Man 80, decries use of ‘court machinations’ to steal house he’s lived in for 50 years.

  • Updated by Faith Barbara Namagembe at 1239 EAT on Friday 10th June 2022.
Samuel Muleme

Samuel Muleme

On May 21, court bailiffs with protection from the Uganda Police Force surrounded the home of Samuel Muleme, 80, at Old Kampala near the Uganda Muslim Supreme Council headquarters and threw him out of a house that he and his wife Esther Kiyingi, 80, have occupied for 51 years. The bailiffs were acting on a court order issued in the interest of the Departed Asians Property Custodian Board. The Board had in December 2020 been a beneficiary of a suit they were never a party to after High court judge Jesse Byaruhanga Rugyema delivered a verdict on a suit between Esther Kiyingi, the registered owner of the home, and three other claimants. In his judgment, justice Byaruhanga noted that none of the claimants had a legal claim to the house, a judgment Muleme vehemently contests.     


Muleme narrates that in 1971 while working as an officer in Greenlease Ottoman Branch bank, he was asked to stay at the bank for at least 10 years. In exchange, the bank would help him acquire a house through a mortgage. The bank manager helped him to identify a house in Old Kampala that was going for Shs 100,000 in 1971.

The house belonged to three Indian brothers namely Habib Rhemu, Shahbudin Habib, and Sadrudin Jetha. After negotiations, the parties settled for Shs 70,000. Muleme says that he had Shs 5,000 on his account and at his level, the bank was only able to advance him Shs 50,000.

The three brothers agreed to a down payment of Shs 55,000 with an understanding that Muleme would pay the balance in a period of one year. Muleme says it would be after the full payment that the brothers would give up full occupancy of the mission.

But as fate would have it, in 1972 President Idi Amin, who had just deposed the government of Milton Obote, told the country about a dream he had had of expelling all Asians from Uganda within three months.

“When they were going, they came to me and asked for their balance but I didn’t have the money at that time. So, they left without finalizing the transaction. When I got the money, I went to their lawyers to pay but they had also left. Later, I went to the Custodian Board and I told them about my issue, I was told to pay the balance of Shs 15,000 and I was issued a certificate of title to my house in 1976,” Muleme said.

He later changed its registration to the name of his wife, Esther Kiyingi. And since then, they had lived in peace until one day in 2002 when Muhammad Allibhai showed up at their house waving what he called powers of attorney given to him by the administrators of the three, now deceased brothers who sold Muleme the house.

That was the beginning of the legal challenges, which have dragged on for now 20 years. In the push for Allibhai, who recently the parliament’s accounts committee (PAC) discovered owned more than 300 properties that belonged to the departed Asians. It was discovered that indeed he had no legitimate powers of attorney from the said former owners.

But before that, the state minister for Finance then, Basoga Nsadhu had actually written to Allibhai stating that Muleme’s property was never part of those managed by the Custodian Board because it was sold way before the Asians had been expelled from the country. In his July 25, 1996 letter, Nsadhu said the only claim that any beneficiary of the estate of the three brothers would have was in the balance of Shs 15,000 that was paid to the Custodian Board.

“You are entitled to claim your balance of the purchase price of Shs 15,000. At the 1972 exchange rate of  Shs 7 per dollar, this was equivalent to $2,142 at the current rate of Shs 1,000 per dollar. This is equivalent to Shs 2,142,000. By copy of this letter, the Custodian Board is instructed to pay you Shs 2,142,000 which is the balance of your purchase price. The current registered proprietor Esther Kiyingi is entitled to retain the property since the legal transaction of the sale was effected prior to the Asian’s expulsion,” Nsadhu’s letter reads in part.  

But this position by the minister didn’t stop Allibhai from continuing to pursue the matter. In fact, according to court documents, Allibhai succeeded in causing a fraudulent cancellation of Kiyingi’s name from the leasehold register of the house by the commissioner Land Registration. But before Allibhai could have full custody of the house, another group of claimants also showed up claiming to be the rightful heirs to the deceased Indian brothers.  

However, court also discovered that the three new claimants; Louis Bachu, Anwar Najibu, and Adam Shabdin were fraudsters who were never children of the three brothers and therefore, had no interest in the property. But Muleme says he was stunned that the judge then also found him to have forged the purchase agreement. The judge based his ruling on a handwriting expert who said that the said signatures of the three brothers were a forgery.

“The counter claimant Easter Kiyingi and her husband Muleme Samuel acquired the suit property fraudulently and they are therefore not entitled to any of their sought reliefs in the claim. Their claim is therefore accordingly dismissed. In view of the fact that none of the parties have been found to have interest in the suit property, the property is declared departed Asian abandoned property…The suit property is an abandoned property reverted to Departed Asians Property Custodian Board for management under the Expropriation Laws and Regulations. The deputy registrar of this court is directed to immediately serve this judgment upon the executive director of Departed Asians Property Custodian Board, the entity in charge of the properties that belonged to departed Asians for execution by way of demand for vacant possession or eviction of the unlawful occupants of the suit property,” Byaruhanga’s ruling reads in part.

Muleme says they were taken aback by the court ruling, which they immediately appealed.

“We were taken aback by the ruling of the court which took the house back to the Custodian Board. We went to the Court of Appeal to complain about the delay in the hearing of our case but we were told that the court is still handling election petitions so we should wait until June. So, we were surprised to see an eviction order before our appeal could even be determined,” Muleme says.

Even in the Court of Appeal, they ran into a brick wall after the court held that the attorney general can’t be a respondent in the appeal because he was never a party to the original suit. Paul Muleme, one of the children of the Mulemes told us in an interview that the court told them that their appeal should be against the original defendants yet they had also lost in the same case.

“The Custodian Board is the one now trying to evict us claiming that they have given a lease to another person. We wonder how they take such a decision before even our matter is settled. I think there are people hiding behind the Custodian Board who want to steal our house,” the young Muleme said.

He added that even though they have spent 20 years in court trying to defend their rights, they are not going to be deterred by what he calls machinations from government officials to try and dispose of them.

“Who said weak people are not supposed to own property in Kampala? We have been here legally for 50 years and we have actually tried to develop this area to suit the status of the people. Not everyone in Kampala should have a skyscraper. Even State House at Nakasero is not flat. Therefore, nobody should try to take away our property under the guise of development simply because they have money whose source is even questionable” Muleme said.

Last week, the family obtained an injunction stopping the eviction and with the help of the minister of Kampala Minsa Kabanda, the family was reinstated in the house as they wait for the court to determine the issue. Efforts to speak to the executive secretary of the Custodian Board were futile as he didn’t pick up nor return calls to his known telephone number.  


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