A revelation that government has entered a deal with India to construct a multibillion conventional centre and hotel has sparked tensions in Entebbe with residents occupying the proposed venue crying foul ahead of their imminent eviction.

Some of the more than 130 families cite a plot by powerful individuals in government and elsewhere, working under the cover of the project, to grab the prime residential and commercial land located at the heart of the serene town off the shores of Lake Victoria.

Senior government officials, including Mr Isaac Biluma Sebulime from the Foreign Affairs ministry and his counterparts from the Tourism and Local Government ministries, have since camped in the area and even interfaced with the leaders of the tenants as part of a plan to fast-track the project.

In the past two decades, several attempts by different entities including government agencies to take over the more than 16-acre prime property owned by Entebbe Municipal Council have been met with stiff resistance from the tenants. The tenants argue that they must be given the first priority, having occupied the property for more than 50 years.
The estate was constructed in the 1930s by the British colonial government to provide accommodation to Africans who were not encouraged to live near their White masters. The tenants also cite disregard for court processes by the Municipality leadership. One of the cases is in the Court of Appeal and another in the High Court in Kampala.

The project
Saturday Monitor understands that the Indian government has offered Uganda $79m or Shs290.5bn to construct a state-of-the-art Mahatma Gandhi International Convention Centre and that both the authorities at Entebbe Municipal Council and the central government have since zeroed down on the property. Construction of the centre is slated to commence in July.
Although the details of how the plan will be executed and when it will be complete remain sketchy, Mr Narendra Modi, the Prime Minister of India, is expected in the country in the same month to preside over the ground breaking ceremony.

Why Gandhi
If constructed, the convention centre will be the second major landmark in the country to commemorate the life of the man regarded as the founding father of the Indian state.

In Jinja, at the source of the Nile, there is a Gandhi statue unveiled on October 5, 1997 by India’s former Prime Minister Inder Kumar Gujral. The Indian government moved to make the grant not only in tribute to Gandhi’s more than 20 years’ work on the African continent but also the fact that a portion of his ashes were sprinkled in the Nile in 1948.

The Indian government, which will reportedly undertake direct works on the project after government hands over the land, made the offer as part of efforts to enrich Gandhi’s legacy.

Property woes
Entebbe Municipality Mayor Vincent Kayanja de Paul told Saturday Monitor that the Municipality had several plans after shelving one to sell off the land which had been initiated by the administration that was voted out in 2011. The decision to suspend the sale, he says, was premised on the fact that Entebbe Municipality did not have enough land for future developments.

A proposal for a conventional centre with a capacity to seat 5,000 people and a 150-bed hotel was mooted as one that would raise the status of the Municipality as a tourism destination. This was then pushed to the Tourism ministry. Entebbe’s location was considered when the Indian government made the offer.

Round-the-clock negotiations started in March and the government, according to Mr Kayanja, has already resolved to deal with the sitting tenants through compensation and to pay off some of the private developers. Some of the land in the area formerly owned by the municipality was controversially sold off to private developers who have since erected mansions and other developments.

“The tenants have to accept that this is Entebbe Municipal Council land and should listen and not be rigid. The vision of the municipal council is now in tandem with that of the central government,” Mr Kayanja said during an interview.

The land that remains and is currently under contention measures about 16 acres. It was bigger but some of it was sold off to private developers earlier. In the event that more land is needed, the government has, according Mr Kayanja, already committed to compensate the private developers to pave way for the project.

In the past five years, Entebbe Municipality has seen major changes and developments that have slowly woken up the once colonial administrative town. Besides the Entebbe Expressway that will soon open and ease movement between Entebbe and Kampala, two large malls and at least three hotels have opened up in the town that recently moved to petition parliament to grant it city status.

“We need to make Entebbe a tourism town and if you do that, you will have added a lot on the economy of Entebbe. We lack many amenities expected of us and this would be a step forward. Our generation found these quarters and we should leave something for the next generation. We need to think big and not just for our immediate families and welfare but the greater good for the country and community,” Mr Kayanja said.

Recently, there were reports that the United Nations wanted to move its base near Entebbe Airport to another town or city outside Uganda.
Mayor Kayanja says those arguing for the removal of the base, a major revenue source for the area, cite the lack of adequate facilities such as a convention centre, recreational facilities, an international hospital among other things ideally expected to be in the area.
Sources told Saturday Monitor that Mr Museveni has already directed the Lands ministry to compensate the sitting tenants and also compensate the private developers accordingly.

Meetings between government officials (foreign affairs, tourism and land ministries), local leaders and the representatives of the affected tenants have been on for the past at least three weeks. A meeting between the same officials and the tenants has been scheduled for next week.

“I appeal to sitting tenants to drop the idea that we are going to sell to them. They should accept that this land belongs to all the people of Entebbe and now that the Central government is involved, we must position the country accordingly,” he said.

More queries
The amount quoted and size of land needed have also raised eyebrows, with some observers saying the money reportedly offered by the Indian government is too little for the proposed project and could therefore be a cover for another scheme. Others claim the land available is too small for the ambitious project.

Take the Kigali Convention Centre in Rwanda, for instance, which was unveiled in 2016 at a cost of $300m (Shs1.1trillion). The facility has a five-star hotel with 292 rooms on six floors, a conference centre with seating capacity of 2,600, an IT Park and a museum on the bottom floor. The facility sits on 34 acres.

One of the affected residents, Mr Henry Oketch, in an interview with this newspaper accused the government and the municipality of being unfair. He said the tenants are not opposed to development of the land but the manner in which it is being mooted and have resolved to put up a fight.
“We have left everything to our lawyer Alaka [Caleb]. He will be the one to negotiate with them,” he said.

The area
Manyago Housing Estate is one of the three housing estates owned by Entebbe Municipal Council. It is located in Entebbe Municipality on the lower side of the major highway. There are 136 housing units in Manyago, most of them being single room and two-bedroom units.

This accounts for 5 per cent of the total population of Katabi Ward under which Manyago Housing Estate lies. The Estate houses 133 families with all houses constructed of burnt clay bricks and roofed with tiles.

The old town housing structures, despite functional planning, have deteriorating and decaying infrastructure as well as dilapidated buildings. The housing estate in the old town has not experienced new developments over the last few decades. Although the land is well planned and serviced, the structures are old and poorly maintained and the environmental conditions are worsening.

In other areas, buildings have become functionally obsolete and demonstrate wasteful land utilisation. The spatial structure of housing in the estate has evolved from racial based differentiation to zoning based on socio-economic status.

Development control is in existence and housing development takes cognizance of required standards. Similarly, these areas are served with physical infrastructure and services.

The nature of shelter in this area is in two categories; permanent and temporary structures with rooms ranging from three to four per structure and households ranging from four to seven members. The types of units include independent houses and tenement houses shared by different families but under one roof and sharing facilities like the verandah, water taps and courtyards.

- Entebbe Municipality Council