Last Updated: Friday, 25 July 2014, 12:52 GMT

Uganda: Returnees caught up in land disputes

Publisher Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN)
Publication Date 1 October 2008
Cite as Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN), Uganda: Returnees caught up in land disputes, 1 October 2008, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/48e5c98719.html [accessed 26 July 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

AMURU, 1 October 2008 (IRIN) - The return of relative peace to most areas of northern Uganda had convinced Akello Jucantina, 78, to leave the camp for internally displaced people (IDPs) in Amuru District where she had lived for years to restart life in her original village.

Then she learnt that her family land was now owned by somebody else. "I was surprised to find out that part of our family land in Purongo [in Amuru] has been given to somebody as a farm," she told IRIN.

"We do not know who did this but my family is returning to the land," she added. "We will wait to see who comes to evict us."

Jucantina is not alone. According to local officials in Amuru, disputes over land ownership are threatening the resettlement of thousands of former IDPs.

"Land in the rural areas of Acholi is communally owned. Even before the war each clan had its own land where members would graze animals communally, go hunting and plant crops," Edward Openy, a community leader, told IRIN.

But now, Openy said, thousands of returnees faced the threat of eviction after at least 85,000 hectares of communal land was transferred to the district Land Board.

The land is in the Kololo, Lakang and Omer areas of Amuru district. Some district officials wanted to take advantage of the impoverished IDPs and privately own the land, he said.

"Most of the elders who knew the clan land boundaries died in the war ... and some are taking advantage of the situation to privately claim ownership of the land," Openy said.

However, the Land Board secretary, Christine Atimango, said the land was a game reserve that was de-gazetted in 1973 by then president Idi Amin.

"The people who settled in the area did it illegally," Atimango said. "The law is clear and the board is following the constitution because any Ugandan is free to settle and own land anywhere provided they apply through the district land board and are granted the mandate to use the land."

Land shortages

Besides conflict over land ownership, the shortage of land was also an issue among IDPs still in camps in Amuru.

At least 3,000 widows and orphans have nowhere to return to following the death of family heads in the 20-year war in the north or the sale of their land by relatives.

Commercial farms were also said to be encroaching on returnee land.

"A land conflict is imminent with IDP returnees being threatened by some rich individuals who want extensive hectares of land for commercial farming," Michael Lakony, the Amuru District Speaker, said.

"Disputes over land are adding further uncertainty, with the most vulnerable members of society - such as widows and orphans - at greatest risk of being denied their rights," according to an Oxfam report: From emergency to recovery, Rescuing northern Uganda's transition.

Oxfam recommends that returns should be supported by "mitigating the potential for disputes over land ownership by strengthening formal legal mechanisms such as courts and involving traditional clan structures in order to avoid parallel processes, and by providing greater public information about citizens' land rights, especially for women and child-headed households".

An official, Walter Ochora, said the government supported any initiatives that would ensure proper land use and bring development to the region without depriving genuine land owners.

"We want people to move away from subsistence to commercial production where war-affected families look at farming as a means of employment to earn an income and improve their living conditions," Ochora said.

Land is becoming a major source of tension and the most vulnerable members of society will suffer most, according to Oxfam.

More than half the 1.8 million IDPs in the northern region of Uganda have returned to their villages of origin or to transit sites closer to their homes since the August 2006 signing of a cessation of hostilities agreement between the government and the rebel Lord's Resistance Army.

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