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UGANDA: Maj Gen Otema-Awany land grabbed 8,000 acres, evicted people

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Maj Gen Charles Otema-Awany

I didn’t evict anyone off my 8,000 acres – Maj Gen Otema-Awany

Written by ALI TWAHA, October 18, 2017 – THE OBSERVERThe army’s reserve force commander, Maj Gen Charles Otema-Awany, last week appeared before the land inquiry to answer accusations of illegal and forceful eviction of people in Acholi sub-region.

In one incident, Dr Oweka, a resident of Got Okwara in Lungulu sub-county, accused the general of malicious destruction of property and forceful eviction off his 350 acres by soldiers sent by Otema-Awany. Assistant lead counsel John Bosco Suuza led the questioning. ALI TWAHA brings you an abridged account of the proceedings:-

Suuza: Please state your name for the record.
Otema: I’m Maj Gen Charles Otema-Awany. Currently, I command the Reserve Force of the Uganda People’s Defence Force.

Suuza: How old are you?
Otema-Awany: I’m 54 years old.
Suuza: Where do you live?
Otema-Awany: In Purongo sub-county in Nwoya district.
Suuza: Are you an active member of the UPDF?
Otema-Awany: Yes, my lord.
Suuza: How long have you been performing that duty?
Otema-Awany: It’s over 30 years.
Suuza: How long have you commanded the reserve force?
Otema-Awany: As commander of the reserve force, it’s about a year now.
Suuza: When did you attain the rank of major general?
Otema-Awany: When I became the commander of the reserve force.

Suuza: At the rank of major general, you are a very senior officer of the UPDF?
Otema-Awany: Yes, my lord.
Suuza: Do you own land at Got Okwara?
Otema-Awany: Not in my name.
Suuza: But you own land there?
Otema-Awany: I had interest but I don’t own it.
Suuza: Do you still have the interest?
Otema-Awany: I pulled out because of confusion on the land.
Suuza: Can you give us the description of the land that you are interested in?
Otema-Awany: The land is located in Got Okwara in Lungulu sub-county which belongs to Mr Odong.

Suuza: Does Odong have another name?
Otema-Awany: I don’t remember the other name.
[Commission chairperson Justice Catherine] Bamugemereire: Is he a policeman by any means?
Otema-Awany: Not a policeman. It’s another Odong.
Suuza: Is it Odong or Odokoyero?
Otema-Awany: It’s Odong. For Odokoyero, I’m not interested in his land.
Suuza: Do you have interest in land described as plot 110 block 4 at Pajengo in Nwoya?
Otema-Awany: Yes, my lord.
Suuza: What kind of interest do you have?
Otema-Awany: This land was for Odokoyero Richard who applied for the title and sold his interest to me.

Suuza: How did you acquire this land?
Otema-Awany: I recall this year, around March, Mr Odong came and met my brother David. He said he lost all his property in a workshop that got burnt and he had a bank loan. So, he said he wanted to sell the land to me. I made inquiries to confirm whether the land belongs to Odong. I called the LC-III of Lungulu sub-country to confirm…

Suuza: What is his name?
Otema-Awany: I don’t remember. He is here; he will come and tell you…
Suuza: Wait a minute. This person comes to you and probably you are meeting him for the first time. How did you reach the chairman?
Otema-Awany: He gave me the [phone] number.
Suuza: Do you still have that number?
Otema-Awany: He gave it then and I made the call.
Suuza: So, what did the chairman tell you?
Otema-Awany: He told me that that land belonged to Mr Odong.

Suuza: The sub-county is a big place, why did you think the right people to inquire from are the district chairmen?
Otema-Awany: My lord, according to the land structure at the sub-county level, there is a land board where the people know who owns what. I thought it was more relevant to contact the LC-III to confirm if the land belonged to Mr Odong.
Suuza: Have you ascertained whether this land had a title or not?
Otema-Awany: I made an effort and [found out that] it was a surveyed land.
Suuza: Did that, to you, mean there is a certificate of title to that land?
Otema-Awany: He told me that he was processing but he ran out of money, otherwise he would have got the title. But at least he had all the documents and the land was surveyed.
Suuza: Did he show you copies of those documents?

Otema-Awany: He did, my lord.
Suuza: What documents did he show you?
Otema-Awany: He showed me the deed and the permission which was granted by the district that the land should be surveyed.
Suuza: Did that document mean Mr Odong had title for that land?
Otema-Awany: That document means that if you paid the premium because the land had already been surveyed, then automatically you would get the title.
Suuza: Were you not worried that since this man didn’t have the title, that another person would come and lay a claim on the same land?
Otema-Awany: I was not worried, because after that, I travelled there myself to see if there are any structures there. I didnt not find anyone on the land.
Suuza: What did you find on the ground?
Otema-Awany: I saw burnt houses…

Suuza: What did that mean to you? Could it be that there was a dispute over that land?
Otema-Awany: That did not occur to my mind.
Suuza: So, where did these arsonists come from? Were they rebels?

Otema-Awany: He has lived on that land for 10 years. That’s why I didn’t think there was any issue on that land.
Suuza: I know of land issues that have raged for 30 years…
Otema-Awany: Since I did not see any squatters there, I didn’t think of any disputes.
Suuza: So, what happened next?
Otema-Awany: We decided that I advance him some money so that he pays his loan, which I did.
Suuza: How much did you advance?
Otema-Awany: Shs 25 million.
Suuza: Did you write an agreement for that?
Otema-Awany: Not really. I knew Odong before because he did some work with me.
Suuza: So, you are happy that you advanced Shs 25 million without any single document?
Otema-Awany: Yes, my lord.

Suuza: Was that a down payment?
Otema-Awany: We were trying to reach agreement to see that if that land is there, it’s suitable for cultivation. I wanted to grow cassava in that place.
Suuza: You said you have a lot of land…
Otema-Awany: I don’t have enough, my lord. Land is never enough.
Suuza: How much land do you have?
Otema-Awany: I have about 6,000 acres.
Suuza: Just out of curiosity, how, when and where did you apply for that land?
Otema-Awany: I applied for it through Amuru land board.
Suuza: You applied for the 6,000 acres through one application?
Otema-Awany: Yes, my lord.

Suuza: How much did you pay?
Otema-Awany: I paid premium, about Shs 43 million.
Suuza: And what kind of title do you hold?
Otema-Awany: Leasehold for 49 years.
Suuza: Let us go back to the land at Got Okwara, after paying Shs 25 million what happened?
Otema-Awany: After paying, I had intention this second season [that] I send my tractors, workers and four guards to guard my materials on the land.
Suuza: As far as I understand, you have not acquired this land. You have only advanced Shs 25 million. He (Odong) has not acquired a title. On what basis are you sending equipment and guards on the land?
Otema-Awany: My lord, I send on the basis that there was no claimant on the land except Odong who has been on it for the last 10 years.

Justice Catherine Bamugemereire

Bamugemereire: Is that the land where you said you lost interest?
Otema-Awany: My lord, what happened is that there is a complaint on the border between the land of Odong and Odokoyero. I’m not interested in the land of Odokoyero. There is an issue of opening the boundaries. Right now, I’m not on that land [Odokoyero’s].

Commissioner Rose Nakayi: We are talking about land at Got Okwara, where we had the first complainant. Are you saying you completely lost interest in the land?
Otema-Awany: Until the boundary opening.
Nakayi: So, it’s not that you are not interested in the land?
Otema-Awany: The interest is there. But I realised there is a mess in the whole thing.
Suuza: Did you hear of the first complainant, Mr Oweka?
Otema-Awany: My lord, to be honest I do not know Oweka.
Bamugemereire: But did you hear…?
Otema-Awany: I heard but he even confessed that he does not know me.
Suuza: So, you are hearing of this story of Oweka [just now]?
Otema-Awany: From Oweka, I was getting calls that there were issues with the neighbours; that evictions are taking place. I have not gone there to evict anybody who is on the land. I went there knowing, I was going to occupy vacant land. So, if there are issues there, I’m not interested until the boundaries have been opened.

Suuza: As of today, you are not on the land?
Otema-Awany: Not at all.
Suuza: Have you caused any evictions?
Otema-Awany: Not even one.
Suuza: Have you caused the burning of houses?
Otema-Awany: I don’t know about that.
Suuza: According to a statement we have, you have actually deployed some people?
Otema-Awany: I did not deploy, I said, I only had four guards for my tractors…
Suuza: Have you had any transaction with Odokoyero?
Otema-Awany: I saw Odokoyero this morning, I have never met him.
Suuza: So, you have not purchased any land from him?
Otema-Awany: Not even a piece.

Bamugemereire: Could it be that one of your brothers purchased land from him and you are not aware?
Otema-Awany: My lord, Odokoyero is here, he can speak for himself.
Suuza: According to your own statement here this is what you say, “In 2013, I got interested in land on plot 110, block 4 at Pajengo in Nwoya of one Odokoyero Richard. The land was registered and I visited it and I found out that most of it was free except 100 acres…”
Otema-Awany: My lord, that is another Odokoyero.
Suuza: You mean there are two Odokoyeros?
Otema-Awany: Yes, my lord.
Bamugemereire: Do we have two Odokoyeros in this room? [The two Odokoyeros who filed complaints stood up]
Suuza: Is he among the two?
Otema-Awany: That one is another Odokoyero. I don’t think he is here.
Suuza: Now let’s take it that the land in question concerns Mr Odida Alfred. Isn’t that the land you are talking about?
Otema-Awany: The one I bought is from Odokoyero.

Suuza: How much did you pay for the land?
Otema-Awany: The one with the title, I paid Shs 250 million.

Suuza: Have there been any disputes on this land since you acquired it?
Otema-Awany: Not at all, except that there were some squatters. That’s where we went for mediation; there was a balance of Shs 50 million to pay the squatters.
Suuza: Who were the other squatters?
Otema-Awany: Mr Opogo was one of the beneficiaries. He is here. Mr Nyero is here. [But] there were issues, I told them to sit and agree because there were disagreements.

One was saying, he’s having a bigger portion and the other smaller. Mr Odida wanted to take the money alone, and not consider the squatters. I ask this commission to go back and renegotiate so that people on that land can benefit. Right now my cows are not even grazing on that land.

Suuza: You refer to these people as squatters, why?
Otema-Awany: They have no documents at all.
Bamugemereire: What documents do you have to call the others squatters?
Otema-Awany: They claim that they have interest in that piece of land. I dealt with Odokoyero who has the documents.
Suuza: So, your opinion is based on what Odokoyero told you?
Otema-Awany: They were there.
Suuza: Before you bought this land, you said you inspected it, did you sign an agreement?
Otema-Awany: I did [inspect the land], my lord.
Suuza: Did you see Odida and others live on the land?
Otema-Awany: Not at all.
Suuza: So, when did they come to occupy the land?
Otema-Awany: They were there but not on the land.

Suuza: This is your word again. But in your statement, you acknowledged that about 100 acres were occupied by them?
Otema-Awany: They were not on the land, my lord. It was for other people and they are cultivating on it.
Suuza: But you have had some sort of mediation?
Otema-Awany: On the mediation, part of the land which was not necessarily the one Odida is claiming. He can tell the truth. I paid him for 200 acres. He sold his interest to me earlier. That deal was done and he lost interest on the land.
Suuza: How much did you pay him?
Otema-Awany: I paid him Shs 20 million. The land was not surveyed, it was just there.
Suuza: Do you have a document proving that?
Otema-Awany: I will get…
Suuza: If that document is not available, do you acknowledge you will have to pay them?
Otema-Awany: I will pay them, my lord.

Suuza: Do you also ac- knowledge that they have rights?
Otema-Awany: My lord, you see the issue of land here has been politicised. And the issue that the general is holding interest in my land should be out of this completely. But again, the same land being claimed by Odokoyero, where he is holding a title, is the same land claimed by Odida Francis.
Suuza: Let’s go back to the issue of Odong, did you eventually get title for the land?
Otema-Awany: I have no idea since I pulled out.
Suuza: So, it is your evidence that nobody should have a claim against you on that land?
Otema-Awany: Nobody should, because I’m not there.
Suuza: So, what happens to the Shs 25 million [you paid]?
Otema-Awany: It’s up to him. If they survey the land and the dispute is not there anymore, then we can complete the transaction.

Suuza: Have you ever deployed UPDF soldiers on any of your lands?
Otema-Awany: In the north, we have the local defence unit and the UPDF. The LDU normally gives security to the residents. So, when I’m here, I contact the commander who provides me with the LDU, but not the UPDF.
Suuza: According to Mr Oweka, at some point you used UPDF soldiers to evict them from their home.
Otema-Awany: My lord, that is not me. I never caused any destruction at all.
Suuza: Anybody listening to you will think you are a very innocent man…
Otema-Awany: Indeed, I’m.
Suuza: That you are being accused of things you don’t know about. If that is true, why are people making accusations about you?
Otema-Awany: Well, they know themselves. They know my character and how I worked tirelessly to take them back and fight Kony. They know my level of contribution, how I’ve supported them. The issue of grabbing land is just politicised.

Suuza: Why are they politicising the issue and who are they?
Otema-Awany: I put it very clear that I did not evict anyone or take any land by force.
Suuza: How much land do you have in total as Maj Gen Otema-Awany apart from the 6, 000 acres you gave us?
Otema-Awany: My lord, I have lived a bit longer… my family are farmers and they live on the farms. Our main interest is cultivation.
Suuza: You have not answered my question. How much land do you have in this part of the country?
Otema-Awany: I have been buying from people… about 8,000 acres.
Suuza: In this day and age, is it possible that you can own 8,000 acres and you don’t have anybody laying claim on part of that land?
Otema-Awany: In the north, my lord, all my land [pieces] I purchase them, not by force. If you have money and you want land here, there are people who are selling land.

Bamugemereire: We feel that there are some issues that need to be sorted out. We want to understand what your relationship is with Odokoyero and the real issues between him and the other witnesses.

If you don’t mind, we would like to take some time and understand what issue we are dealing with here. Maybe, Maj Gen Otema-Awany before you leave, the commission would like to understand your view toward brutal and illegal evictions because those people wouldn’t come here without an issue.

Otema-Awany: I’m very happy that this commission is sitting here. It’s not acceptable [for soldiers to evict people], that is why when my name was mentioned, I ordered immediately my disinterest in that land because I’m not a party to such evictions at all. These people like Odokoyero could have done it without my knowledge.

Bamugemereire: Could they have used your name to evict these people?
Otema-Awany: They used it for themselves. That is why I said, I don’t want anyone to use my name. If that eviction at all happened, it is those that carried out the eviction [who should be blamed but] not with my instructions.

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