Businessman and former Bukoto South legislator, Hajj Muhammad Muyanja Mbabaali insists he is still the registered owner of Lake Birinzi, a public natural resource located in Bukakkata Sub County, Masaka District.
In 2019, the Masaka District leadership had promised to push for cancellation of Mbabaali’s land title and many others located in wetlands and crucial water catchment areas.
But in an interview on August 14, Hajj Mbabaali told this publication that his land title is still intact and he will therefore not relinquish his interest in the lake.
“I legally acquired that land [occupying Lake Birinzi] using my money and this makes me the rightful owner. I don’t have any plan of selling it off,‘’ Mr Mbabaali said in a telephone interview.
Lake Birinzi is one of the satellite lakes of Lake Victoria, only separated by a sand bar.
According to documents at Masaka Lands Zonal Offices, Hajj Mbabaali owns 640 acres of land, which constitutes Lake Birinzi. The former legislator insists he legally acquired the land around the lake in 1998 before it was gazetted.
“Even though I have taken a long time to redevelop the site, it remains mine, there is hidden wealth in the lake which I will exploit in the near future.’’ he added without elaborating what exactly is beneath the lake.
Ms Juliet Najjuma, the secretary of Masaka District Land board, said she was not sure whether Mbabaali’s land title for lake Birinzi is genuine.
“I need time to peruse through our files and see the current status of land around Lake Birinzi, what I know an individual cannot own a lake because it is a public asset, the title he claims to own could be fake,” she said.
When we visited the lake, residents were freely accessing the water mass unlike before when access was restricted.
“We have not heard from him [Hajj Mbabaali] ever since he tried to block residents from accessing the lake, residents can now easily fetch water which was not the case before,” Mr Buyondo said.
Mr Achilles Byaruhanga, the executive director Nature Uganda advised Hajj Mbabaali to back off the lake and invest his money elsewhere.
“Lake Birinzi is a very important part of the Nabugabo ecosystem which is a Ramsar Site, a wetland of international importance. In addition, the laws of Uganda clearly indicate that all lakes and rivers, are held in trust for all Ugandans, no one can own a lake,” he said.
In a previous interview with this publication, Hajj Mbabaali had hinted on a plan to set up an ice processing plant, fish farm, hotel and beach on the disputed lake.
He said then that if the government wanted to reclaim the lake, he had to be compensated.
He, however, declined to reveal how he acquired the land and how much money he needs as compensation. According to Hajj Mbabaali, by the time he bought the land, lake Birinzi was a small water body and it just kept expanding due to rising water levels that eat up part of the dry land.
Lake Birinzi is part of the Nabugabo wetland system, which covers about 22,000 hectares, a catchment area which connects several rivers and wetlands in Masaka, Kalungu and Mpigi districts hence directly draining into Lake Victoria.
Besides Lake Birinzi water system, various wetlands in greater Masaka are facing a serious challenge as different private developers have acquired land titles in these wetlands and lakeshores and many tropical rain forests have been greatly depleted.
For example, Pastor Samuel Kakande of the Synagogue Church of All Nations, acquired more than 40 square miles off the shores of Lake Victoria in Bukakkata Sub County, part of which has wetlands and forests that have been greatly depleted.
In the heart of Masaka City some wealthy private developers filled soil in Nakayiba wetland, and some have already started erecting structures in the area.