Women small scale farmers, youths and the Batwa communities asked government through the Ministry of Lands, Housing and Urban Development (MLHUD), Forestry Department, Water & Environment and Local Governments to make awareness and access to land and other natural resources like forests and wetlands inclusive. This was during the 6th Land Awareness Week (LAW) held from 22nd to 26th of August 2022 in Kigezi sub region of Kisoro, Rubanda, Kabale and Rukiga in western Uganda organized by ESAFF Uganda, MLHUD and other land actors under the theme “Promoting Land Rights for Inclusive and Sustainable Development”. They say this has paved way for their rights on land and other natural resources violated by their spouses, land grabbers and government departments.
Recalling that ownership, control, access and use of land and other natural resources in Uganda is guaranteed in both statutory and customary laws as stipulated in Article 237 and Article 26 of the 1995 Uganda Constitution, Registration of Titles Act CAP.230, the Land Act CAP. 227, National Land Policy 2013, the National Land Use Policy 2006, the National Environment Management Policy 1994, Uganda Wildlife Policy 2014, and the Uganda Forestry Policy 2001
During the awareness week, ESAFF Uganda organized eight (8) community awareness and sensitization dialogues parallel with mobile legal aid clinics in Buwanza, Nyarusiza, Nyakabande, Kanabe sub counties and Kisoro Municipal in close collaboration with the Ministry of lands, housing and urban development and local government of Kisoro district. Further, ESAFF Uganda conducted four (4) radio talk shows on Kisoro FM 91.1 from Monday 22nd to Thursday 24th of August.
During the different land awareness events held, ESAFF Uganda and other land actors noted unlawful eviction of the Batwa people from their ancestral lands. The measures taken to remove the Batwa, to create ‘environmentally protected’ areas, and to limit access and use of Bwindi, Mgahinga and Echuya forest, resulted in the violation of the Batwa’s property rights over their ancestral lands. Evictions were held in disregard of Article 26, consultation, adequate compensation or offer of alternative land. As a result, Kafukuzi Vallance, a mutwa from Kanabe Sub County stated that “We have seen our culture, traditions, beliefs and wealth swept away, we have become squatters on peoples’ lands and now experiencing severe poverty, malnutrition and health problems as well as subjected high levels of discrimination”. The communities called on Government to intervene and fast track the implementation of the High Court pronouncements and ruling in the case of the Batwa as well as facilitating the organization of the Batwa communities into legal entities that can own land.
Using Land Awareness Week as a platform to raise their voices, women small-scale farmers expressed concerns about gender discrimination in land ownership, succession, and inheritance. It was also evident that it is the customs of the Bakiga community that the women do not own land. In some communities, women are termed as property that cannot own property. As a matter of fact, the women in these communities were afraid of acquiring land in their own name as the same may result into divorce, domestic violence and death some times. Because of the cultural belief that women do not own land, there is widespread sale of family land by men especially non Ugandans especially Rwandese among other foreigners without the consent of their wives. The women are not allowed to take decision regarding any land transaction. Land that is jointly purchased and owned by a woman and her husband is considered a sole property of the man and he can do whatever he wants with the property. This is contributing to domestic violence and food insecurity amongst households. Ms. Lydia Mugisha, ESAFF Kisoro district farmer leader called the ministry of Lands and other land actors to intensify massive awareness on Land, property and inheritance rights of women in the Kigezi region and Uganda as a whole”
Aware that family farmers and other small scale farmers derive their livelihoods on land, the 8 community dialogues and mobile legal aid clinics conducted in Kisoro and others by the land actors across the four (4) districts in over 12 Sub Counties revealed that there are looming evictions from low lands and wetlands in the region. Residents facing eminent evictions are from Nyakabande and Kanaba sub counties best known for growing Onions, Irish potatoes, Beans, Irish Potatoes, Maize and Beans. The residents are also heavily dependent on the wetlands to grow Sweet potatoes, yams, Vegetables, Sorghum and tea. Some of the wetlands that are experiencing serious human activity include Rugege and Gitundwe in Nyakabande as well as Sereri, Karwa- Chajenje, Kirumbi, Lake Chahafi and Kayumbu in Kanaba. “Wetland use for cultivation has been a major source of livelihoods especially for small households in Kisoro that do not own land, families cultivate food for both home and market and anyone who threatens this source of livelihood, threatens their way of life”. Nyakabande LC III chairperson, Ntawera Funi said.
It was also noted that the lands in the Kigezi region are mostly customary land which are being governed in accordance with the norms and practices of the community hence most of the lands are not registered. The communities are afraid to register their land due to the bureaucracy and cost involved in the land registration processes while others reported lack of information on land registration processes. This situation risks the communities for increasing land conflicts in the region. The land awareness week further learnt that those with certificates of customary ownership (CCOs), banks are not allowing the use of the certificates as a comprehensive document on land during acquisition of loans. This act by the banks is discouraging some of the community members from acquiring and disregarding CCOs.
To sustain communication and discussions between land actors and the affected communities, ESAFF Uganda in partnership with Oxfam in Uganda developed and launched the Land Rights Support Centre. The birth of the centre was from a huge gap in peoples’ access to land rights information and legal guidance as well as lack of sustained communications between the communities and land actors. The platform is supporting affected land users to access critical land rights information and legal guidance directly from our revered legal aid team by just a text or voice note through 0776892211.
ESAFF Uganda committed working closely with Government through the MLHUD in partnership with other land actors to intensify massive awareness on Land, property and inheritance rights of women and the process of land registration especially the customary land. ESAFF Uganda will continue working towards simplifying and translating land policies and regulations to local languages of her member districts that can be easily understood by the rural people. Further, given that 2022 will be a year where there are Government land reforms especially the National Land policy 2013, ESAFF Uganda shall use the voices of the land awareness week to influence the review processes sustainable land management and governance in the country that ensures that all gender have equal rights on land ownership especially among the customary lands. This will create more hopes to Women scale scale farmers to venture into commercial farming.