to claim the land were fake noting that despite the court ruling Christians refused to vacate the land. “The Church was here before Kwatiraho settled in this area and there is no way he can claim ownership of this piece of land,” said Ahimbisibwe.
After listening to all the sides at Kitezi primary school, the Prime Minister Robinah Nabbanja directed the Ministry of Lands Housing and Urban Development through the Uganda Land Commission to use the land fund to compensate the old woman so that the Church and other bonafide occupants can remain and develop the land.
Nabbanja, on invitation of the area MPs rushed to Isingiro District to resolve a longstanding land Conflict.
“I have listened to both sides and given that the church has already developed the area with all these people, as government, we shall pay off the family so that the Church can develop the land and other people settled there. This is the strength of the NRM government,” said Nabbanja.
In their petition to the Prime Minister, Leaders said the conflict had caused loss of lives and property and turned into a serious security threat.
In the company of officials from Ministry of Lands Housing and Urban Development, Nabbanja advised that the line Ministry using the Land fund should compensate Kwatiraaho and leave the church and community to settle peacefully.
Baker Mugaino, a Commissioner in the Ministry of Lands, Housing and Urban Development, said the land Act of 1995 gives priority to the first occupant of the land.
Basing on the land Act 1995 and the Registration of Land Titles Ordinance to settle the dispute, Nabbanja directed the Ministry of Lands to buy the disputed land from Kwatiraho and give full ownership to Kitezi Catholic Church.
She directed the Ministry to use the Chief Government Valuer to value the land and give Kwatiraho money to buy another piece of land.
She called upon courts of law to always inspect land under contention before passing any verdict.
“We respect courts in the Uganda but there is need to always visit the locus before making any verdict,” said Nabbanja.
Both parties welcomed the decision made by the Premier over the 12.5 hectares of contested land.
“This is what I have been longing for all these years, thank you so much Prime Minister for making such a wise decision and I fully accept it,” said Kwatiraho.
The Christians could not hide their excitement upon the pronouncement by the Prime Minister and took to the floor to dance ekitagururo.
In her remarks, Nabbanja called upon Ugandans to demarcate their land and register it as one way of reducing on land conflicts that are rampant in the country. End