Each year, land actors1 in collaboration with Ministry of Lands, Housing and Urban Development (MoLHUD) come together and organize the Land Awareness Week (LAW) with the aim of disseminating information on land laws. The 2019 LAW took place from 13th to 17th May 2019 in Karamoja Region and aimed at providing platforms for massive community awareness rising and community capacity strengthening on land rights, land governance, administration and land laws for effective and improved delivery and accountability in the land services. Further, it aimed to bridge the awareness gaps and also demystify the various misconceptions around land laws (NLP 2013, the Land Act, Land Acquisition Act, Succession Act, Limitations Act, Mining Act 2003 to mention but a few); dissemination of information on the operations of Ministry of Lands Housing and Urban Development (MLHUD) Zonal Offices.
Specifically, The Land Awareness Week, 2019 was organized with the following objectives:
- To raise awareness of women, men, youth, PWDs, other vulnerable groups and grassroots organizations on land rights, land laws, mining laws and collective advocacy to enhance their effective engagements in land governance, management, land administration and access to justice.
- To provide platform for women, men, youth, PWDs, other vulnerable groups to dialogue with and hold the land duty bearers accountable for the delivery of land services.
- To provide platform for women, men, youth, PWDs, other vulnerable groups to access legal advice, guidance and counseling on land and mineral development matters through Mobile Legal Clinics.
- Strengthen the linkages and collaboration among land actors at local, regional and national levels.
- To document land rights and mineral development matters and evidence to inform national level advocacy.
For many years the land actors have focused on improving the land situation through a range of interventions in partnerships, consortia, and coalitions. However, there are still major concerns about the increasing number of land disputes and conflicts which have resulted into land tenure insecurity, land grabbing and loss of livelihood for many pastoralists, small scale farmers, women and men and consequently leading to low/under/non utilization of land, low productivity, food insecurity, and poverty.
Most information on land laws is complex for an ordinary person to comprehend since most of them have not been translated into simple understandable local languages. On this basis therefore, the Land Awareness Week aimed to provide a platform to share and disseminate knowledge to the community/public on all land related policies and laws, access to justice with regard to land governance, management and administration.
A number of engagements took place during the Land Awareness Week including large scale community awareness sessions, public dialogues, people’s parliament organized by NTV, radio talk shows all aimed at equipping the community members in Karamoja (women, youth, PWDs and men) and grassroots organisations with information on land rights, land laws and collective advocacy; community land rights dialogues and provision of legal aid services to them (women, youth and men).
Resource Rights Africa staff participated in several community engagements and legal clinics during which the following issues emerged:
- Land grabbing by government institutions. During a community dialogue/legal aid clinic organized by RRA at Tapac Catholic Parish, community members accused Tapac Local Government of failing to compensate the land owners for the land where the sub-county Head Quarters are located. There are also land conflicts between Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) and the locals in Napak and Abim districts where UWA demarcated boundaries of the game reserve bordering Karamoja and Teso sub-regions contesting that the land is a gazetted game reserve while the residents claim it is customary land. The residents appealed to the land actors to advocate for the restoration of their land. Past efforts to settle the matter amicably without eviction have been futile.
- Lack of community involvement in extractives sector. It was noted also that the extractive sector in Karamoja has greatly exposed the communities in Kosiroi, Rupa and Kotido to a greater portion of conflict as these minerals sit on vast chunks of customary land. The grievances include issues of access and ownership, distribution of royalties and other benefits accruing from extractives, unfairness and lack of transparency in land acquisition and compensation, undervaluation of the land in terms of surface rights as well as loss of grazing land (rangelands) for pastoralists. The above challenges are exacerbated by lack of involvement of communities in decision making platforms, lack of formal representation of the majority illiterate community members and lack of free, prior and informed consent on extractive projects that hinders communities from making informed decisions.
- Cost of obtaining Certificates of Customary Land Ownership. Resource Rights Africa (RRA) established that in all the Districts of Karamoja, the locals complain of the cost of obtaining Certificates of Customary Land Ownership. This has exposed the local communities to land grabs from wealthy and well-connected people. Although the fees to be paid is low (UGX 10,000) as prescribed by law; in practice communities have been asked to pay as much as 300,000 UGX. The Area Land Committees justify this as facilitation for their services since they are not paid by the Local Government or Ministry of Lands Housing and Urban Development. This cost is on the higher side considering the high poverty levels in the region. To this end, the Ministry officials committed to look into this matter so that communities do not shun the process.
Through the Legal Aid Clinics organized by RRA and her partners, the communities were able to receive on spot legal advice and some cases were registered for further handling.
The LAW was crowned in Moroto District with a ceremony attended by officials from MLHUD, The Karamoja traditional leaders, Members of Parliament, Local Government leaders, CSOs and media practitioners.