There was drama on Monday when dozens of angry people in Kiruhuura district stormed a police station, forcing cops to release a man who uprooted a fence erected by President Museveni’s son-in-law, Odrek Rwabwogo.
Sam Titwe Rugabo was arrested on Monday and detained at Kiruhuura district headquarters on charges of malicious damage and trespass.
This was after Rwabwogo complained that Rugabo and others were spreading lies on social media about the access road he bought and fenced off.
“It was fire in Kiruhuura,” said Erias Tumwiine, a resident of Mugore where the land dispute has been raging for the last three months.
“An entire village trekked to get Rugabo out of jail. To us, he is a village hero who rescued many of us by removing the fence used to close access roads to our homes,” added Tumwiine.
It all started late last year with the area church writing to Rwabwogo, saying he had encroached on church land.
Rwabwogo was told that people were very bitter after he closed off the access routes to their residences.
Rwabwogo said on receiving communication from church, he arranged to meet the clergy and informed them that he obtained the access road lawfully.
He said he wanted to increase the size of his family land after completing his studies in 1997.
“I got all the signatures after paying for the land which I surveyed and acquired in daylight. I have been developing this land for many years without hearing any complaint,” said Rwabwogo in response to the accusations.
On denying the community an access road, Rwabwogo said he bought land from a one Byabazire to connect to his home.
However, Rugabo says he decided to take matters in his own hands to rescue a community suffering at the hands of Rwabwogo.
“People have been coming to my gate, asking, ‘how do we access you?’ It was too much. It was as if we were in a prison. So I picked my Panga and rod and uprooted the fence before throwing away this heap of rubbish. When you hear people talking of malicious damage, you would think I destroyed something serious. It is just a few pieces of wood joined together with nails, barbed wire and a chain,” charged Rugabo.
“We just couldn’t breathe. You just can’t suffocate people. I am a mid-level farmer. I have capacity to produce a pickup of bananas. Where do I pass? I am forced to sell in small bits. For milk, I can’t negotiate with a dealer to drive here and pick it. There is nowhere to pass,” he added.
Rugabo’s action attracted mixed reactions with many in support and others saying he should have reported the issue to the area Local Council 1 chairman.
In response, Rugabo observed: “That I should report to the LC 1 chairman? What would he do? Does the chairman even know how Rwabwogo looks like? Would the chairman summon Rwabwogo to his office? Would Rwabwogo even pick the chairman’s calls?”
Observers say the land dispute has since generated considerable interest considering that Rwabwogo is a member of the First Family.
President Museveni intends to ride on the card of fighting land evictions in his 2021 presidential campaign.
He has strongly spoken against evicting local bibanja holders by landlords, promising to provide maximum protection to troubled peasants.
It remains to be seem if Museveni will intervene in the land dispute in his home area.
One of Rwabwogo’s neighbours said the community is prepared “to fight to the last man for our access road and if they want they can open more jails to accommodate all of us.”
He said he was arrested by soldiers for “trespass yet this has been our common access road since time immemorial.”
Rwabwogo recently partnered with Israelites to open a milk processing factory to churn out 100,000 litres of milk products using quality technology to ensure best dairy products that will include different flavours like yoghurt and UHT milk, among others, targeting the local and regional markets.
But one of Rwabwogo’s neighbour says the factory picks their milk at giveaway prices.
“I hear Rwabwogo said he created market for our milk. But we used to sell milk at higher prices. The prices have since collapsed because agents who would pick our milk at good rates were kicked out of the market. We should be happy with Rwabwogo that we grew up with him and he is getting us opportunities but this is not the case. We will not support People Power of Bobi Wine but acts of NRM leaders are forcing us out of the party,” the neighbour added.
Rwabwogo has since maintained the land belongs to him, dismissing claims of encroachment as a smear campaign.
He says he is committed to developing the area and consolidating its heritage.