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Mass Land Grabbing; An injustice perpetrated by the state

Updated: Aug 20, 2021

Unfairness in land use, control, and governance has existed for decades now, with corruption, unfair policies, and other injustices embedded in the land tenure system.

The graft problem has not spared the police, the judiciary related to land deals as well as the procuring departments where collusion has struck deep, and large cash bribes are not an unusual phenomenon. The rich have abused the unbridled corruption of state ministries, policymakers, consultants, and stakeholders involved in land ownership and tenancy practices through senior public officials. The system has worsened in recent years owing to the government giving away publicly owned property or consenting to illicit land grabbing under the pretext of development purposes and wildlife preservation. The government has faithfully held on to the capitalistic modernization model of development by taking away land owned by the people in the guise of preserving a forest or game reserve but often ends up in the hands of powerful investors who “develop” the land.

This has mostly affected vulnerable and marginalized communities like women, youth, small farmers who have not been favored by the system at all. Despite the significant progress of women’s emancipation in the urban areas, the women in the rural villages have been attacked for decades and ripped off of their land after losing their husbands, putting in mind the fact that it is what they rely on for survival. Worse still, others who are unknowledgeable of their land rights have lost their land to investors who have bribed their way into illegal pursuit under the pretext of developing land. In Uganda, most people depend on subsistence farming however the laws and policies governing its use and management support big investors (already wealthy individuals) rather than ordinary Ugandans (diving them deeper into poverty). These policies prioritize economic growth through privatization and redistribution of land for large infrastructural or agricultural projects. Land is considered wealth in Uganda yet its policies have failed to address injustice and inequality. A favorable land tenure system will give the most vulnerable the opportunity to change their lives and guarantee them a decent future. We are fighting to have a policy structure that prevents the powerful from trampling on the rights of the poor.

Solidarity Uganda through the National Land Defense League has supported communities facing evictions from their ancestral land because of this unjust system. The National Land Defense League is a farmer-led movement against impunity and corruption in land governance in Uganda. This week the Logiri community in Lazebo, Arua District stood against the planned eviction and Land Grabbing that is being perpetuated by the NFA and some political elites (amongst whom is Hon Obiga Kania Mario, the State Minister of Internal Affairs). More than 30,000 families in Kiryandongo district are facing unlawful evictions from several multinational businesses backed by the government. These companies are; Joseph Initiatives, a company owned by US businessmen through their Cayman Islands-based company Agilis Partners, Kiryandongo Sugar limited owned by Indians, and Great Seasons Company Limited owned by Sudanese nationals based in Dubai and one local businessman Mwesige Reuben. The companies are targeting the land for large-scale agribusinesses which include growing coffee, simsim, soya, maize, and sugarcane. The people in Kiryandongo continue to live in fear as security forces; the army and police brutalize and kill them. Many other communities all over the country have faced evictions for different reasons. The Aleptong women protested against a greedy professor from constructing a university (Alebtong University) on their land, the Apaa community has also resorted to nonviolent actions against the government and Uganda Wildlife Association from overtaking their community as their ancestral land was demarcated as a wildlife reserve when they were in IDP camps during the LRA war.

The most recent positive outcome from citizen actions led to the return of over 8,000 acres of land to the Benet community as ordered by the government to the wildlife, but the battle continues as more land is still being withheld from them. It takes a lot of commitment and courage to uphold the fight against land grabbing as it is often characterized by severe brutality and impunity from the perpetrators of this injustice. Nonviolent resistance has enabled several communities to focus on their struggles with limited destruction and distortion. Through their actions, they have been able to expose the corrupt and unjust. Violence often enables bigger authorities to have more power and a little incentive to strike since they have superior resources.

Our hope as we stand with these communities is to achieve justice but also contribute towards a change in the rotten and broken system. We desire to see reforms and stability in the land tenure system.

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