Land grab­bing in Uganda – who will speak for the op­pressed?

By: PAR­LIA­MENT RE­PORTER

All over the world Land has been known to be vi­tal as­pect of hu­man life since all hu­man­ity de­pends on it for its ex­is­tence. Land is what de­scribes peo­ple as a com­mu­nity, gives them a live hood and  is a source of food and in­come when used for agri­cul­ture and other pur­poses of de­vel­op­ment. Glob­ally, es­pe­cially in African coun­tries there is in­creas­ing need for agri­cul­tural land that will sus­tain food pro­duc­tion to cover the food in­se­cu­ri­ties that has caused land fights. So­ci­ety’s fights over land has be­come a very nor­mal phe­nom­ena in an in­creas­ing pop­u­lated to­day’s world of Glob­al­iza­tion where cul­ture, eco­nomic and so­cial as­pects rule.

It is from these arisen need that” Land grab­bing” was born where few pow­er­ful in­di­vid­u­als both multi­na­tional and do­mes­tic in­vestors grabs, lease or re­place com­mu­ni­ties and ac­quire land that right­fully be­longs to the poor for their own in­ter­est .  So­ci­ety land has been taken over force­fully by re­place­ment , leas­ing or be­ing bought in a very low price or with no value at all. This prob­lem has evolved over the years all over the world and it’s no ex­cep­tion in Uganda. We have heard a lot of cases where in­vestors and gov­ern­ment force­fully re­move and re­place lo­cal com­mu­ni­ties in the name of de­vel­op­ment, hence vi­o­lat­ing the hu­man rights of ex­is­tence of the lo­cals and right of own­er­ship of land stip­u­lated in the Ugan­dan con­sti­tu­tion.

Po­lit­i­cal elites have acted as an um­brella for these land grab­bers hence mak­ing many Ugan­dan com­mu­ni­ties to suf­fer not only due to lit­tle or lack of knowl­edge in re­gards to their  rights but also be­cause the laws and poli­cies in mostly African coun­tries does not cater for pro­tec­tion and reser­va­tion of these rights.

Sto­ries of land evic­tions, land grab­bing and en­croach­ment of farm lands, forests, wa­ter bod­ies and dis­cov­ered ar­eas of oil and other valu­able min­er­als are every­where. Few in­di­vid­u­als voices have been able to sur­pass in­tim­i­da­tion and open up through me­dia or  by pe­ti­tion­ing par­lia­ment . But there are also those in­di­vid­u­als who still face in­tim­i­da­tion hence hin­der­ing their voices to be heard.

Par­lia­ment through its com­mit­tee of phys­i­cal in­fra­struc­ture has been pre­sented  with over 40 pend­ing pe­ti­tions on ir­reg­u­lar al­lo­ca­tion of Land from both multi­na­tional in­vestors and gov­ern­ment and en­croach­ments  in the name of de­vel­op­ment that have been pil­ing over the years.

I at­tended one of the com­mit­tee meet­ings where a pe­ti­tion against ir­reg­u­lar al­lo­ca­tion of land in Mbale by the Uganda Land Com­mis­sion was pre­sented. Mbale Mu­nic­i­pal coun­cil blamed the Uganda Land com­mis­sion for its ir­reg­u­lar al­lo­ca­tion of the com­mu­nity land with­out their in­volve­ment as a Dis­trict. Pre­sen­ta­tions from the Coun­cil­lors and sur­vey­ors pointed out po­lit­i­cal lead­ers to be be­hind these al­lo­ca­tions that as a means to safe­guard their in­ter­ests put their rel­a­tives in such po­si­tions in ad­min­is­tra­tion. The com­mit­tee met Uganda Land Com­mis­sion and Mbale Land board and sur­vey on dif­fer­ent in­ter­vals to get their views. The Uganda Land com­mis­sion faced al­le­ga­tions of of­fer­ing over­lap­ping land ti­tles and ac­cep­tance to be in breach of the phys­i­cal plan­ning law since it does not al­lo­cate land. ULC only con­trols gov­ern­ment land and it has no au­thor­ity over pro­tected Land.

Mbale  com­plaints were pre­sented in 2012 and in 2013. ULC con­sti­tuted a team that in­ves­ti­gated the mat­ter where it was con­firmed in­deed there was ir­reg­u­lar al­lo­ca­tion in pub­lic spaces of Mu­nic­i­pal ceme­tery (plot 56-62) & 64-68 Nabuy­onga Rise), pub­lic open space in In­dian Quar­ters (plot 16-22 & 17-21 Bu­soga Lane), pub­lic open spaces in In­dian quar­ters (16-22  17-21 Nkambo Lane, Ser­vice lane along Kumi road (be­tween plot 25 and 27 kumi road), Lorry park, Chil­dren’s park in In­dian Quar­ters (plot 1-13 Bu­taleja lane), Town clerk’s res­i­dence (plot 3 Masaba road), Uhuru Park that led to sus­pen­sion of all the land ti­tles.

They fur­ther took a step and sur­veyed all the land ti­tles; sub­di­vided land was re­stored to their pre­vi­ous sta­tus, while some land ti­tles were can­celled and de­vel­op­ment on the land was halted. For the leased land those that had ex­pired leases were not to be re­newed. This made me won­der: Why wait till the leases ex­pire Could­n’t the land ti­tles be can­celled re­gard­less of their sta­tus?
Hon Dombo Em­manuel asked the same ques­tion that why wait and not caveat land ti­tles. The re­sponse from ULC was that is­suance and grant­ing of ti­tles in­volves a se­ries of steps each hav­ing a sig­na­tory hence mak­ing can­cel­la­tion of ti­tles a com­pli­cated process.

One would ask: Whose fault is that in the first place?, should law­break­ers go un­pun­ished just be­cause it’s a long process to undo what they have done? Was this the best ap­proach that they could have come up with to solve the prob­lem? or Does­n’t this en­cour­age oth­ers to do the same know­ing no se­ri­ous ac­tion will be taken against them? Too many ques­tions – very few an­swers.

It also made me ques­tion the process of is­suance of ti­tles where the process in­volved iden­ti­fi­ca­tion of an area, then in­spec­tion, then is­suance of ti­tle fol­lowed by sur­vey and  mark­ing. All these things were not clear and to my un­der­stand­ing you can­not grant land ti­tles be­fore in­spec­tion else how will you be able to tell that the land has not been pre­vi­ously oc­cu­pied? This could be the rea­son of over­lap­ping ti­tles.

The rules and laws guid­ing own­er­ship of land is not well stip­u­lated and its be­ing ma­nip­u­lated by the few pow­er­ful elites and for­eign­ers- this con­tin­ues to be a sad oc­curence in Uganda.