Egypt claims 2 million acres of Ugandan land By Tabu Butagira, Citizen Correspondent, Kampala

An Egyptian minister has claimed that the Ugandan government has given Cairo 2 million acres to grow wheat and corn this year although government officials say they have no knowledge of such a deal.

The Egyptian Al-Ahram Weekly newspaper on August 30 quoted Egypt�s Agriculture Minister Amin Abaza as saying, �Uganda allocated to us (Egypt) 2 million feddans of land in a number of places.�

Feddan is a measurement unit representing 1.038 acres, implying the swathe of land Uganda is reportedly offering the Egyptians is 2,076,000 acres. The Egyptian bid for over 2 million acres or 3,125sq. miles is equal to 2.2 per cent of Uganda�s total area (146,675 square miles).

It is not clear whether the land was sold or leased freely.
In his State of the Nation address in June, President Museveni, though not referring to this deal, said the government only charges rent for land or buildings at $1 (about Shs1,650), Officials of the Uganda Investment Authority (UIA) and a number of political executives say they have no knowledge of the alleged deal.

Mr Omara Atubo, the lands minister, last Thursday said getting 840,145 hectares of arable land for use by Egyptians would be impossible, and asked rather cynically, �Do we have such land in Uganda to give out?�

Dr Maggie Kigozi, the executive director of UIA, told Daily Monitor from New York yesterday that 2 million acres of land would never be sourced within Uganda for wheat growing since the crop does well mainly in highland areas yet the country has only a handful mountainous districts such as Kapchorwa, Bundibugyo and Kabale.

�UIA deals with private companies and if this arrangement is between (Uganda) government and (Egyptian) government, I have not yet been informed about it,� she said, adding, �But it is not possible to get 2 million acres of land anywhere in Uganda (for investors) � I would be challenged if directed to do so.�

However, the Al-Ahram Weekly clearly states that the land allocated to the Egyptian government is in a number of places and not necessarily in one location.

There is growing suspicion that State House could have announced the deal to a visiting delegation of Egyptians behind the back of line ministers, a common practice with President Yoweri Museveni who is enthusiastic about dishing out public land as an incentive to attract foreign investors in an effort to help create jobs.

International media Reuters reported a few months ago that Arab countries were seeking large patches of land in fertile Africa to grow food for their populations to stem the increasing food prices.

Already there are reports that a Dubai-based sheikh, among other Arab investors, has bought a large chunk of land in Mubende District for commercial agriculture.

Mr Kagimu Kiwanuka, the minister in charge of economic monitoring in the Office of the President, is also not aware of the deal and does not believe the land offer will materialise. �When we are struggling with the people of Acholi to give us a few acres of land for the Madhvani�s (Sugar Corporation of Uganda Ltd Company) for sugarcane growing and they don�t want, where is the land for the Egyptians?� he said.

Mr Moses Byaruhanga, the special presidential assistant on political affairs, said he has no information about the reported land transaction even as it emerged that a team of Egyptian specialists are due in the country to carry out soil analysis on the proposed farmland to ascertain which variety of the preferred cereals would be most suitable to plant for optimum yield.

Another group of Egyptian government officials and entrepreneurs, reported the Al-Ahram Weekly, will follow next month to negotiate final details of the agricultural scheme as they prepare to start work on the first 200,000 acres.

The deal, presumably one of the main objects of Egyptian President Hussein Mubarak�s only visit to Uganda in his 27 years of power, at the end of July, is to help increase and stabilise state-subsidised food supply to feed the Arab country�s 81 million people.

Officially, Mr Mubarak came to rally his counterpart Yoweri Museveni, as part of the wider African Union intervention to shield Sudan President Omar al-Bashir from the International Criminal Court�s indictment.

Uganda Land Commission officials said they had not been notified about the land request but said it would be �possible� to secure the vast acreage.

�If what the (Egyptian) minister (Amin Abaza) is saying is true, it means that the matter is still at a policy level,� speculated Mr Mayanja Nkangi, the commission chairman. He added, �If the government does notify the land commission, we shall be able to find land since part of our mandate is to support government policy on investment.�

Mr Nkangi said there is a lot of public land scattered in different parts of the country and the government could as well buy out and acquire individual land �in public interest� as long as the scheme brings rewards of employment, skills development and transfer of technology for commercial farming.

Mr Reda Abd el Rahman Bebars, the Egyptian ambassador, said to be the only authority allowed to comment on the matter, failed to return repeated calls in the past week and Egyptian embassy officials in Kampala yesterday bounced our reporter, claiming the ambassador was not available.

Jean-Louis Kayitenkore
Procurement Consultant
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