During the Land Awareness Week (LAW) 2023, Eastern and Southern Africa Small-scale Farmers’ Forum (ESAFF) Uganda with its partners reflected on the recently concluded 7th LAW to solve land-related disputes among small-scale farmers under the theme of “promoting land rights and inclusion for sustainable development.
Community members during a meeting of LAW
From the 27th of August to the 1st of September, ESAFF Uganda had the 7th LAW in the Lango sub-region in 7 districts of Lira, Dokolo, Amolatar, Kole, Kwania, Apac, and Alebtong exercising the responsibility of managing dialogues, legal aid clinics, and other engagements with the interest of extending critical land rights information to the communities by supporting or giving a platform to access legal guidance from legal experts through legal aid clinics.
According to Hakim Baliraine, Chairman of ESAFF, Land rights were one of the major goals why the organization was formed to make sure that small-scale farmers have one voice and are able to observe and understand their rights and use them appropriately.
But to also mobilize themselves so that they are part of the policy development processes and able to participate and contribute meaningfully to the processes and also during the implementation from the grassroots to the global level.
Baliraine who also reflected on the LAW said that it has helped many communities to realize their rights and understand how to relate with existing laws in the country but also to sort out their land disputes amicably.
‘‘Since we are the grassroots, we believe that this kind of continued engagement is the only way we can use because courts are very expensive, the court procedure has a lot of bureaucracies involved, and takes a longer period. So if issues of land rights and land disputes are settled amicably, this is our call that it would be the only way to go,’’ he said
“When we are talking about issues of land rights, it is the farmers at the grassroots who are speaking to people at the national level and local government level as one of the goals why we were established some 20 years ago. So I believe that if they are aware of their rights, especially on land issues, there shall be few cases of land disputes, ownership, use, and control among others. In that injustices and atrocities that are rampant shall as well decrease,” he added
He also called upon the Ministry of Lands, together with well-wishers and other partners, especially the civil society organizations to continue sensitizing the communities about their land rights.
Ronald Bagaga the Research and Policy Officer at ESAFF said that during the LAW, they share information on how people can register their land, manage issues of land disputes, succession, and so many others. “In this 7th LAW, there are certain things we can now chest thump, For example, during the first land awareness week we managed to start a discussion in Parliament on the Apaa land crisis in Amuria district, and of course, the Ministry had to chip in, and find some resolutions, but it’s unfortunate that now issues are starting to come up again in the same region,’’ he said
Ronald Bagaga conducting a meeting
“When we moved from Acholi to the Teso sub-region we had great success when GIZ and other development agencies started a strong Customary Certificate of Ownership (CCO) program where people got their CCOs and at least now they can present documentation of their land rights”.
In the Lango sub-region, ESAFF documented community emerging issues when people lost their land rights during the activation or the effecting of the 1975 land decree. Some of the customary landowners were given leases and granted freehold titles. Complaints about opening clear boundaries between government lands like Maruzi Hills Forest Reserve and Maruzi Ranch were pertinent issues that engaged other actors to see or find a solution.
During the LAW, the government through the Minister of Land is reviewing or undergoing certain land reforms, and one of them is the review of the national land policy of 2013, which has now moved or has been implemented for 10 years. “We are optimistic that emerging community issues of Area Land Committee not being operational because of lack of capacity, facilitation and LC2 court not being operational yet it is the first court of instance in a land crisis of people overrunning wetlands or environmentally risky areas and concerns of people not knowing their rights to land will be well stipulated in the national land policy,” Bagaga mentioned
The small-scale farmer from the Mityana district, Ms. Christine Nabwami shared the experiences between landlords and tenants in terms of relationships, rights, and responsibilities in her area of operation. In the past years, when there were still the rightful owners of land, they had a good working relationship but as many passed away and others kept on inheriting and sharing the land that had been abandoned is where the problem came from the second owners that did not have documentation that clearly indicated their ownership.
“So our experience is that new owners do not treat tenants well so they find themselves working with different landlords on the same piece of land, and this has been a torture. By the time we get to the rightful owners, there is a lot of mess and the investors have made it worse for the people because they come with big sums of money that landlords can’t resist”.
Nabwami also raised the concern that the landlords have always refused to take on the nominal ground rent from the tenants for their selfish reasons. For example; there are times when they want to take back the land, sell it off, or hijack it, so they do it deliberately so that they can hold them captive according to the law to say that they have not been paying. This has brought suffering to tenants.
She credited the good landlords who have been accepting ground rent and negotiating well with the tenants and also have a good working relationship, whereby they make agreements agreeing on the prices that have to be paid.
“The mediation initiatives being conducted by ESAFF Uganda have seen landlords ready to negotiate with their tenants on how to handle their land matters and their settling issues down in the communities and the tenants are also ready to comply. This shows the responsibilities of the landlords and the tenants.”
Christine Okot from Acholi Land explained how they have been able to solve the land conflicts in the communities “We have different land conflicts among siblings, step brothers, cousins, and neighbors. So usually, for conflicts among siblings, elders in the family do mediation while we use clan leaders for conflicts among the clan members and for the boundaries among the neighbors go straight to the LC1 court and if they don’t accept, then they are given a letter and forwarded to the LC2 courts, proceed to the sub-county court where if matters fail, they may proceed to the chief magistrate court”.
In this case, The Area Land Committee (ALC) does mediation when they go for inspection because most of the community members are not quite aware of their land rights and do not know about the tenure systems.
“In the field, we sensitize them about registering their land. For boundary disputes, we hold talks as they need one other to sign the forms. So each neighbor should always be positive if any of them has to take ALC to inspect their land since it is the first process of registration as it confirms the right ownership whereas in the past people would just go and survey land that did not belong to them,” she explained.
However, the small-scale farmers and the women are encouraged to apply for free whole tenure since most women are not yet quite aware of their rights. In the Acholi sub-region women are married customarily and take on customary land where even the husband has only user rights. “So that’s a big challenge which I do not know how we are going to help our women, though we are trying to talk to some of them to buy their own land, those who can really get money to buy their own so that they have their own land in their own names” Okot added
Okot pointed out the challenges she faces as a female member of the male-dominated Area Land Committee. “Being on the committee is challenging because there is bullying of women in the process of getting titles where men try to stop us even if you are standing before community people. In areas of doing inspections, owners will include their names leaving out the female children. When you push for equal rights, you are stopped”.
Mr. Vianney Nuwembabazi a small-scale farmer and chairperson of ESAFF in Mubede district discussed some of the challenges farmers face in accessing land, the right information, and guidance. There are hardships to accessing sources of knowledge about land issues and language barrier or interpretation where most farmers are illiterate, and most of the documents like handbooks about land are written in English but even those documents cannot be accessed.
“I thank ESAFF Uganda and GIZ for having opened up our farmers’ eyes by organizing seminars and meetings in Land Awareness Week to try to solve land issues,” he appreciated
Mr. Edward Habilamye, LC3 chairperson of Madudu sub-county in Mubende district, said that through ESAFF Uganda, ALC has tried to conduct regular outreach to educate the community about landlords and dispute resolutions in communities. They have tried going deep into villages where the wrangles are very rampant and through information dissemination. The committee has tried to provide information about law regulation, offering legal support since most community members cannot afford legal representation in case of land disputes.
Simon Ntegeka a lawyer from the Uganda Law Society shared his experiences of the Land Awareness Week held in the Lango sub-region “I realized most of these courts lack the capacity when it comes to the law, especially for customary practices. So on this, I would encourage ESAFF Uganda where possible to do lots of sensitization among communities but still encourage our people to report corruption, and it also comes back from the fact that some of them don’t know about their rights,”
He also said that the owners and obligations are upon us because agriculture is still the backbone of our economy and the more the wrangles hinder the production and practice of agriculture. He asked the public to push the Government where possible to restore land tribunal so that matters can be resolved as quickly as possible and land can be put to use by small-scale farmers as well as access lawyers without paying big sums of money.
Mr. Richard Asiimwe, from the Ministry of Land, emphasized that it is very important for farmers to understand their rights so that they can be very productive on their land. This would increase their household incomes and also increase their productivity which will in turn lead to sustainable development.
“So I was commenting on the fact that for farmers it’s very important they secure their land rights because without securing them, they will not be productive on their land,” he said
“As government and other development partners, we have been involved in the processes of issuing these certificates of customary ownership around the country. In districts like Adjumani Kasese, Katakwi, Kisoro, Kabale, Soroti, Nwoya, and Maracha we have been involved in issuing about 80,000 certificates of customary ownership.”
It should be noted that ESAFF Uganda introduced a land rights support center, a telecommunication platform that was developed to empower communities by facilitating their access to critical, comprehensive, and essential land rights information.
“We are looking forward to continuing or starting a platform where we can dispense legal guidance through the Pro bono system for small-scale farmers across the country. So the center has a group of legal persons and we look forward to having a good number to support the dispensation of this guidance. Legal guidance, but also have a team and translators. This platform is for people to ask questions about the land registration process, and know what government processes on land reforms exactly in their languages.
But of course, we know women are the most people with land issues or land problems. So we would just think that their numbers would exceed either agenda in trying to interact with the platform,” Bagaga said
They also want to work with the telecommunications companies to see that they get a toll-free platform where people can call or send their messages without any charges, but also to reduce time in terms of when you ask a question and the time you spend getting a response. “We want to reduce it by creating or integrating. If you’re not, maybe ask for legal support. In terms of litigation and so on”.
ESAFF is one of the largest small-scale farmer’s networks in Uganda and one of the few pioneers of LAW which started in 2017 with Acholi land and so far moved 7 land awareness weeks. This Land Awareness Week is an initiative of the Ministry of Land Housing and Urban Development in collaboration with civil society organizations like PELUM Uganda, Oxfam, GIZ, and many others.