Courts turn into shelters of land grabbers, Buliisa leaders puzzled

One of the evictees returns to his land armed with bows and arrows in Buhanika Sub-county, Hoima District. (File photo).

Buliisa district leaders have decried the rise in number of land disputes and grabbing cases they attribute to courts of law where land grabbers have found a fertile ground to challenge the poor land owners.

While speaking at the site handover function for the construction of Biiso modern market last week, the Buliisa District Chairman, Simon Agaba Kinene asked the Ministry of Lands, Housing and Urban Development to take seriously the issue of land protection for the majority poor against the rich and connected land grabbers.

According to him, land grabbers are no longer afraid of courts of law before or after eviction of people from their land.

However, he appreciates the ministry for issuing Certificates of Customary Ownership (CCO) of land in at least 12 villages of Lower Buliisa but says the same and other mechanisms of land protection are needed in other villages there and also in Upper Buliisa which comprises Kihungya and Biiso sub-counties.

Mr Kinene was speaking ahead of the Chief Government Vlauer, Gilbert Kermundu, who represented the Permanent Secretary for the Ministry of Lands, Housing and Urban Development.

Audio: Kinene on land grabbers (English)

In response, Mr Kermundu acknowledged that land grabbers were becoming too sharp for the ordinary persons since they always overrun all systems.

But different from Mr Kinene, Mr Kermundu says court systems are still hard on land grabbers.

Mr Kermundu urged leaders and community members to embrace the government idea of systematic land demarcation which can go a long way towards solving land disputes.

Audio: Kermundu on land grabbers (English)

The judiciary has been citing case backlog as a reason behind delayed decision on cases of land but not corruption.

Land cases in Uganda can take up to 10 years without decision depending on the caliber of the persons involved and the nature of the case itself.  One has to be financially stable to sustain the case, unrealistic to the vulnerable customary land owners.

However, Mr Richard Kajura, the Programme Officer at Lake Albert Women and Children Organisation (LACWADO) says much as CCOs can help, government needs to fight corruption in courts of law and among the local government leaders that have caused the current jeopardy on land management to the extent of facilitating processing of illegal land titles and consequent eviction of innocent people.

Mr Kajura also wants empowerment of local leaders to defend land rights than relying on courts presided over by persons who may not know the land history of Buliisa.

Land in Buliisa is traditionally owned communally but the shift to land titles following the discovery of oil amid speculation and land grabbing has appeared to be too fast for the poor and majority illiterate to catch up with, hence, leaving them as victims of land grabbing.

Customary Land Ownership is a legally recongised land tenure in Uganda but it has been badly undermined in favour of land titles.

Some analysts think the shift to land titles and certificates need affirmative action and diligent application if all Ugandans are to benefit and have their land secure.

Majority customary land owners are older persons who have sometimes fallen victims of their own sons to the extent of being killed or verbally assaulted with death and eviction threats every day.

The land value in Bunyoro is rising day-by-day as the government and oil companies move to make a Final Investment Decision (FID) in Uganda’s oil industry next month.

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