From June 21 -24, 2016 at the Comboni Samaritans Conference Hall in Gulu, leaders from the Acholi sub-region gathered to discuss the way forward in solving the multifaceted land crisis in the northern part of Uganda.
The conference aimed at bringing together stakeholders on land justice to map out practical mitigation pathways to land-related disputes in this region and to share critical information on land issues, including findings, efforts, successes and limitations in the region. The conference was also targeted at analyzing and discussing key challenges to land justice in the region vis-à-vis existing policy and legislation.
Sponsors and Co-sponsors
The conference was funded by the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) and the Raskob Foundation and was organized by African Faith and Justice Network (AFJN) in partnership with Caritas Justice and Peace of Gulu Archdiocese and the Paramount King of Acholi (Lawii Rwodi) Rwot David Onen Acana II. The conference was co-organized by several civil society organizations including United Religions Initiative (URI), PROMETRA-Uganda and African Leadership and Reconciliation Ministry (ALARM).
When the war in Northern Uganda ended in 2008, displaced persons – including a new generation of youth who grew up in internally displaced camps, widows, child-headed families, and widowers – returning to their homes encountered multiple challenges in accessing their ancestral land, in large part due to farm land boundary disputes. With entitlement being contested, locals in this region are in constant conflict with one another, especially regarding ownership of land. This dispute has been made worse by the new phenomenon of land grab in the region.
Many studies show that land grabbing in the area is orchestrated mainly by individuals who are well positioned in or connected to the government. The recent disputes over the leasing of land for a sugar plantation between the communities in Amuru and an investor and between large conglomerate Madhvani and the government has brought to light the mistrust the people have developed for any process they consider detrimental to their land rights, their source of economic development.
This saga has generated a new debate with new pertinent questions: How can a region so endowed with vast fertile land that is richly blessed with numerous natural resources become the bedrock for inclusive economic development? How can land in this region be turned into a true economic asset that can transform the lives of the people? What about the natural resources, such as oil, in the region? How do we ensure that local communities benefit directly from these resources? The conference in Gulu attempted to provide practical answers to these questions as well as develop a plan of action to implement the consensus reached at the conference’s conclusion.
Interventions so Far
There have been efforts by both local and international stakeholders to deal with land concerns in the region. Among the stakeholders are the Ugandan government itself, religious leaders, politicians, civil society organizations, World Bank, Department for International Development, and more.
In an attempt to address conflicts resulting from multiple land claims, the Ugandan Minister of Lands introduced the Certificate of Customary Ownership (CCO) to enforce the constitutional provision on ownership rights relating to customary land. Despite the CCO’s objective to safeguard land ownership by various interested parties, individuals, families, clans and communities, to mitigate land disputes through issuance of land titles, and to promote fairness for vulnerable groups such as the elderly, women and youth, the implementation of the CCO has faced hurdles in its application. This is due to systemic challenges in accessing land justice, the weak capacity of the community land associations (CLAs) and customary norms. Other challenges include limited community awareness, acceptance of the CCO regulation, and the mismatch between policy and practice.
Efforts by other actors have hinged on promoting community dialogue and discussion. This conference was timely in bringing to light the perspectives of the global network and references from other conferences, like the Nairobi Land Grab and Justice Governance Conference we held in November 2015, on matters related to land.
Follow up implementation will be based on the actions generated in this conference. The attendees called for a non-partisan opportunity for exchange of diverse ideas and to build consensus on how to address together the persistent common challenges of land use and administration in Acholi sub region.
The Ugandan conference on land justice brought together 90 stakeholders comprised of representatives from academia (Gulu University Trust Land Project) to provide their intellectual input, legal luminaries to provide clarification on the constitution and laws governing land use in Uganda, District land board chairpersons, cultural leaders such as custodians of cultural practices in regard to land use, members of parliament, religious leaders who mobilize for peaceful coexistence, the Joint Acholi Sub Leaders Forum (JASLF) technical working committee on land and secretariat, District chairpersons, District level community development officers, secretaries of community development, and civil society organizations working on land and conflict and representatives from the legal fraternity.