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Oxfam says government wrong on land

Namuganza launching the report at Mestil Hotel on Nov.29.

Recommends different approach to issues in new report

Kampala, Uganda | JULIUS BUSINGE | A new report by Oxfam, the international development and humanitarian organisation, has faulted the government’s land policies.

Titled `Locked out; How unjust land systems are driving inequality in Uganda’, the report re-emphasised dealing with gaps in land access, ownership and management to speed up economic growth and social transformation.

According to the research findings, poor households are continuing to subdivide ancestral lands and individual lands and plots are getting smaller and less productive.

Renowned economist and lecturer at Makerere University Fred Muhumuza and the leader of research and advocacy at the Oxfam Uganda office, Patience Akumu who compiled the report, listed these as major issues.

Speaking at the report launch on Nov.29 in Kampala, Muhumuza and Akumu said other findings according to the report had to do with difficulty of valuing land for compensation, weaknesses regarding dispute resolution mechanisms and the effects of gender and cultural norms.

According to them, national policies have not addressed these issues. Instead, the government’s focus is on economic growth through privatisation of land for big projects.

The government has prioritised provision of land to investors both in rural and urban areas; mainly large scale and foreign-based, free of charge or for a nominal sum. The goal is to operationalise public-private partnerships. They said that the government assumption that this move would result in livelihood improvement for all the people is not largely correct.

“The reality is that fewer jobs than anticipated are created, the displaced people often lack the skills to take them up, and no training in the required skills is made available,” the report reads in part.

They also said that most of the land that the government gives away is under the management of the Uganda Land Commission and District Land Boards which have failed to keep a comprehensive inventory of their land.

They quoted a 2015 report by the auditor general that looked at 211 pieces of government land and found that 19% of them did not have records. Similar gaps, the report says, have been found in land records managed by the DLB.

This record gap has facilitated encroachment onto government land and land grabbing by investors through government agencies.

The report was compiled when the impact of gaps in land governance and administration on inequality in Uganda are becoming clearer.

The evidence in the report was gathered in 2018 and involved interviewing key government officials, community leaders, civil society and others with professional knowledge and from documented evidence.

The report comes a few weeks after the end of the Justice Catherine Bamugemereire Land Commission that started work in 2017 following appointment by President Yoweri Museveni to investigate land conflicts in Uganda.

Speaking at the report launch, Muhumuza said that managing land problems is key to reducing inequality and driving economic growth. He said that in Uganda, where over 70% of people derive their livelihood from agriculture, land is an important resource for lifting people out of poverty.

“Land is a unique asset that, besides increasing rather than depreciating in value over the years, holds worth beyond the monetary,” he said. He added that people have cultural attachments to land, and it determines not just monetary wealth but also cultural identity and self-worth. Unfortunately, he said, not everyone has access, control and ownership over this important resource.

The poor, the vulnerable, the young and those who live in rural areas have been locked out from enjoying their land rights.

Multiple factors ensure that the rich get access, control and own more land at the expense of the poor. Muhumuza said these factors are borne in the colonial history that divided land to appease monarchs and dominant religious groups.

Quoting figures from the Uganda Bureau of Statistics (UBOS), Muhumuza said between 1996 and 2012 the richest 10% of the population increased their share of national income from 29.9% to 35.7%. On the contrary, the share of the poorest 10% decreased from 3.2% to 2.5%. In addition, he said between 2013 and 2017, the people living in poverty increased from 19.7% to 21.4% or from 6.7 million to 10 million poor people. He said poverty numbers are still high partly because land conflicts negatively impact productivity on land.

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