Expert conference

CONTROVERSY SURROUNDS UGANDA’S PROPOSED LAND REFORM

KAS FACILITATES DIALOGUE

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Uganda welcomed 2008 with a heated public debate over the country’s most vital resource – land. The government is proposing controversial amendments to the 1998 Land Act, something that has generated strong opposition from landlords, a cross-section of parliamentarians and indeed the general public. KAS has contributed to the ongoing debate by supporting dialogue on the proposed changes in the land law. Whereas the government urges that the proposed changes are aimed at protecting the poor who have suffered endless evictions by land owners in the recent past, the opponents insist that the bill is a deliberate attempt by government to facilitate the grabbing of land in favour of a few individuals and foreign investors. This equally comes amidst unresolved issues related to land distribution in the country, the most outstanding being some 9000sq miles that were at the time of colonialism, allocated to the Uganda’s biggest cultural institution (Buganda Kingdom) and is to date under control of the central government and has been a centre of debate for the past decade with continuous demands from the Buganda people that the same be returned.

The stalemate surrounding the proposed land amendment bill has involved all Ugandans – politicians, cultural leaders, religious leaders, and the general citizenry. The debate has been a heated one, emotional and quite divisive with different sections of the population and institutions promising to adopt all approaches to fight it including indications of resorting to violence. A threat by one member of the Ugandan Parliament to strip naked if the proposed amendments are passed was another indication on how far some Ugandans are willing to go in fighting this law. Already, some MPs, officials from the Buganda cultural government and journalists have been summoned by the Uganda Police for questioning over allegations of inciting violence. The experience over land in the region is quite a sad one; in neighbouring Kenya, issues to do with land distribution have been cited as being responsible for the current bloody conflict in the once peaceful East African nation. The impacts on unsuccessful land reforms in Zimbabwe have brought a disastrous economic breakdown and human suffering. The situation surrounding the Ugandan land tenure, administration and usage equally presents a potential threat to national unity, peace and human security if the land issue is not handled to the satisfaction of stakeholders. Just months ago, a serious conflict between pastoralists and crop farmers over land ownership and land use was witnessed in one of the central districts claiming some lives and property.

The public dialogue organised through one of our partners (the Foundation for African Development) was aimed at providing a platform for genuine and honest discussions on the proposed changes in the land law and to give an opportunity to the wider Ugandan population to contribute views and opinions on the land amendment bill. The Minister for Lands of the republic of Uganda was present to give the keynote address and explain the governments’ motivation for the proposed law. The ruling party and all opposition parties actively participated through their leaders and representatives in parliament. The dialogue also enlisted the active participation of cultural and religious leaders, civil society organisations, the press and general public. Perhaps one of the achievements of this dialogue is the fact that it was the first national meeting to bring the various groups together ever since the land amendment bill was first proposed in the last quarter of 2007. All participants seemed to agree with one thing; that the proposed changes in the law were rushed and were not backed by a thorough consultative process with citizens. The government representatives seemed to agree with this opinion but unfortunately, the government proceeded to table the bill in Parliament a week later. Indeed some of the members of the ruling party have expressed strong opposition against the bill.

The KAS funded dialogue also served as a platform where Ugandans echoed the need to undertake a commitment to uphold peace in handling land related matters. Participants were able to reflect on the situation happening in neighbouring Kenya to emphasise and implore the leadership in Uganda to put more diligence in dealing with land in the country. Mr. Peter Girke, the KAS Country Representative points out that because land is directly linked to all livelihood mechanisms, its control and administration will directly impact on the quality of governance, human rights and peace. And now that the bill is in parliament, our partner FAD has developed a synthesis paper from the recommendations received during the dialogue, this will be presented by FAD to the legal affairs committee of parliament that will be initially debating the bill before it’s second reading in parliament. The aim of FAD and indeed the aim of KAS are to ensure that the views of the Ugandans are considered in dealing with land matters. Our contribution has been also made through our local radio programme in Northern Uganda. The Kabake programme on Mega FM in Gulu has handled and will continue to address topics related to land in the country. We shall possibly have a positive outcome.

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Venue

Kampala

Provided by

Uganda Office