Investment or Land Grab Disguised?

Bulambuli Land Scape

After reading the story in Newvision paper on-line titled “Large-scale farming project takes off in Bulambuli -Publish Date: Mar 10, 2013”, I summed it up as follows:

(a). 25,000 acres of land acquired;

(b). 610 landowners to be compensated;

(c ). Project to employ about 800 people in the area.

In developed countries, this fits what investment is supposed to be for a country to develop because it has all the ingredients for a Win-Win Development Scenario.

However, in a country like Uganda, and especially Bulambuli – it could be a Loose – Win Underdevelopment Scenario. Loose for Bulambuli residents, Win for the so called Investors and Underdevelopment for Uganda as a whole.

A little background:

A little background of the people and the area is crucial to comprehending the Loose – Win Underdevelopment Scenario.

Before Bulambuli district was curved out of Sironko district a few years ago. Sironko was part of Mbale district. But before Mbale became a district, it belonged to what was called Bugisu district and in fact Mbale was just the name of the major town of Bugisu district. Bugisu is a geographical location and the inhabitants are called Bagisu (not withstanding people of other tribes who have relocated to this area and call it home).

Bagisu’s occupation of Bugisu is thought to have taken place around the 16th. Century. Bagisu are agriculturists, so they tend to remain in the same place for a very long time once they find fertile soils and good climate that supports their livelihood, unlike pastoralists who are on the move all the time.

Bugisu is the most densely populated area in the nation. Even as far back as 1990, Bugisu had 250 people per square Kilometer, while areas in the North of Uganda had as low as 16 people per square Kilometer.

Large-scale farming project:

Large – scale farming, needs a large area that is free of people. Choosing New York City or London to be your next farmland investment and relocating all the people may not be the smartest idea your Investment Consultant is going to give you for your money. So why would it be okay with going to the most densely populated area in a third world nation and uprooting people from their land on which they have been living on for many generations and taking away their only asset and livelihood without which they can’t survive? Note: The government has not even addressed relocation issues of these people at all.

25,000 acres of land acquired and 610 landowners to be compensated, and 800 jobs:

With about 250 people per square Kilometer (as far back as 1990 records), just at that rate 25,000 acres which are equivalent to 101 square Kilometers means that over 25,250 people have to relocate.

As one can see, those who are rightful beneficiaries of the land by the virtue of our customs and norms where the land is passed on to the male descendants as owners, also includes entire family who benefit equally from the crops they grow for food and for cash. 25,250 people will be affected by the loss of their 25,000 acres of land, not just 610 landowners only. Such compensation may make sense when we are talking of properties such as cars or houses in cities, but not agricultural land in rural areas such as Bugisu.

Bringing 800 jobs while thousands of women and men loose their livelihood they have depended on for their entire lives especially in agriculture is a quick way of creating hunger.

To my understanding, compensation is about $150 per acre, which boils to about $3.7 million for 25,000 acres.

Even then the money is with a lawyer. As we all know for any one claiming any of the money will need proof of documented ownership such as land title in most cases, however, this is not how it is done in family land handed down from great grand parents.

Disruption of Culture and Creating Conflicts:

Most conflicts in densely populated areas arise from land conflicts. Taking away 25,000 acres of Land by dangling cash in the faces of those males who have inherited the land without land titles in most cases, will create confusion and conflicts. Even those who relocate to other areas might not be welcome.

Accusations of Land Grab:

As far back as 2010, there has been so much confusion, conflicts and accusations of land grab in Bugisu and asking for the presidents intervention.

David Kapcherono, the chairman National Resistance Movement Kapchorwa elders league, accused Sironko and Bugisu politicians of leading the land grabbing.

Investment too Sweet for Bulambuli people’s Good?

In the end, it is clear that this was in no way a “ Willing seller – Willing buyer” business. Too sweet to be healthy.

Landa Slide BulambuliNature has its ways, just over a year ago, landslides hit Bulambuli as well as flooding from heavy rains, the people tried to recover and stay put as they have done for 500 years adjusting to nature. What has hit them now is not natural, copying and adjusting is a mystery, not knowing who to trust or turn to for help.

At first it was City Schools and now it is other people’s grand parents’ land in rural areas, next it is going to be you or your cousin.

Ugandans mobilised to save uninhabited 7,100 hectares of Mabira Central Forest Reserve from sugarcane plantation, but not 25,000 acres of Bulambuli agricultural and residential land of 25,250 Bagisu from Land Grabbers!

Global Land Grabbing II

An International Conference on Large-Scale Land Deals


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