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Unjust Land Systems Driving Inequality – Oxfam Report.

A new report by Oxfam Uganda report has pointed out unjust land systems and weak dispute resolution mechanisms as the leading drivers of inequality in the country.

The report titled “Locked Out” was presented by Makerere University economics lecturer Dr Fred Muhumuza who was part of the team that conducted the survey.

Making his presentation of the report, Muhumuza said that poor people, the vulnerable, young people and those who live in rural areas have been locked out from enjoying their land rights.

“Vulnerability is higher at 82% in rural areas compared with 29.2% in urban areas. This means that people in rural areas are three times more vulnerable than those in urban areas. They are three times more likely to slip back into poverty in case of shocks such as failed crops, death or sickness,” said Muhumuza

Most agriculture which takes place in rural areas is carried out by women, who own just 7% of the land according to the report.

The report showed that people providing paid agricultural labor and people in subsistence farming are more likely to be poor than those whose main income is commercial farming or other nonagricultural enterprise.

“Poverty rates among paid laborers in the agricultural sector stand at 35% while for subsistence farming it is 32%. People whose main source of income is commercial have poverty rates of 14% while those in nonagricultural enterprises have poverty rates of 11%. People relying on subsistence agriculture have poverty rates more than double that of people doing commercial agriculture and three times those that rely on agricultural enterprises” report revealed

With population growth that has led to continued subdivision of ancestral land of poor households as well as less productivity due to effects of climate change, the report indicated that national policies have prioritized economic growth through privatization and consolidation of land for big projects executed by investors leaving behind ordinary people’s issues.

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The report further cited irregularities in the law when it comes to distinguishing between public land and government.

Muhumuza contested the Land Acquisition Act which empowers government to make regulations for assessment and payment of compensation, saying that there is no legal definition of the basis for assessing compensation or the valuation to be used.

“Sometimes they don’t value the aspects that people value. The absence of clear procedures for valuing land given to private companies makes it impossible to weigh the expected benefits of the planned investment”

The report also highlighted the effect of gender and cultural norms and revealed that inequality disproportionately affects women who are more likely to be poor and vulnerable

“Most people in unpaid subsistence agriculture are women. As land, forest and water resources are increasingly compromised, women’s livelihoods are particularly marginalized”

The report further pinned government for putting more emphasis on investors by giving them land to do investment without putting ordinary people into consideration.

As a result, Muhumuza said, “government should change its attitude and commitment. Government sometimes is viewed as trying to legalize land grabbing. These are views we get from the people”

It is without any that doubt that agriculture which is the backbone of Uganda’s economy makes land a very critical aspect.

Report Recommendations

  1. Better laws, policies and practices could turn land from a driver of inequality to a vehicle out of poverty. Drastic measures are necessary to address the growing tensions and mistrust between ordinary Ugandans and their government which is seen as wanting to legalize land grabbing to benefit corporations without due compensation for poor citizens
  2. Existing land laws and policies must be brought inline with the Constitution and with regional and international standards. More commissions of inquiry will not be enough. Relevant bills already put before parliament should be enacted urgently, notably the succession amendment bill and marriage and divorce bill which both address the continuing practice of discrimination against women.
  3. The government should see ordinary Ugandans as drivers of growth, not passive beneficiaries of large scale projects by foreign investors.
  1. Land tribunals should be revived and properly funded. LCs should also be funded. Government should reform the land fund to be more transparent and inclusive.
  2. The government should build the capacity of institutions involved in valuation of land to ensure fair and timely compensation for displaced people.
  3. Compensation should also account for social capital and cultural attachments to historical lands and the impacts of relocation on psychological health and well-being.
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