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Lessons learned from Uganda on Citizen Action to improve Customary Land Tenure for rural women and men

Our new Citizen Monitoring and Advocacy Learning Brief explores the achievements, challenges and lessons in helping rural women and men secure their customary land rights in Uganda.

Ms. Naome Kabada, Acting Director of land management at the Lands Ministry during the launch of the Customary Land Registry resource book in Kampala, Uganda, 20 October 2021. Credit: LANDnet Uganda Ms. Naome Kabada, Acting Director of land management at the Lands Ministry during the launch of the Customary Land Registry resource book in Kampala, Uganda, 20 October 2021. Credit: LANDnet Uganda

Around 80% of land in Uganda is customary land and only 4% of that is registered. Although customary land rights are enshrined in law, in practice customary land tenure is very insecure, especially for women.

From 2011-2021, Trócaire worked to improve customary land rights in Uganda, and from 2020-2021 led a coalition of five Ugandan civil society collectives to implement a joint citizen monitoring and advocacy strategy with the aim of improving customary land tenure for women and men.

We documented our experience of promoting increased documentation of customary land, advancing increased awareness of the benefits and risks of customary land registration, and advocating for the setting-up of a customary land registry, as a way to improve security of land tenure for the most vulnerable, especially rural women.

Our findings from two years of implementation of this strategy are now published in a Learning Brief based on reports, and staff and partner reflections.

Trócaire and partners had some key achievements

  • Strengthened commitment by the Lands Ministry to put the customary land registry in place

By the end of 2021, the Lands Ministry was considering amending the Land Act to incorporate provisions to allow the creation of a customary land registry. This was achieved due to several success factors, including the credibility and legitimacy of the coalition partners and their tireless relationship-building, lobbying and dialogue efforts. Key resources were produced that provided the evidence base, policy arguments and recommendations for setting-up a customary land registry. A budget monitoring exercise provided evidence that the government has not been allocating enough resources to implement existing commitments. In addition, the coalition published a Customary Land Registry resource book with the buy-in of the Lands Ministry.

  • Public debate generated and increased knowledge on the need for the registry

Public debate was generated via five regional radio talk shows and two national TV debates. This in turn led to increased knowledge among different stakeholders, including affected communities on the need for the customary land registry, which led to an increased demand for the registry.

  • Incredible alliances were built and drawn on

Incredible alliances were built in support of the strategy objectives. The Trócaire-funded Northern Uganda Land Platform had been the most important land rights forum where alliances were first forged and brokered over several years.

The coalition of the five Ugandan partners is a coalition of coalitions, as it brings together a nation-wide land rights movement, a nation-wide coalition on food rights, two national networks and the Ugandan chapter of a regional network of over 250 civil society organizations in 12 countries in Africa working in participatory ecological land use management.

  • Shaping the agenda on and increased awareness of women’s customary land rights

The Northern Uganda Land Platform played a critical role in shaping the debate on women’s customary land rights. Trócaire and LANDnet also played a key role in organising the 2021 Women’s Land Rights Conference. Awareness raising activities targeting rural women and men about women’s customary land rights were also organised, and radio spots that spoke about the importance of customary land registration to protect the land rights of both men and women were broadcast.

Six lessons learned on citizen action to secure land rights

  1. A key success factor enabling progress was the many years of groundwork carried out to build alliances, engage with communities, generate analysis and evidence for the need for policy changes and to build relationships with critical stakeholders.
  2. In hindsight, the complexity of the issue and the skills required to lead a strategy with such an ambitious goal in the Ugandan context would have required Trócaire to hire a land expert earlier in the process as well as hire a technical expert on citizen monitoring and advocacy.
  3. Some of the research was very technical and could have been made more accessible for different audiences.
  4. Having credible analysis and evidence to back up advocacy is key. However, it was not enough to convince policymakers; persuasive engagement by influential figures made a difference in this case, as did combining “insider” and “outsider” advocacy tactics to generate pressure on policymakers.
  5. Despite the commitment on paper to setting up a customary land registry, and the openness from the Lands Ministry to implement, no budget allocation has been made for it to date, which points to little interest by other parts of the national government to facilitate this.
  6. In relation to women’s customary land rights, the research done in Teso and Acholi helped to shift the perception by rural women that they had no rights under the customary land system. The research showed that women have strong rights enshrined in the system, but they are often not known or misunderstood, even by tribe leaders. The strategy led to increased awareness of these rights. Despite this achievement, there are still few women registering land in their names under customary tenure, hindered by the knowledge gap and cultural norms.

Read more about these lessons and recommendations here

Download the Learning Brief

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