KAMPALA, UGANDA: Namati, the Land and Equity Movement in Uganda(LEMU), and the International Development Law Organization (IDLO) have published the results of a two-year investigation into the customary land claims of communities.
The report is intended to inform Ugandan policymakers and civil society advocates working to protect community land rights.
In northern Uganda, several factors have created a situation of intense competition for land: population growth, mass returns from displacement, weak rule of law, and the vesting of land to individual citizens under the Land Act 1998. Uganda’s population, 16 million in 1991, grew to over 34 million by 2011. This trend is expected to continue, with national population projections between 40.6 million and 43.4 million by 2017. As the population has grown, the average land holding per rural household has decreased by more than half, from 2 hectares in 1992-1993 to 0.9 hectares in 2004-2005. The growing land scarcity has contributed to higher rates of land grabbing, boundary encroachments onto neighbours’ lands, intra- and inter- community land disputes, and widespread appropriation of common lands. The loss of common lands, in turn, has made it difficult for community members to gather firewood, seek building materials, graze cattle, access water, and collect necessary forest resources. Protecting community lands is therefore an urgent priority.
The findings of this randomized controlled trial suggest that community land documentation processes are a low-cost, efficient, and equitable way of protecting Ugandan communities’ customary land claims and empowering communities to direct the course of their own development and prosperity. Such efforts have the potential to not only safeguard large numbers of families’ lands, but also to protect the common lands and resources that communities depend upon for their livelihoods and survival.
Key Findings: The findings from this research suggest that community land protection efforts must begin with the careful identification of all rights holders, and should then combine the technical task of mapping and documenting community lands, the peace-building work of land conflict resolution, and the governance work of strengthening local land and natural resource management.
LEMU’s experiences implementing the Communal Land Association formation components of the Land Act 1998 indicate that when these efforts are joined, community land protection efforts may help to:
- Resolve long-standing land disputes and reduce future land conflict;
- Improve local governance and establish local mechanisms to enhance community leaders’ downward accountability;
- Strengthen protections for the rights of women and other vulnerable groups;
- Stimulate communities to conserve and sustainably manage natural resources;
- Align community norms and practices with national law; and
- Promote legal empowerment and build community capacity to take active steps to protect their lands and resources.
Key Recommendation: Uganda’s Land Act 1998 provides strong protections for customary and community land rights. Widespread implementation of these protections, backed by strong political will, appointment of key district officials, and the allocation of sufficient resources is urgently necessary. Such efforts will not only support communities to protect their common lands, but may also advance equity, peace, and prosperity throughout northern Uganda.