What you need to know:
- Local leaders say conflict over land arises when individuals — who often are blood relatives — compete for use of the same parcel of land.
- "When [the] rich use money to influence justice processes right from Local Council 1 up to the court, this can provoke someone to kill as a result of anger,” Ms Joyce Auma, a social worker in Dokolo
Dozens of lives have been lost and several investment projects delayed as land disputes rear an ugly head in Lango Sub-region, Daily Monitor has learnt.
Police tallied at least 92 murder cases from North Kyoga region (Lango) between January and May. The vast bulk of the murders were occasioned by land disputes, with shooting, poisoning, strangulation and use of blunt objects commonplace.
After the two-decade conflict perpetrated by the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) insurgents in northern Uganda, land is the only key economic asset for many families in Lango.
In Lango Sub-region, which spans the nine districts of Lira, Oyam, Kole, Apac, Dokolo, Amolatar, Alebtong, Otuke, and Kwania, the majority of households view land as their only source of survival.
Local leaders say conflict over land arises when individuals — who often are blood relatives — compete for use of the same parcel of land.
It has not helped matters that land in the sub-region is increasingly scarce due to population increase over the past two decades. The current population growth means Lango might not have seen the worst yet.
Already, a number of lives have been lost. Last May, clashes involving a family and the administration of Akuca-witim Primary School over ownership of land housing the government school in Oyam District resulted in four deaths. The victims who included Charles Olet, Richard Amuju, Odongo and Omara were killed during a fist fight.
Last April, four people were killed following disputes over land in Lira and the neighbouring Alebtong districts. The victims lost their lives in what was believed to be a ruthless land grab by powerful relatives.
Land and Equity Movement in Uganda (Lemu) has noted that land grabs by powerful elites or even cabals account for most of the disputes.
Investment projects stall
Since 2011, there has been an ongoing dispute over utilisation of Aler farm pitting 332 locals against Lira District leadership.
The contentious territory spans 1,500 acres, covering 10 villages in Kole and Lira districts.
Mr George Okello Ayo, the Lira LC5 vice chairperson, claims the land under contention falls under Lira District, while residents say they own the land under customary ownership.
Consequently, on August 29, 2018, Mr Tom Ogwal Atoocon and 331 others sought court intervention in the matter. On September 11, 2018, Justice Alex Macky Ajiji, the former Lira resident judge, ruled in favour of the applicants.
“A temporary injunction doth issue restraining the respondent, her agents, servants or any person or persons deriving any rights, title or interest from her; from alienating, continuing with further trespass, cultivating, entering, interfering with the quiet enjoyment of the suit land…. or destroying the applicants’ crops therein till the disposal of the main suit,” the judge ruled.
The former Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) of Lira, Mr Paul Mbiwa, told Daily Monitor that a number of investment projects, which were supposed to be carried out at Aler farm, had stalled because of the court injunction.
He said the Madhivani Group of Companies had shown interest in developing part of the land. Xsabo Group had also wanted to establish a multibillion shilling solar power generation plant to supply stable power to Lira City.
The Lira District Council had already approved a proposal to allocate about 200 acres of land for the project.
In Apac, an estimated 50 households have remained homeless after they were evicted from Maruzi ranch.
The 56-square mile ranch, which covers two sub-counties of Ibuje and Akokoro, has been at the centre of conflict between the locals and government for the last six years.
In 2019, the vast disputed land was, however, given away to a private investor (Hill Side Agricultural Investment Limited) for the production of palm oil.
“Most of the clan leaders are biased; they normally side with rich people at the expense of the poor even if they know that land in question belongs to that poor man,” Mr Geoffrey Dick Okwanga, a lawyer said.
He added: “The second reason is that there is a high monetary influence by a rich gang who uses money right from Local Council One up to court level to win the case.”
Ms Joyce Auma, a social worker in Dokolo, said people are killing themselves over land because there is misuse of money, knowledge and authority.
“When [the] rich use money to influence justice processes right from Local Council 1 up to the court, this can provoke someone to kill as a result of anger,” she said.
Mr Bonny Okello, a farmer in Alebtong, said: “If I gave you my land to use it temporarily for some few years and when you refuse to return it back to me, what would you expect me to do?”
Mr Moses Michael Odongo Okune, the paramount chief of Tekwaro Lango (Lango Cultural Institution), called for a speedy disposal of land-related cases before court. If this is done, he said, it could scale down murders as a result of land disputes in Lango.
“If the cases are heard and resolved without delay before the parties in dispute resort to killing each other, the number of murder cases will drop down forthwith,” the paramount chief of Tekwaro Lango said.
Mr Jimmy Obang, a boda boda operator from Aduku Town Council in Kwania, however, believes underlying issues to a problem that runs deep have to be addressed.
He said: “The biggest contributor to land disputes is high population growth, where the rich, knowledgeable and exposed children from each family are struggling to get more land than each other.”
Slow wheels of justice
Non-profit organisations such as Land and Equity Movement in Uganda (Lemu) hold that delays in handling land cases made a bad situation worse. Magistrates’ courts on average take 38 months to settle a case. This is way longer than the customary (five months) and Local Council (6.5 months) systems.
Lemu’s research about police records on land-related criminal cases in Lango and Teso sub-regions discovered that rounds of ping-pong routinely played out for years. This is hardly surprising. According to a 2017 policy brief by International Development Research Centre (IDRC), land disputes contribute significantly to Uganda’s heavy case backlog.
In 2015, the National Court Case Census revealed that 114,809 cases had not been settled. One in every four of the cases was pending for more than a decade.
A 2017 report by the Judiciary-appointed Case Backlog Reduction Committee revealed that, as of January 31, 2017, courts had 155,400 cases (44 per cent criminal cases, 33 per cent civil cases, 14 per cent land cases, 3 per cent family cases and 2 per cent commercial) pending.
In addition to the 14 per cent recorded as land cases, there were probably more land-related cases recorded as criminal cases.
Research about police records on land-related criminal cases in Lango and Teso in 2011 and 2013 had found that land-related crimes constituted about three per cent of the reported criminal cases and were not classified as land cases.
The Case Backlog Reduction Committee report cited incompetence and corruption as some of the reasons for the backlog. Other reasons given were understaffing and insufficient funding.