UGANDA: Land disputes threaten northern peace
GULU, 19 April 2012 (IRIN) - Inter-communal disputes over land and the
allocation of land to private investors for cultivation, could threaten
peace in parts of northern Uganda, warn officials.
So far in 2012, at least five people have been killed in violent land
disputes in the villages of Lakang, Apar and Pabbo in the northern district
of Amuru. Two more people were killed, in late 2011, in neighbouring Nwoya
At present, the Acholi and Langi communities in Pader District, also in the
north, are in dispute over ancestral land in Pader's Acwinyo and Lamincwida
villages. While the two communities are not armed, there has been
traditional animosity between them.
Other reported land disputes in the region involve:
1. The Madi and Acholi communities in Adjumani and Amuru districts. Both
claim ownership of the border areas of Apar and Joka in Pabbo sub-county and
Alegu and Bibia in Atiak sub-county (the sub-counties of Pabbo and Atiak are
in Amuru District);
2. The Acholi communities in Labala and Palwong in Pabbo sub-county
(inter-clan land disputes);
3. The Alur of Nebbi District and the Acholi of Nwoya District over
ownership of the areas of Got Opwoyo and Nyamokino;
4. The Langi of Oyam District and the Acholi of Nwoya District over the
Lii area in Koch Goma sub-county, Nwoya District.
The resettlement of internally displaced persons (IDPs) in the Agoro, Lokung
and Madi-Opei sub-counties of Lamwo District has also been hampered by land
These communities are part of an estimated 1.8 million people in northern
Uganda who were forced into protected villages by the army; they began
returning home in 2006 when the rebel
Resistance Army (LRA) moved into neighbouring countries.
But some of the returnees found their land, which they had presumed was
lying idle, occupied by strangers, family members with no rights to the
land, and people who left the protected villages before those with rights to
With few if any possessions to start a new life, land has become a very
prized and fiercely defended possession for the returnees, according to an
trengthening> report entitled Escalating Land Grabbing In Post-conflict
Regions of Northern Uganda: A Need for Strengthening Good Land Governance in
Acholi Region comprises the districts of Agago, Amuru, Gulu, Kitgum, Lamwo,
Nwoya and Pader.
Uncertain boundary demarcations such as trees and stone markers, which may
have been lost or shifted over the years of conflict, have exacerbated land
disputes, as has the presence of a youthful regional population with an
estimated median age of 14 for females and 13 for males, the report said.
"Most of the elders who knew about the land died in IDP camps. The remaining
ones have become liars. They can't show the boundaries," Francis Okot, a
resident of Otwee village in Amuru District, told IRIN.
Land in northern Uganda is held under customary tenure. The lack of official
land ownership documents is one of the reasons people fear losing their
The government is currently issuing customary ownership certificates in
parts of the region; but this is drawing mixed reactions.
"It might go a long way to address the land conflicts as long as it's
properly done. It could be a mitigating measure to the land issue in the
region," said Howard Ayo, a Kitgum resident.
According to Godfrey Akena, Pader District Council chairperson, "the
issuance of land certificates is good but not timely. Let the government
wait with their certificates until when everything is OK and people are no
longer talking about land disputes."
According to analysts, statutory and customary land laws contain
ambiguities. Earlier laws, for example, gave landowners with 12 or more
years occupancy legitimate rights over the land. During the civil war this
allowed some powerful individuals to claim legitimate rights over some
3&Itemid=72> Uganda's National Land Policy, which was drafted following the
setting up of a National Land Policy Working Group in 2011 to deliver a
framework guiding land use in national development, provides for the setting
up of a customary land registry to support the registration of land rights
under customary tenure and to issue Certificates of Title of Customary
Ownership, giving rights equal to freehold tenure.
But it is yet to pass into law. "The last draft we have in [is] as of March
2011. However, one year later, it has not been passed yet. A lot of
developments that would be addressed by the policy continue to occur
unguided and at a whirlwind speed," Deo Tumusiime, Uganda Land Alliance's
communication officer, told IRIN.
"We believe that when passed into law, the policy will help to address a
number of questions, some of which have led to bloodshed - questions of land
inheritance, inconsistencies arising from colonial mistakes, women and land,
minorities, land administration, compulsory acquisition, and lately the vice
"For a key resource like land, which is a question of life and death for
many, you cannot afford to politicize it. The policy must apply to all
citizens irrespective of political, religious or socio-economic background,
but taking into consideration the peculiar interests of the voiceless
Investors seek land
Against this background, the allocation of land in parts of northern Uganda
to investors has exacerbated residents' fears of land-grabbing. Some of the
fears may be genuine while others are fuelled by politicians, analysts say.
"People. think the government wants to grab land. It's going to be [a]
hindrance to development if the land issue is not addressed," said Betty
Bigombe, Uganda's water minister and a former negotiator with the LRA.
Bigombe warned that failure to address the land disputes could lead to
"another conflict like [the one with] the LRA. People will be pitted against
Already, some politicians in Amuru are already asking residents there to
resist government planned land allocation to investors for sugarcane
"We shall mobilize our people to fight for our land. Land is the only asset
remaining for us, the Acholi. We shall guard it jealously," Gilbert Olanya,
the legislator of Kilak in Amuru District, told IRIN.
Experts are recommending that a more secure land tenure system is created in
northern Uganda, complementing customary tenure.
With unclear land rights among former IDPs a major source of tension, the
Acholi land-grabbing report further recommends that "the two parallel legal
and judicial systems [customary and state land administration] dealing with
land issues in northern Uganda should be harmonized to avoid unresolved
"War is over, but factors remain that could threaten progress, such as
economic disparity, land tenure irregularities, high levels of unemployed
youth and disenfranchized population, as well as high expectations regarding
peace dividends," said Rebeca Grynspan, the UN Development Programme's
associate administrator, during a recent conference in Gulu.
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Received on Fri Apr 20 2012 - 18:17:33 EDT