Enhancing peaceful co-existence through alternative dispute resolution in Northern Uganda
In a farming region affected by two decades of conflict, land as a crucial element for livelihoods of the Acholi has become simultaneously a major stake and a source of conflict. Basing on Hope Alert Network for Development and local empowerment (HANDLE) Uganda’s assessment report, 35% of the Acholi communities demarcated the boundary of their land, and nearly 25% encroached on someone else’s land.
In some cases (5%) people hurried to cut down all trees demarcating the old land boundaries. This article therefore provides a reliable projection on the magnitude of land conflict in Acholi. It highlights the existing practices that prove to be effective in the resolution of land related conflict. HANDLE Uganda Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) approaches with the help of local leaders proves to be effective and long-lasting.
The ADR methodology applied was to create a change that should be reflected in the living condition of women and children by having access to means of production. This has created a window of opportunity for further peaceful co-existence at household and community levels.
The Post War reconstruction of northern Uganda is still grappling with challenges around reintegration and attainment of a sustainable peace. With specific reference to Nwoya District where HANDLE Uganda is directly implementing the Gender Based Violence (GBV) project, the communities have a profound relationship with the land which is the key for economic activity and an invisible part of the social fabric.
Since 2007, the return period from the Internally Displaced Persons’ (IDP) Camps, there has been reports by the media and Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) on the phenomenon of land-grabbing and land-based conflicts in the communities. There are also evidences that many communities in northern Uganda are experiencing family and community land wrangles. In other words, there are clear facts that land-based conflict is the presentation of social disintegration in the Acholi sub-region and if left unattended, might threaten the current stability in northern Uganda.
Insight into the Land Dispute
Basing on the conflict analysis done by HANDLE Uganda, some of the root causes of the land conflict are associated with the weak and dysfunctional land administration state institutions Compounding on this, the Local Council Courts I and II that ordinarily were tasked to handle community disputes including land related matters were not functioning effectively until 2018 when the local council election was done.
Other land administrative bodies such as the Area Land Committees and Recorders who are necessary for those who choose to process papers as evidence of their land rights are either not funded, not filled or both. This deprived individuals who wanted documentation of their ownership to land.
Secondly, there is low community knowledge on land issues: Basing on the World Bank Report (May, 2009), 90% of the population in Uganda lack knowledge about the Land Act and the Principles, Practices, Rights and Responsibilities (PPRR) written by Ker Kwaro to guide customary land administration Women have entered the public arena, forming networks of income earners. This engagement made women to begin participating in community management structures. Some of the VSLA women were elected into public offices. Women in leadership positions have proved to be very vocal in communicating their interests.
The PPRR also falls short since it focuses mainly on principles and less on land rules. This contributes to misinterpretation of land laws and misinformation of the law to the communities. One very common misinformation is “women do not own land under customary land tenure” which is the greatest weapon for male land grabbers. This is also exacerbated by the knowledge gaps among the stakeholders on land rights and law hence misinterpretation and misinformation of oral customary system. Worst still, the issues of boundaries also generated more problem. These are because the elders who are the custodian of the land and quite aware of the boundary are either dead or are rendered useless by the new generation and some of the physical boundaries interms of trees have been cut down by charcoal dealers.
Finally, the potential for Oil in Amuru and Nwoya has exacerbated land conflicts in the area. Speculators are buying land illegally, evicting communities from the land and presenting doubtful land titles. Besides, Powerful individuals are taking advantage of the absence of the communities on the land due to earlier displacement caused by war.
Basing on the above challenges, the most vulnerable are women and children, the elderly and the sick while strengths to grab land are attributed to those who are wealthy, physically strong, educated and politically connected. Others disproportionately affected groups are the minority community who settled among dominant clans other than their own. Therefore key victims of land conflicts are the women especially the widows, separated or divorced; the child especially those born in captivity or out of marriage; the youth who are easily manipulated
Involvement of the cultural institution and religious leaders: These leaders play instrumental role in handling conflict including land matters in the communities because they are mandated to do so. The cultural leaders are responsible for the mediation. However, in some cases it’s a collective effort by the cultural leaders and religious leaders based on the interest of the conflicting parties.
HANDLE Uganda through the ADR approach, involved local and district leaders especially the councils in providing mediation and awareness on land matters as required by the local government act and land laws.
Working with the local and district leaders does not substitute working with the cultural and traditional leaders in addressing land matters. However, it adds weight to what the cultural and religious leaders are doing in regard to land matters.
For effectiveness in conducting the ADR, HANDLE through internal resource persons facilitated a one day capacity building for the cultural and religious leaders including members of the sub county land committee to foster alternative approach to peace building than the retributive measures which is costly, time wasting and create more conflict among the members of the family, community and all the parties involved.
With the ADR, HANDLE managed to popularize better alternatives in addressing land matters that contributed to increased land justice for vulnerable persons in Nwoya district. This initiatives of the ADR model strengthened knowledge on and acceptance of the Principles, Practices, Rights and Responsibilities framework applied in circumstances of need. With this framework applied by HANDLE Uganda to address a range of land related problems, there is a high likelihood of significant reduction in land wrangles, leading to increased access and utilization of land, and increased enjoyment of economic rights amongst the marginalized folks in the communities.
The impact of the ADR in Nwoya district
- Increased access and ownership of land by vulnerable groups and individuals (with examples)
- Reduced levels of injustices in addressing land related conflict and Restorative land justice for communities in Acholi-sub-region
- Reduction in victimization of vulnerable groups and individuals in incidences of land wrangles and grabbing
- Increase in number of land issues addressed to logical conclusion