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Resource Rights

Protecting rights to customary land in Northern Uganda

Trócaire’s Lisa Byrne reports on the continuing legacy of land-grabbing and conflict in Northern Uganda in the aftermath of the civil war. 

Anthony Oyoo

Anthony Oyoo (pictured below), an elder and former teacher from Paimol Sub-County, Northern Uganda spent much of his life amidst the political turmoil of the civil war that destroyed families, communities and livelihoods. 

At age 80, Anthony well remembers the terrible difficulties that his community in Acholi faced during the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) insurgency. 

Although the war has ended and the people of Acholi have begun to rebuild their lives in peace, the threat of ‘land grabbing’ continues to loom over many communities.

The civil war in Acholi Sub-Region forced most people including the people of Paimol Sub-County into Internally Displaced Camps (IDP), were they could not access their customary land for settlement or for cultivation. 

‘During the civil war, we ran, we left our land to go to the camp and the land was left alone’, says Anthony. 

The camps were often rampant with life threatening diseases and subject to regular ambushes by the LRA. 

As the war continued, the death toll in the camps continued to soar. Anthony explained that many elders who knew the traditional land boundaries of various lands lost their lives.

When the war finally ended in 2006, the people who survived began the arduous process of return, resettlement and reintegration back to their homes. 

Anthony revealed that some of the returnees found their land, which they had presumed was lying idle, occupied by people with no rights to the land. 

Others faced problems of not remembering their clan’s land boundaries as they were so young when they left their homes. 

As a result, land grabbing and conflict began. 

Recent conflict

Anthony revealed that one of the most serious land conflicts took place in 2014 between Omiya Pacwa and Paimol Sub-County in Agago District. 

Both parties claimed that the other was digging and trespassing into their boundaries. 

This resulted in a violent conflict which caused many casualties among the community and even animals were killed and maimed. 

At this time, the Government was requested to step in and to help to resolve the conflict.

‘The Government brought maps and GPS systems that were used to reallocate the boundaries’ Anthony recalled. 

In the end, it was concluded and understood that the land belonged to the people of Paimol.

Paimol is just one example of places where land-related conflict is happening. Problems and land conflict continue to persist in the region of Acholi (Acholiland).

More recently, a quest for investment and business interests in the region is having major consequences for people who are being evicted and displaced from their land.

Trócaire and JASLF

In order to champion the interest of the Acholi people in protecting their land, the Joint Acholi Sub-Region Leaders Forum (JASLF) was formed. Together with Trócaire, it has developed a project to strengthen the security of customary and communal land tenure.

According to Dorcas Apio, Project Coordinator at Trócaire, it is hoped that the project will provide a greater understanding of the finer details of kin-based communal customary land holdings, to secure and protect people’s rights to land.

The research is being been rolled out with seven selected clans, one in each of the seven districts in Acholi Sub-Region.

Anthony participated in the focus discussion groups and interviews and said that the experience was a learning curve for the community and very enriching. 

He explained that it gave the community an opportunity to come together, discuss land issues and consider best practices of land management and consider future solutions. 

Anthony longs for legitimate solutions that can protect the Acholiland, in order to bind the Acholi people in peace and prosperity for generations to come.

WATCH: Protecting Customary Land in Northern Uganda

READ: ‘Protecting Rights to Customary Land’ project document

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