Northern and Eastern Uganda Rethink Formal Land Justice Systems

Published on 19th October 2009

In an effort to counter the escalating land conflicts in the country, the Uganda Land Alliance (ULA) has launched an action research study on linking the formal justice delivery systems (Local Councils and Magistrates) with the informal justice delivery systems (Traditional Land Justice Systems) initially in the districts of Apac, Amuru and Katakwi. The project which is expected to be rolled to other districts in Uganda and Funded by the Danish International Development Agency (DANIDA) is premised on the 1998 Land Act, which allows the use of traditional systems in resolving land disputes.


At least 100 people including RDCs, LC V Chairpersons, District Internal Security Officers (DISOs), CAOs, and the Anti-Stock Theft Unit, religious leaders, traditional leaders and elders attended the launching ceremonies early this week in Apac and Katakwi, and an equal number is anticipated to grace the occasion in Amuru district on Thursday. The leaders welcomed the project saying that it would go a long way in reducing the backlog of cases pending in the Magistrates' Courts.


According to the 1998 Land Act, Customary Land Tenure involves several practices which place traditional authorities and leaders at the centre of most activities relating to land. The Act recognizes this central role by including traditional authorities in dispute settlement by stating that: "Nothing in this Act will hinder or limit the exercise by traditional authorities of the function of determining disputes over customary tenure or acting as mediator between persons who are in dispute over any matter arising out of customary tenure."


An earlier research carried out by ULA, indicated that majority of the people at the centre of land disputes are sceptical of the formal court system arguing that it is not only sluggish and thereby denying people justice, but it is highly prone to massive corruption. On the contrary though, many of them expressed full support for the traditional system maintaining that the clan leaders and elders know the boundaries and history of the land within their locality.


ULA has also established Land Rights Centers (LRCs) currently operational in Apac, Kampala, Luweero, Kibaale, Kapchorwa and Mbale. New ones are being launched in Amuru, Pader, Katakwi, Moroto and Amuria. These will serve as quick points of reference within the communities, and will provide among others; legal aid through legal and social counselling; court representation and alternative dispute resolution mechanisms. The ULA Secretariat has recruited Land Rights Officers who in addition to the above activities, will conduct community awareness on land and property rights, advocacy for attitude, practice and policy change at the community level as well as data collection to inform the legal and policy advocacy processes at national and international levels.  


The role of land in Uganda's economy cannot be overstated. Without secure land rights, there can be no sustainable development, for there will be little willingness to make long-term investments. Most disputes are fuelled by a number of factors, which include; population pressures, unfair land tenure regimes, changes in land laws, lack of clearly demarcated boundaries, backward and discriminatory customary laws and practices, inheritance practices, outdated statutory laws, underdeveloped land markets, lack of a modern land information system as well as inaccessibility to available land information.  


Land disputes have resulted in destruction of property and, in extreme cases, even loss of lives. The disputed land becomes a 'no-go' area and is not available for use while the dispute lasts, which results in the withdrawal of a critical factor for wealth-generation from productivity. Thus, there is obvious need to find effective ways of resolving and/or mitigating land disputes particularly for poor households.  


By Tumusiime K. Deo, 

Communications Officer, Uganda Land Alliance Secretariat

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