Thieves invent new land grabbing tricks
Uganda’s population has multiplied by six times since independence in 1962 from seven million to about 42 million today.
But because the productivity of the land amounting to 199,710 sq kms (including protected areas like national parks and wetlands that are not open to lawful settlement or economic activity) has not risen faster than or even proportionately to population growth, competition for this fixed asset is growing dangerously.
Land grabbers are ever devising new techniques to dispossess people of their land. Below we update you on some of their latest tricks.
A new land stealing technique that usually targets married couples has been leaving two types of victims devastated in recent months. The fraudsters are usually get aged to elderly, not young. They identify land owned by couples, preferably Ugandans working abroad who are investing property. Then the thieves, posing as man and wife, get down to work.
They get access to the national identification particulars of the genuine owners and fraudulently assume their identities. The fraudsters then go ahead to produce high quality fake national IDs in the names of the genuine couple, complete with the correct NINs as well as fake passport copies with corresponding details.
They also make fake but perfect copies of the title for the targeted land. They then gather as much intel about the couple’s relatives and associates in Uganda, their movements and last trip home, which information they thoroughly rehearse so as to pass off as the real couple that owns the land. Then they get brokers and put the couple’s land on sale.
According to a source in police CID, the reason they target land jointly owned by a couple is to appear more convincing and put the buyers at ease. Usually an individual selling off valuable real estate would require spousal consent. So the fraudsters pose as a very ‘tight’ couple that have decided to settle/retire permanently abroad hence the decision where they have better health care and where their children have settled and so on. The asking price is slightly lower than the market price with reasons like being in a hurry to pay off a small, nice property abroad.
In a very recent swindle, the thieving couple assumed the identities of a neuro surgeon and his wife who live in the Americas and sold 20 off ‘their’ 80 acre land in Wakiso to a generally careful couple of a Uganda based engineer and his wife, who examined all angles of the deal and the documents before paying sh92million for the parcel of land. The deal was concluded when the exchange took place in the Priority Lounge of Standard Chartered Bank, Speke Road Branch.
But when the new ‘owners’ eagerly rushed to start developing their land in September, they were almost lynched by neighbours and relatives of the real owners. On reporting to police, it was found that although the buyers had done virtually all the due diligence possible, what could have let them down was possible connivance in the land office where they were shown ‘a title file’ bearing the faces of the fraudsters. After being paid, the ‘sellers’ promptly switched off their phones.
Also in Wakiso, a middle aged country lady was recently released from detention for the fourth time, where she has been languishing for a while after being accused of criminal trespass – on her own 3 acre land. A couple of months earlier, she was approached by brokers who blatantly told her to surrender two of the three acres to their client by signing a sale agreement and transfer forms that she knew nothing about.
When she objected, she was arrested by the brokers, being told she was trespassing on land that belonged to somebody else. She was shown a (fake) title deed to the effect. She believed the brokers were security officers because of the battle camouflage jacket slung on the backrest of the driver’s car and a similar cap on the dashboard.
On being released, she started looking for help and a ‘kind’ person directed her to a “State Hosue agent” who could help her. But the purported agent told her he could only help her if she gave him two of the three acres. She refused and before she could settle down, she got arrested again by the brokers who have a military jacket and cap in their car. One being released, she was still figuring out what step to take when the brokers returned and said she should surrender the ‘remaining’ one acre.
Apparently some papers she had been made to sign during her detention in a place she didn’t know on account of being taken there blind-folded, were transfers for two acres. She refused to surrender the remaining one acre and was arrested again. Coming out, she was told that even the remaining one acre where her house stood had been sold by the ‘owner’ who is “tired of her persistent trespassing”.
A rich-looking woman recently passed by and introduced herself as the new owner who wants to urgently start developing the land. The house then mysteriously caught fire and as “kind people’ helped her save her property, they transferred it to a neighbor for safekeeping. The new ‘buyer’ then took ‘vacant occupancy’ of the land.
3. Sale of institutional land:
But you don’t have to be in Diaspora or a peasant to have you land blatantly taken from you. Makerere University, where people are always fighting for their rights and privileges and which trains most of Uganda’s lawyers has watched helplessly as acres and acres of its prime plots grabbed in places like Kololo and Muyenga hills. And after the thieves sold off other parties, the top university administrators started seeking ways of reaching an understanding with the new, innocent owners of the stolen properties. Some have agreed to pay rental fees while the university has agreed to sign long-term leases with them.
4. Theft by property companies:
Between Kampala and Entebbe, a notorious ‘property agent’ with an office on the highway at Kawuku has been selling the same few plots to numerous buyers and playing them around. He has sold a few plots in Ssisa Mazzi to many people and whoever finds another buyer developing what they believe to be their plot is allocated another plot (which is also allocated to other buyers) until the complaints against the property agent overwhelmed Ssisa Police Station. When the complaints at Ssisa station piled up, and the dealer started allocating his victims plots near Nambigirwa bridge on the new Entebbe Expressway and shrewdly fills a slightly altered plot number when writing the sales agreements. The victims who failed to get attention at Ssisa where he reportedly enjoys good relations with a senior police officer took the matter to Entebbe Police station but could not be helped and moved on to KMP Katwe and finally to the CPS headquarters of the Metropolitan but to no avail.
They finally went to Professional Standards Unit to complain about the lack of progress over the obvious swindles the property agent has subjected them to – and were sent back to Ssisa!
5.Brute force upcountry:
Beyond Kampala and Wakiso however, the landgrabbers don’t ‘waste’ much time designing sophisticated tricks to deprive the victims of their land. In most cases they prefer brute force to take possession of the land and evict the bona fide occupants, sometimes killing off a few and most times causing the imprisonment of the ‘ring leaders’ who try to rally their communities to resist the grab. Over the last couple of years, Justice Catherine Bamugemereire’s land commission has been hearing hundreds of complaints by victims of land grabbers made worse by an impotent or conniving police.
While some complaints are not genuine and are just clever attempts by tricksters to recover land they already sold, these are a minority of the petitions. Some people have been accused before the Bamugemereire commission several times by land eviction victims in different parts of the country. The bottomless mess and abuse in the lands sector continues.