Thought and Ideas
Madhvani continues push for land to grow sugarcane
Posted Sunday, March 10 2013 at 02:00
In as-much-as the traditional method of land ownership in Acholi was generally understood and accepted by the people here, there were always bound to be problems whenever the national laws came into play. According to Justice Owiny-Dollo, the legal situation regarding land from the colonial period until the coming into force of the current Constitution in 1995 did not favour the Acholi.
The Orders in Council that came into force in 1902 turned all the land which was not free-hold or mailo into Crown land, belonging to the Queen of England who was the overlord of Uganda. But it all remained on paper since the colonial government didn’t effectively take over significant land in Acholi. The Acholi therefore continued using the land as they had done in the past.
At Independence in 1962, the crown land was passed on to the government under the Uganda Land Commission (ULC) and not back to the people of Acholi and the situation continued as such till 1995. Between 1902 and 1995 therefore, Justice Owiny-Dollo says, whoever wanted to use land in Acholi, where all the land was virtually unregistered and was held as customary, would just compensate the people on the land and get a lease from ULC.
The compensation, Justice Owiny-Dollo says, would be nominal since it would only be based on the developments the displaced individuals would have made on the land and not the land value since it was not his.
So going into the Constituency Assembly, Justice Owiny-Dollo and his colleagues, from especially Acholi and other areas where there was customary land tenure, aimed to raise the value of customary land to the level of freehold and mailo.
Justice Owiny-Dollo argues that the mere lack of a document to prove ownership of the land handed down to an individual by his grandfathers makes that individual no less entitled to such land just like the lack of a national identity card or passport doesn’t make one less Ugandan. By getting customary land ownership recognised in the Constitution, therefore, Justice Owiny-Dollo says the Acholi people in particular were well served.
However, a recent ruling by the High Court in Gulu threatens to upstage the optimism of Justice Owiny-Dollo and like-minded people. Judge Wilson Musala Musene dismissed a case against the Amuru District Land Board (ADLB), which had been sued for awarding 10,000 acres to Amuru Sugar Works, the company through which Madhvani Group wants to set up in Amuru.
MPs Concy Aciro (Amuru District Woman), David Ocheng Penytoo (Gulu Municipality) and Michael Ocula (formerly of Kilak), together with elders Zacheos Uma and Jack Obalim had in 2008 sued ADLB over allocating to private users land they said was held under customary ownership.
Madhvani Group, which wants up to 40,000 hectares in Amuru, was allocated 10,000 hectares by ADLB. Another 5,000 hectares went to Ms Christin Atimango, a former Amuru deputy chief administrative officer and 1,070 hectares to Maj. Gen. Julius Oketa.
The petitioners argued that the land allocated by ADLB was communal land on which the body had no authority. But Justice Musene ruled that no proof had been produced to convince court on the claims made. The petitioners have since appealed the ruling.
The judge was persuaded into agreeing with Article 241(1)a of the Constitution, which gives district land boards the power “to hold and allocate land in the district which is not owned by any person or authority.”
But Democratic Party President Norbert Mao, who, together with Mr Otunnu, was in Amuru recently to “mobilise land owners against succumbing to pressure from the government”, says that the government must first quash this ruling and recognise the land as communally owned before any meaningful discussions can go on.
Leaders of the Acholi cultural institution (Ker Kwaro), religious leaders and leaders of the seven districts of Acholi have come up with an initiative to fight for Acholi’s communal land.
Through mass education and mobilisation in, they aim to pressure the government into recognising communal land as belonging to the people of Acholi under their respective clans. They then intend to register clans as bodies corporate which own land on behalf of their people in the mould of the Buganda Land Board.
They have set up three committees for this purpose, which have submitted a proposal to the donor-funded Democratic Governance Facility (DGF) for support. An official at DGF confirmed receipt of the proposal and said discussions were ongoing.
The official, who did not want to be named because he is not authorised to speak for DGF, says one issue that still has to be resolved regards the composition of clans. How do you determine who is a member of a clan? What about those who live on the land and don’t belong to the clan? Wouldn’t they be excluded? He says DGF officials are “exploring the proposal” with the teams.
Madhvani pushes on
But even with this initiative being mooted, the Madhvani Group’s pursuit of the land in Amuru is in full throttle. Mr Todwong says that negotiations between the Madhvani Group and the owners of land are ongoing.
He says that the land owners demand a share in the sugar company, with the land as their equity contribution. That they also want Madhvani to take 20,000 hectares instead of the 40,000 he demands so that the other half is left to outgrowers.
What Mr Todwong says is delaying the talks is because “Madhvani wants the land for free and then use the title to secure a loan” to develop the land. He says the talks must end quickly to enable the poor Acholi access opportunities for progress. “The poor man has his children to educate and feed,” Mr Todwong says, arguing that “pragmatism and speed” are necessary in resolving whatever issues are holding back the development of Acholi land.
That Mr Museveni largely argued like Mr Todwong when he met Acholi MPs last month just emphasises how far off from an agreement about Acholi land the leaders are. More worryingly, the ordinary people who only recently got out of two decades of war are even more divided as if they are sitting on a time bomb. Many of their leaders say they deserve a period of calm but the tensions over land ownership spurred by the discovery of oil threaten the future tranquility of this most beautiful and rich part of the country.