Uganda: Land Grabbers Target Cemeteries
Land grabbers in Masaka municipal council are changing tact to beat a sustained crackdown, by switching from encroaching on traditional plots of land to cemeteries.
Early last week, unknown people invaded plot 26/26 on Bwala hill road in Masaka and exhumed over 15 bodies of World War veterans, which they took to an unknown destination. This is the second cemetery to be exhumed in Masaka municipality in less than one year. The first was Masaka regional referral hospital at Kijjabwemi along Kyakumpi road.
Masaka mayor Godfrey Kayemba-Afaayo suspected land grabbing, which is rampant in the municipality, or the increasing spate of witchcraft.
“That plot belongs to Masaka municipal council and we have never sold it to anybody. If anyone claims to own that land then he or she is mistaken and I challenge that person to present his papers to prove ownership,” said Kayemba-Afaayo, in an interview with The Observer.
The Bwala Hill road cemetery contains the remains of some of the Europeans killed during the first and second world wars, whose bodies were not taken to their countries of origin. The exhumations have rattled both the Masaka municipality officials and officials from the Commonwealth War Grave Commission, who drove all the way from Kenya to Masaka to study the matter.
The four-man team, led by Rod Carkett, the East African regional manager for the Commonwealth War Grave Commission, inspected the said plots and established that the graves were dismantled and banana stems were planted in each of them.
“But we are not sure whether the remains were taken away, so we have to verify by digging the graves again and find out what exactly is in side there,” Kayemba-Afaayo told Carkett and his team, in his office.
“I have reliably learnt that whoever dismantled those graves in the wee hours of the morning used phone torches and he was in the company of armed men,” he said.
Kayemba-Afaayo insisted that apart from attempting to grab government land, it was also wrong to disturb the peace of the dead. The law demands that anyone seeking to exhume a body secures a court order, after preparing another burial site for those remains.
“We are seriously looking for those people and we want them charged and punished accordingly,” Kayemba-Afaayo said.
“We are fed up with such people who are painting our name black as Masaka municipal council that we are selling off cemeteries” he added.
Carkett told the mayor that his commission was responsible for keeping those graves intact and would do everything possible to ensure that the graves are rebuilt. But he wanted Masaka municipality to assure them that the exhumations would stop.