National land policy should address challenges of pastoral communities
Posted Monday, October 21 2013 at 01:00
On August 30, Uganda gazetted a National Land Policy. It has eight objectives, including the need to “redress
historical injustices to protect the land rights of groups and communities marginalised by history or on the
basis of gender, religion, ethnicity and other forms of vulnerability to achieve balanced growth and social
The policy recognises that pastoral communities have been disadvantaged through loss of “land rights to
conservation projects, mainly national parks and other government projects, including government ranches. This
has led to depletion of their resources or landlessness. Privatisation of communal grazing lands and other
pastoral resources has forced some pastoral communities and ethnic minorities to invade other people’s land or
to encroach on protected areas in their neighbourhood.”
The policy further states that in the case of “Karamoja, the colonial government set aside extensive tracts of
land for hunting and conservation. In 1962, 94.6 per cent of land in Karamoja was under reserved status. This
status was reviewed by the Uganda Wildlife Authority in 1998 and was reduced to 53.8 per cent of the total
land area.” Karamoja is the most pastoral part of Uganda comprising nearly 10 per cent of the country’s land
To redress the challenges facing pastoral communities, the policy proposes among others that pastoral lands
should be held, owned and controlled by designated pastoral communities as common property under customary
tenure. It also calls for action to protect pastoral lands from indiscriminate appropriation by individuals or
corporate institutions under the guise of investments. Another suggested intervention is to promote the
establishment of Communal Land Associations and the use of communal land management schemes among pastoral
Given that there is already an increasing level of interaction between pastoral and sedentary communities as
well as other land users, the policy calls for the establishment of efficient mechanisms for the speedy
resolution of conflict over pastoral resources in pastoral communities and sedentary communities.
Given the fact that pastoral communities largely occupy lands that traverse international territories, the
policy provides that government shall “establish mechanisms for flexible and negotiated cross-border access to
pastoral resources among clans, lineages and communities for their mutual benefits.” Whereas this statement is
made with good intentions, the differences in land laws and tenure systems in East Africa appear to be an
obstacle to realisation of this strategy.
Indeed, even the East African Common Market Protocol vests access to and use of land and premises under the
governance of divergent “national policies and laws of the partner states.”
The passing of the National Land Policy is indeed a good landmark but for the rangeland communities
(minorities and pastoralists), there are still a number of issues to resolve. First of all, where land has
been already given out to other owners through legal but unjust means, the Constitution confers the rights to
such owners notwithstanding, it is a loss to the indigenous communities.
Secondly, policies and indeed laws tend to favour the stronger parties. With the levels of education and
exposure in most of these communities still low, it will be an uphill task to compete with international
capital in the struggle to repossess or retain control over rangelands.
Another challenge acknowledged in the land policy is the lengthy and costly implementation process that
involves among others the “design of appropriate legislation, the establishment of institutional requirements
and preparation of activities based on the strategies. Programming should be preceded by consulting key
stakeholders within government, Parliament, local authorities and communities.
There is also need to have cooperation with agencies in sectors involved in land use and natural resources
management, as well as non-state actors. All these processes will take long and in the meantime pastoral
community land may continue to be encroached on.
In order to accelerate the realisation of benefits from the policy for the pastoral communities, civil society
organisation should, on behalf of the pastoral and minority communities, lobby the Ministry of Lands Housing
and Urban Development to initiate a timetable for development of new legislation. They should also
participate in the public education and dissemination of the policy by translating it into major languages.
The policy is good for the pastoralists but it is not clear how historical injustices will be corrected so
that pastoral communities may regain control of the land they lost.
Mr Mutambukah is the coordinator, Coalition of Pastoralist Civil Society Organisations - Uganda.