Why land conflicts are on the rise

A garden that was destroyed on a contentious piece of land in Lusanja, Kasangati Town Council in Wakiso District on October 29,2018. PHOTO/ FILE

What you need to know:

  • Whenever conflicts occur, it is easy to put the blame on land tenure systems such as private Mailo land yet even in areas such as Acholi, Teso, and western Uganda, there are land conflicts even when they don’t follow a Mailo land tenure system.’’

By Noah Kiyimba

Land is the most important asset in most parts of the world that people can own, including Uganda. In Buganda, land is the way of life as the kingdom’s cultural aspirations are based on land, hence titles like Ssaabataka for a prince who is going to become the Kabaka. Clan heads and elders in Buganda are known as Abataka. However, this scenario isn’t only prevalent in Buganda. Land is a major asset across the country. It is the biggest means of production since our economy is agricultural-based. 

This has led to incessant conflicts over it in most parts of Uganda today. Whenever such conflicts occur, it is easy to put the blame on land tenure systems such as private Mailo land yet even in areas such as Acholi, Teso, and western Uganda, there are land conflicts even when they don’t follow a Mailo land tenure system.   
Besides land being the most important means of production, what else is causing these conflicts? There are seven reasons: 

Weaknesses in police 
There are weaknesses in the police force to investigate and conclude land conflicts fully and in a timely manner. The police is not equipped with the skills necessary to do this job. There might be a land squad in the police force, however, in most cases they don’t adequately investigate cases. In some other instances, some elements in the police side with land grabbers. 

Failure by courts to dispose of land cases on time 
Courts depend on investigations by the police to try cases. If the investigations are inadequate, there is [only] so much courts can do. However, this doesn’t mean that the Judiciary should be absolved of any wrongdoing. Courts take their time to dispose of cases. Many lawyers in town have land cases that stretch to more than five years and others over a decade. There is a High Court division responsible for land, but it doesn’t solve these cases on time. Judicial officers are transferred without finalising cases and then claim to be studying files forever of the new cases they are supposed to preside over where they have been transferred. There is need to create a timeframe in which court cases are solved just like we do with election petitions. 

High population growth 
Uganda has the fastest growing population in the world. About 40 or 50 years ago, there was a lot of empty spaces across the country. Today, there isn’t much land that isn’t occupied by people. The need for land has increased its value making it a very important resource than it was many years ago. This inevitably leads to conflicts over it.

Increased pressure on available land
The exploding population is leading to increased activities on the same land. In the past, our grandparents would leave some portions of land to fallow in order to regain its fertility. That is hardly the case today. A family that could survive on one acre 50 years ago today needs two to grow the same amount of food. Yet we should be promoting animal husbandry in each household so that we use animal waste to fertilise our land. Government needs to create a policy that promotes this type of farming and see to it that it is properly implemented. 

Confusion in the ministry of Lands 
There is a lot of confusion in the land registry at the ministry of Lands. There are cases of [issuance of] double certificates of title over the same piece of land. Conveyance takes forever. It can be very frustrating to verify land ownership and transfer land from one entity to another. There is need to streamline operations in the ministry of Land to ensure that land registration takes the shortest time possible. 

Political interference 
Court orders are sometimes not respected by politicians. Instead of strengthening courts of law, politicians spend the best part of their time chiding them. Everyone with a land problem thinks it should be solved by politicians who give contradictory statements all the time. 

Government claims land compensation stifle its infrastructure development programmes. Public officials who design these infrastructure projects rush to the same areas and purchase tracts of land well aware that a project is going to be implemented there. Land prices go up and when the time for compensation comes, they demand much more because they created artificial demand in the first place. In some cases, they even build there some form of structures so that they increase the land value. 

That way, a lot of public money is spent compensating these government officials or their protégés. Uganda experienced a lot of its infrastructural growth between 1950 and 1970 and land owners were compensated adequately. No project failed to be delivered on time because of ‘bureaucracy.’ 

Mr Kiyimba is the Buganda Kingdom minister for Lukiiko, Cabinet and kingdom’s spokesperson and minister for Information.