Across Uganda and specifically in Northern Uganda, there is an increase in disputes arising from ownership and usage of community land. During the insurgency led by the Lord’s Resistance Army, community land which was normally used for grazing animals and other community activities was left vacant as most people fled to live in the Internally displaced person’s camps.
As the insurgency came to an end in 2006, communities returned to their homes but since boundaries were no longer there, others settled on community land. This caused conflicts as the community members were not able to use the community land for its intended purpose as others started claiming ownership of community land. Community members had nowhere to graze their cattle, collect firewood, or use the nearby wetlands; any activity on the community land would be considered trespass by those who claimed ownership.
It is upon this background that SAFE through Land Equity Movement of Uganda (LEMU); facilitated 3 communities in Lira District to document, register and protect their community land. In 2013, SAFE conducted an assessment in 13 communities as a first step towards community land protection.
During the assessment, meetings were held with traditional and local leaders, sub county officials to establish the existence of a community land, its location, which groups have rights over that land and whether the community had knowledge of its existence.
After the assessment, SAFE identified and intervened in the three community land sites of Burlobo in Adekokwok in Sub County, Bar Odir and Anyomorem in Ngetta Sub County. The selection of the three sites was based on the level of willingness of the community to protect their community land and cooperation of the local leaders.
Orientation / Sensitization/Visioning meetings
A community lawyer sensitizing the community on community land protection in Anyomorem community land site, Ngetta sub county, Lira District
After the assessment, SAFE organized a sensitization camping in the selected communities to educate the community on the process of community land protection and other land related laws. The sensitization were intended to equip community members with knowledge and information necessary for protection of community land. As part of the process, community members were encouraged to reflect on how community land was, how it is now and how they would like it to be in the future.
This process enabled the community to appreciate and own the process of community land protection. SAFE envisaged that the sensitization campaigns would empower the community to protect their community land by themselves thus promoting sustainability.
Selection and training of Community Support persons
SAFE with the help of the local leaders selected and trained twenty seven (27) community support persons on the process of community land protection. The community support persons were selected from each community land site and had men, women and youth.
Their major role is to guide the community in the process of community land protection specifically in drafting and adoption of rules regulating the management and use of community land and provide guidance to the community on simple legal issues.
Drafting and Adoption of Rules
Since oral rules used by communities to manage their community land were not clearly known to the community members nor were they being respected by especially by the younger generation, SAFE encouraged the community members to document and adopt rules regulating the management and use of community land. This is also a legal requirement for formation of communal land associations. The community support persons played a key role in mobilizing the community for this activity.
All the three community land sites of Burlobo, Bar Odir and Anyomorem have drafted and adopted rules regulating the management and use of community land. During the rules drafting session, the community members suggested and agreed on the rules governing usage and management of their community land, women and youth were encouraged to suggest specific rules regarding issues affecting them.
Meetings for the first draft were held at village level to ensure participation of every community member. The rules include those used in the past, present and expected in the future. Apart from usage and management, the rules also cover natural resources, leadership, financial management and accountability and and how to relate with investors and government bodies like National Forestry Authority wishing to invest on the community land.
During the second draft, the rules suggested by community members from all villages surrounding that community land were consolidated and shared to all in one forum where additions and subtractions were made with guidance from the community lawyers.
The third and final draft was presented to the community in one forum where all the suggested rules were read to the community. SAFE ensured that all the rules were aligned to the International and National laws governing land ownership and human rights through technical support by the community lawyers.
During the rules drafting meetings, community members also used a satellite imagery provided by LEMU to facilitate a map drawing exercise for community land sites. The map drawing exercise supported the community in resource mapping and planning in addition to identifying areas that currently have boundary disputes and those that have been encroached on.
Since the rules do not allow settlement on the community land, those who had illegally settled there either voluntarily vacated it or the community gave them alternative land to settle on especially the vulnerable groups including people of old age, women, widows and children. Where there was a dispute or disagreement, traditional/local leaders and community lawyers resolved them through mediation.
Adoption of the Rules.
During adoption, the community support persons and local leaders moved from one house hold to another and shared the final version of the rules. With consent of the house hold members, the head of the household adopted the rules by endorsing on the adoption form.
Burlobo community members in Lira District drawing Community support persons submitting adaptation forms a sketch map of their grazing land and key resources to LEMU for documentation. Adaptation forms are using the satellite images of the community area Signed by all communal land users acknowledging the Rules and land provided by LEMU regulations for managing community land.
As a legal requirement, over 60% of the community members in all the three sites adopted the rule making it binding on all of them and enforceable by the management committee and courts of law, for example in Burlobo community land site, 502 out 657 households (76%) adopted the rules . The final rule now awaits translation into the local language widely spoken in the area.
The adoption of the rules will facilitate the formation of three communal land Associations in the three community land sites .
Formation of the management committee.
Community members in all the three sites have elected members who will form part of the management committee. This is a legal requirement for registration of a communal land association . Powers of the committee includes administration and management of the community land.
During the election of the committee, all community members in one forum lined up behind the nominated individuals, those with the highest number of people behind them were elected. The leadership structure was split into two sub-committees, with the first one performing a day to day management of the community land. This comprised of Adwong Bar , Vice Adwong Bar, Treasurer, Secretary, Security, Women, Youth and persons with disability representatives and a Publicist.
The second subcommittee whose main role is to resolve disputes comprises of Adwong Bar who sits on both sub-committees, Secretary, Representatives of women, youth, people with disability and an Elder. SAFE will take lead in training the committee on their roles and responsibilities.
SAFE is now in the process of formally registering the communal land Associations and acquiring a certificate of title for the three community land sites.
The documentation and adoption of the rules and regulations and the formation of communal land associations has increased tenure security for over 2000 households utilizing the three community land.