The Accused Deserve Fair Hearing at the Bamugemereire Commission

Gerald Baganzi

I am closely following the debate on how the ‘Land Commission of inquiry’ is conducting its business. While some are happy that the high and mighty are being grilled in the Justice Catherine Bamugemereire style, others are outraged that people who appear are not treated in a befitting, courteous manner. Here is my take.

We in Uganda almost unanimously agree that what we are dealing with is not a normal situation. Why should we then expect normalcy in an abnormal situation? Aren’t these double standards? Expecting people to behave normally in an abnormal situation? Anyone who has followed the proceedings of that inquiry knows the extent of impunity that has gone on in this Republic.

The revelations we have heard have not been known before on this side of the equator or on the other. Chunks of public land shared or sold by or at the watch of government officials. Hundreds of square miles. Hundreds of poor people dispossessed of land and evicted by the ‘abanene mu gavumenti’ as people call them these days.

Land bonanzas of shocking proportions. Land belonging to public schools, forestry, Lake Victoria, UPDF, swamps, etc just distributed by and amongst the few.

The Commission was told how a private citizen sold forestry land at 9bn shillings with the knowledge of National Forestry Authority (NFA) a body charged with protecting forests. (None of the parties involved denied the transaction but tried to justify it).

A minister allegedly grabbed over 650 acres of land in Buikwe district and displaced hundreds of households. He ordered for the arrest and indefinite detention of many people including an L.C.1 leader who tried to stand in his way.

Over 2000 acres of land belonging to Mubuku irrigation scheme in Kasese have since been grabbed and transferred into names of private individuals. Kilembe mines land has not been spared. A prominent pastor allegedly fraudulently acquired part of his over 40 square miles of land off the shores of Lake Victoria.

And a young man, a district surveyor bought government land at 70,000 and sold it back to government for over 1.7bn shs. And have you seen some of these officials? They appear and start playing ping-pong games. Impunity all over them. The ‘what can you do?’ attitude being apparent and all over.

With this in mind, I am 100% for the right to a fair hearing before an independent and impartial tribunal. People who appear before the Commission must also be presumed innocent until a finding to the contrary is made by a competent court.

Therefore, although the Commissioners should avoid descending into the arena and overstretching their mandate, they must be allowed the latitude to express disgust and outrage at some of these officials. As long as they express this disgust at anyone regardless of where they come from or what role they played in the bush war. Otherwise, anyone who interacts with the impunity with which public affairs are conducted in this Republic would have to restrain themselves so much for them to act normally in a purely abnormal situation.

Gerald Baganzi is a lawyer, political and youth human rights activist

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