Uganda’s Bunyoro-Kitara Kingdom is making a fresh push for compensation for land stolen from it — and abuses against its people — from the United Kingdom amid claims that a £700 million ($1 billion) payout was made, but never reached the claimants.
Representatives of the western Ugandan kingdom have instructed an England-based law firm, Cameron Clarke, to sue the UK for invasion, atrocious human-rights abuses and grabbing of their land in the colonial era.
An earlier bid for compensation had been made in 2001, through a notice of intention to sue, but was not pursued to conclusion.
The new intention to sue notice, drawn on November 1, 2012, which The EastAfrican has obtained, states that during the Commonwealth Heads of Governments Meeting held in Kampala in 2007, the UK government offered to settle out of court and paid £700 million through the Government of Uganda, but Banyoro did not receive the money.
One of the plaintiffs in the case, Dodoviko Batwale, told The EastAfrican that President Yoweri Museveni had confirmed this to them [group of elders].
“President Museveni met us twice. In the second meeting on June 16, 2009, in State House, Entebbe, he informed us that £700 million had been received from the government of Her Majesty the Queen of England as an out-of-court settlement over our claims.”
He adds that the president had at the time told the group of elders that he had only forgotten to give directions to the Ministry of Finance to release Bunyoro’s compensation from the Treasury.
Speaking off the record, a senior MP and Cabinet minister from Bunyoro also confirmed these meetings, but said “the issue of this money is a delicate matter” and that despite several reminders to the president, the money had not reached the Banyoro.
However, presidential press secretary Tamale Mirundi dismissed the claims: “I attended the meetings between President Museveni and the Queen of England and there was no agreement or specific amount of money given to Museveni. So it is not true that money was paid and diverted.”
What was agreed upon, Mr Mirundi said, was that if there were any assistance from Britain, it would be channelled through the bilateral arrangement. “Museveni cannot sit on somebody’s money. These are rumours circulated by the opposition bent on inciting the public.”
In fresh instructions to their lawyers, the claimants say the Banyoro would like to distance themselves from this issue because, assuming the payout was made, they were not consulted as claimants or potential litigants nor did they accept the settlement or appoint anyone to accept settlement on their behalf.
The Banyoro also want the nullification of the Uganda Agreement, 1900, which effectively denied them rights over their own land.
They are also demanding reparations for human-rights abuses, loss of lands, decimation of their peoples, persecution by the British colonial administration during their colonial rule, and continued suffering to date.
Bunyoro-Kitara’s solicitors are now trying to ascertain precisely what stage the matter has got to with Her Majesty’s Government and what actually transpired between the governments of Great Britain and Uganda.
The solicitors wrote to the UK government (on January 3 and 17 this year) requesting further information and placing themselves on record.
“I cannot share the contents of the letters as they are potentially matters that will end up in front of a court of law,” Bunyoro-Kitara’s lawyer, Frank Okello Abe told The EastAfrican.
The British government has denied responsibility for the atrocities its colonial officers committed in Uganda.
British Foreign Secretary William Hague wrote in a letter to the claimants, dated October 29, 2012, that: “All liabilities and obligations relating to the colonial administration passed to the Ugandan government at Independence. We have in the past asked that the government of Uganda speaks directly with Your Majesty [King Solomon Gafabusa Iguru I] to address any concerns.”
According to Mr Hague, Britain has a strong development partnership with Uganda, and UK development assistance to Uganda has increased from £63.5 million ($97 million) in 2007 to a commitment to provide £356 million ($540 million) between 2011 and 2015.
“This support is targeted in key areas such as growth, basic services, governance and security, humanitarian assistance, and climate change, Mr Hague said.
The Banyoro have indicated that they are willing to meet with the defendants if they agree to make a substantial, and viable proposal to repay the “century-old debt owed to Bunyoro-Kitara.”
“We are willing to negotiate for an out-of-court settlement provided Britain shows interest,” Batwale said.