By Kamya Mathew
Many Ugandans are shedding blood and tears due to rampant land evictions taking place in Uganda today. Land grabbing occurs when land that was previously used by local communities is leased or sold to outside investors, including corporations and governments. Typically, the land is taken over for commodity crops to sell on the overseas market, including for agro fuel and food crops. However land grabbing also occurs to clear land for tree plantations (grown for carbon offsets), protected reserves, mines and can often result from speculative investments when funds predict a high rate of return from land investments. Land grabbing is not a new phenomenon. For centuries, communities have been intimidated to abandon – or have been forcibly removed from – their land. However we are now witnessing a new aggressive land grab, driven by high food prices and growing global consumption, with multinational corporations, often in partnership with governments, seizing the land. As a consequence, peasants, herders, fishers and rural households are being dispossessed of the means to feed themselves and their communities, local populations are being evicted and displaced, human rights are being violated, and the environment, as well as traditional community structures, is being destroyed.
In Uganda, the Government, keen to attract foreign investment, has allowed foreign companies to move onto large areas of land for a range of projects, including the development of a large scale oil palm plantations, carbon offset tree plantations and following the recent discovery of oil, for drilling.
Although rural communities’ customary land rights are protected under the Ugandan constitution, in practice, these rights are being violated.
As a result, communities are being displaced and losing vital access to natural resources, including land for farming, firewood, forest products and in some places, water supplies. Culturally important sites have been destroyed and local traditions and customs are being lost as the local population migrates and diversifies. Forests have been cleared to make way for the plantations and wetlands have been drained, damaging the rich natural biodiversity. The reduction in local food supply has meant more food has to be imported to the island, leading to increased food prices. As the plantation only offers low paid casual work, local people struggle to make ends meet. As a result there is a greater risk of food insecurity.
In the 1970’s, I worked as a government Land Surveyor for five years. I surveyed land in the Central and Eastern regions of Uganda and at that time land fraud was minimal. The presentation of surveyor’s identity card was the only pre-requisite for commencing land surveying in any part of Uganda. Unfortunately today the Land Surveyors are escorted in the field by police officers handling serious ammunitions. By then, even the Registrar of Land titles was transparent and upright in the execution of his duties.
Causes of rampant land evictions
The new people who inherited the mailo land from their grandparents love money more than their fellow human beings.
The state magistrates do not go down to the ground to inspect the disputed land before they execute the attorney generals powers.
• In case of the systematic errors made during the field surveys, some private surveyors do not take enough time to check and adjust the angular and linear misclosures. Technically, this is one of the causes of multiple overlapping land title certificates for a single piece of land.
• The Uganda land commission officers do not inspect land to find out whether it is occupied by indigenous Ugandans before it is leased to new tenants.
• The good land laws in the Uganda constitution, which protect the common man from land grabbers has remained in principles but have not been implemented in the society.
• The state administrators have forgotten that the common man who is evicted from land is the major producer of Uganda food products and coffee for export.
• The state cannot afford to feed the people evicted from their homesteads
• The evicted people inconvenience the police officers by seeking refugee at the police posts.
• The evicted citizens migrate to towns and become lawbreakers.
• The land evicted citizens always regret why they were born in Uganda where their human rights of living in personal homes is violated.
• The evicted citizens have no access to government valuers who can evaluate their destroyed buildings and crops in order to be fairly compensated.
• Some evicted citizens are marginalized as land squatters even if they have been paying their tenant fees.
• Even the land surveyors are at a great risk while carrying out their field surveys.
• Land evictions have made many Ugandans ttremain desperately poor in their mother country.
• Due to the great rate of inflation and small income status; the biggest percentage of the Ugandan population cannot instantly afford to purchase land from the land lords in order to get land titles certificates as a final solution to end evictions.
• The magistrates should go to the sub-county headquarters where there are land disputes and find out the truth before executing their duties.
• The local village councils should be given more powers to settle land disputes because they know better the background of the original occupants of the land within their localities.
• Let the police officers for the first time protect the common man from land grabbers.
• Let the state administrators stand firmly when protecting the common man from land evictions.
• The illegally obtained land title certificates should be nullified by the state.
• The members of parliament should come to the rescue of the land-evicted victims in their constituencies.
• The common man should continue paying his/her fees (Busuulu) in order to live harmoniously on the mailo land.
• The state should educate the rich Ugandans who are scrambling for tracts of land to set up intensive farming projects just as it is done in Denmark where it is very lucrative. This will reduce the eventualities of land evictions.
• Let the Uganda land commission officers always inspect the land before it is leased to the new tenants. Since land is a major resource for economic development and food supply; let the Uganda policy makers save “wanainchi” from more land evictions and the Almighty God; the creator of natural resources will reward them abundantly.
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