Truths and Myths on Land Rights: Land Actors Shine a Torch on the Law in 4th Land Awareness Week

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By Matilda Nakawungu

A gem with an ever rising value, land has for the longest time been one of the most contentious issues in Uganda. A source of livelihood for the most and a central piece to the identity of every Ugandan, land is a basic necessity that ought to be protected and preserved for both the current and future generations to come.

It thus breaks any heart to see that with all the laws and policies the country has enacted to protect the land rights of the people, land rights violations continue to sweep across the country in magnitudes unseen before. Unsettled by this growing threat to the livelihoods of many especially the vulnerable, land actors in Uganda have for the last three years held an annual national campaign to build awareness on the rights of Ugandans particularly their land and property rights, and what the law provides for in regard to the protection of these rights.

This week, from the 3rd to the 7th of August, FRA is in the West Nile Sub-region of Uganda with the Ministry of Lands Housing and Urban Development, PELUM Uganda, Action Aid Uganda, ESAFF Uganda, COPACSO, Oxfam and LANDNET among other civil society organisations holding the 4th Annual Land Awareness Week (LAW 2020). Leaning on the country’s development agenda, the region-wide event happening across the six districts of Nebbi, Arua, Pakwach, Zombo, Madi Okolo and Adjumani is being held under the theme “Secure Land Rights for Socioeconomic Transformation”.

This year’s LAW is being held with the key objective of strengthening the capacity of communities, vulnerable groups, formal and customary land governance structures; and grassroots organizations to effectively engage in their land governance, management and administration at local and national levels. Capacity building is being done across the six districts through community dialogues, legal aid clinics, radio talk shows and information material dissemination on land laws, rights and obligations.

Just a few days into the #LAW2020 and the land issues land actors are coming face to face with are already staggering. In the 20 dialogues held with communities across the six districts in the past three days between 3rd and 5th August, pertinent issues have continued to emerge. While many are heart wrenching from the injustice that has fueled them, a number of them simply stand out from this tale of woe.

One case in particular is the longstanding land conflict between the two communities of Abuja and Pakic – both residents of Angol Parish in Atyak Sub-county. On May 10th 2020, the two communities took up bows and arrows against each other, a battle that left in its wake tens of people injured, others displaced and homesteads razed to the ground in fires. Five months later, this conflict is still yet to be fully resolved. Perceiving the situation to be beyond their control, the Local Council is now appealing for an army detach to be set up on the land to keep the peace in this area.

Similar to these have been the stories that evidence a tragic lack of knowledge on the protection the laws of Uganda provide to all its people particularly the vulnerable in regard to land ownership and access. In the dialogues held, we have encountered the popular beliefs that any child born out of wedlock has no right to inherit land, widows have no land ownership rights in their marital homes, widows are a property that can be inherited along with the rest of their late husband’s property and the girl child cannot inherit land especially once she has been married off. These are only a tip of the proverbial iceberg of the land issues we are unearthing in the#LAW2020.

Over the course of the next few days, the land actors teams composed of lawyers, MoLHUD officials, Local Government officials and civil society actors will continue to engage with communities in the six districts, providing amicable alternative dispute resolution through legal clinics, referrals and access to the MOLHUD Land Information System (LIS) where titled land owners can verify their land registration details.

To build on the awareness drive, daily radio talk shows on key pertinent land issues among communities are being aired in the different districts hosting representatives from the local governments, lawyers and CSO actors. Thursday 6th August will also see community members from West Nile take part in the re-known NTV People’s Parliament debating on the different land related issues that are affecting them.

This and much more is happening in this year’s LAW2020 across the West Nile region and all over the country! Follow the campaign and join the conversation on the Twitter hashtag #LAW2020