“Protection of land rights leads to sustainable development," locals emphasize during LAW 2023
ESAFF Uganda believes that land is a critical resource that plays a pivotal role in the country's socio-economic development. In the Lango Sub-region, land holds immense significance for the farming communities, providing livelihoods, food security, and cultural identity. It is, however, concerning that most land and environmental issues that affect small-scale farmers, local investors, and landowners arise out of a lack of awareness of the different land-related laws and their attendant policies and regulations that subsequently result in low production and productivity, poor land use, and a lack of capacity to demand their rights and hold duty bearers at the local, district, and national levels accountable, hence the organisation of the 7th National Land Awareness Week (LAW) 2023.
LAW 2023 was organised by the Ministry of Lands, Housing, and Urban Development (MoLHUD), Lango subregion District, and Lower Local Governments in close collaboration with the Eastern and Southern Africa Small-scale Farmers’ Forum (ESAFF), Uganda, PELUM Uganda, Land Justice Network (LJN), LEMU, ActionAid, GIZ, Oxfam, and other land actors from the 27th of August to the 1st of September 2023. The awareness week was organised under the theme “Promoting land rights and inclusion for enhanced production and sustainable development in the 7 districts of Apac, Lira, Kwania, Kole, Dokolo, Aleptong, and Amolatar in the Lango Sub-region.
The week was a resounding success in drumming for the promotion of responsible land governance, sustainable land management practices, environmental management, land tenure security, and the preservation of the cultural heritage of the region. Thanks to Oxfam in Uganda and GIZ under the Responsible Land Policy in Uganda, funded by the German Government under the German Federal Ministry of Economic Cooperation (BMZ) and co-financed by the European Union (EU), for making small-scale farmer participation possible. The 7th LAW 2023 was communicated through 44 community sensitization and dialogue meetings (6 by ESAFF Uganda) with a parallel land rights support centre for legal aid in 37 sub-counties, 6 town councils, and 1 division.
Further, the LAW 2023 was communicated through radio talk shows on 28 local FM radio stations covering the Lango Sub-region, i.e., Atedero FM, LBS, QFM, Divine FM, and Voice of Lango, reaching an estimated 14,700 listenership while dialogues were graced by over 4089 people (1237 women and 2852 men). At the time of the 7th LAW, the government of Uganda, through the MoLHUD, undertook land reforms, especially the Land Act CAP 227, the Land Acquisition Act 1965, the Physical Planning Act 2010, the Registration of Titles Act, and the National Land Policy of 2013. This is done to ensure that 70% of unregistered land owners get legal documents, introduce a customary freehold tenure system, establish the Uganda Land Services Bureau (ULSB) after merging all land administration institutions, introduce a tax on idle land, mobilise communities and clans to form communal land associations, and strengthen alternative dispute resolution mechanisms.
Through the dialogues, Land Rights Support Centres, and radio talk shows, information dissemination and sanitization on the policy and regulatory frameworks on land rights and sustainable environmental management issues were communicated using procedural posters on land registration under customary, freehold, communal land associations, and dispute referrals, among others. The LAW purposely provided a strategic platform for documentation and consolidation of emerging community voices, or LAW 2023, and asked the Minister of Lands, Housing, and Urban Development to inform the review processes. Among the voices from the communities were:
The need to develop a customary land registry
The need for swift reversal of land leases to freehold the customary land rights holders who lost their rights as a result of the 1975 government land decree.
There are increased land wrangles between the foundations and heirs of the deceased, a clear indication of the lack of documentation and limited funds for the buy-off of the complaining parties or heirs, hence the need to strengthen the land fund to offset the complaining heirs.
Area Land Committees (ALCs) are dysfunctional and non-operational due to limited facilitation and induction. Citizens called on the government to devise a means to force local governments to allocate money to support the committees during the budget.
There are increased delays by courts to dispose of land cases, while other courts like LCII and III lack technical knowledge of the laws, policies, and administrative procedures to effectively handle alternative land dispute resolutions hence intensifying court backlogs.
There is increased land. Disputes over unclear land boundaries between the government and communities, i.e., Maruzi Ranch and adjacent communities; Maruzi Forest Reserve and communities surrounding it; hence the outcry for boundary openings by the government
There are increased conflicts over succession due to a lack of knowledge about how to write wills, file letters of administration, and maintain an asset register; hence, the need to popularise the Succession Act, 2022, as amended.
After the consolidation of the voices, the political leaders and district executive councils from the 10 districts of Lango subregion convened a joint council meeting in Lira in accordance with Article 178 of the 1995 constitution of the Republic of Uganda and Section 8 of the Local Governments Act CAP. 243 to validate the different land-related community requests or issues and passed a joint council resolution to inform local government actions that was used to petition the government through the MoLHUD.
“It’s now been 30 years since we started asking the government, through the land office, to process for us freehold titles from the leases we were given. This was our land, so we must have full rights over it”, says Benson Oyam from Akokoro.
Ms. Nancy Acio stated that she had been battling a court case for over 13 years, and even after the court ruling in her favour, the judgement has never been enforced, hence the call for a more alternative dispute justice system and the reinstatement of land tribunals.
ESAFF Uganda commits to continue collaborating with the district local governments of the Lango subregion in holding a fact-finding mission in the hotspot areas for referrals as well as following up on the incorporation and actualization of the citizens’ requests into the land reform processes. ESAFF Uganda further commits to continue information dissemination, i.e., IEC materials to lower local land governance structures, access to critical land rights information, guidance, and support for justice through the Land Rights Support Centre, post-land awareness week media campaigns, and webinars.