KAMPALA. Acholi and Teso cultural leaders made their case on Thursday for preserving the customary land tenure system and unequivocally rejected government plans to register residents on communal land, especially in northern and eastern parts of the country, as a recipe for evictions.
The cultural leaders, who were appearing before the commission of inquiry into land matters to give their views on land conflicts in the country, asked government to maintain the customary tenure of land ownership in their respective regions, saying “it is the safest way of protecting land from illegal activities and evictions”.
The cultural leaders separately argued that the status of customary tenure in the land policy must be upheld as provided for in the 1995 Constitution and the Land law.
“By making customary tenure look inferior, such a decision limits opportunity to look at the true value and importance of this land tenure system,” said Mr Ambrose Olaa, the prime minister of Ker Kwaro Acholi- the widely recognised traditional cultural institution in Acholiland, adding that “Arguments against customary tenure land system are borne out of an ideological thinking that places individualism against communalism.”
He said certificate of customary land ownership that tries to grant legal ownership to customary land needs to be reviewed and that mechanisms of dispossession of land should be reformed to ensure that people do not sell their land, leaving them landless.
“There is need for legal recognition of traditional institutions’ role in land management and administration. This includes the role of settling disputes and ensuring justice is delivered,” Mr Olaa said.
Mr Olaa added that in Acholi sub-region, local and external ‘sharks’ have invaded the sub-region. He talked about land grabbing in Nwoya, Amuru and Pader districts.
“We take particular exception in regard to Aswa Ranch,” he said, explaining that “the Acholi people entered into an arrangement with government to provide land for investment in livestock improvement and breeding. However, after the end of violence, suspicious activities started in Aswa Ranch and such activity has grown that Acholi people have learnt that such land has now been appropriated to some well-connected individuals,” Mr Olaa said.
He asked the commission to make a recommendation halting activities on Aswa Ranch and eviction of its occupants.
Mr Jonathan Maraka Ariong, the deputy minister of information and documentation in the Iteso Cultural Union (ICU), also asked the commission to protect customary land ownership in public interest. He said this land system vests the family with ownership, use and control rights on land in Teso sub-region.
“We do not grant land titles but recognise the interests on customary land through family land rights and inheritance procedures. Customary land disputes are resolved through mediation and or arbitration by the clan leaders,” Mr Ariong said.
The Iteso cultural leadership asked for amendment of the land law and local council courts to recognise the role of customary institutions in making rules governing land in their respective areas. He explained that there is need to resolve land disputes and protect land rights.