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Case Study from Uganda:Land (Amendment) Bill will divide Uganda, literally

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Land (Amendment) Bill will divide Uganda, literally

Livingstone Okello-Okello

Since the National Resistance Movement (NRM) shot its way to power in 1986, the land question has exercised the minds of Ugandans. The country has moved from one land controversy to another, ranging from the grabbing of private ranches to sub-dividing Lake Mburo National Park to the invasion of the east, north, central and part of the west by Balaalo herdsmen, to the Land (Amendment) Bill 2007, the land give –aways to the Temangalo land saga!

The concerns of the people of Uganda are not misplaced. To the majority of Ugandans, land is not just a factor of production. Land is the only means of survival; it is life; it is culture and above all, land is the basis of all power. It, therefore, follows that whoever wants to take away or grab your land, wants to take away your power and bring you under his/her direct control. In short, to enslave you.

As far as land is concerned, the behaviour of the NRM government is not completely different from that of the colonialists, who on arrival in Africa did everything they could to gain control of the best lands, using their powers to suppress and push the ‘natives’ to marginal areas. This happened in many countries including Azania (South Africa), Zimbabwe and Kenya. Land in Uganda is privately owned. It is difficult to understand why government insists that land should be its major pre-occupation.

The colonialists who took over the best lands in Africa did not do so without meeting some resistance. For example, the Chief of Khoi in Western Cape, in a land dispute with Jan Van Riebeeck, the first colonialist to arrive in Azania in 1652, asked: “who … with the greatest degree of justice, should give way to land; the natural owner or the foreign invader?”

Again in 1859 King Moshoeshoe had this to say: “I consider it most barbarous custom to alienate the land of the nation which they hold sacred. To us, all the property reared or nurtured on the land stolen from us, remains our property…”

Similar resistance to colonialists was put up here in Uganda. Omukama Kabalega of Bunyoro fought to the last drop of his blood; in Acholi, two clans, Lamogi and Paimol fought the white men and many people were killed.

The controversial Land (Amendment) Bill 2007 will soon be part of our laws despite an overwhelming opinion that it should be halted to give time for more consultation and the formulation of a land policy. Its sailing through Parliament can be taken for granted for basically one reason only: the enormous concentration of power in the Head of State, which makes it appear to me that Uganda is once again being ruled by decree, albeit indirectly. If the President decrees to the NRM caucus, who are the majority in Parliament and the caucus ratifies that decree on the floor of Parliament, what does it mean?

And yet the Land (Amendment) Bill 2007 if passed into law as it is, will divide the country down the middle. Those in customary land areas, about three-quarters of the country, will not accept the law. Equally, those in mailo land areas will as well reject the law, because it nationalises their interests in land without compensation. Any law which does not find acceptance among the citizenry will remain a dead law on the shelf. Idi Amin’s Land Reform Decree of 1975 is a good example.

The Bill is a clear indication that there is a north-south evil axis on land.
It should, however, be pointed out that more often than not, controversial land policy, land law or land grabbing results in loss of life. Examples are many in land studies. I will only mention two to illustrate the point.

The Land Law 1908, enacted by the Lukiiko imposed restrictions on the mailo owner’s ability to dispose of his land to one who was not of the Protectorate such as churches, foreign companies and other societies, except with the approval of the Lukiiko and the Governor. The mailo owner was also prohibited from leasing his land to one who was not of the Protectorate for a longer period than “one European year,” except with similar approval.

On July 25, 1945 Katikiro Martin Luther Nsibirwa, announced in a statement to the people of Buganda that a Bill had been tabled in Lukiiko for the sale of 2,200 acres of land at Namulonge to a British Company called Empire Cotton Growing Corporation (ECGC). The land was occupied by some small-holding families.

This Bill caused a lot of controversy and debate in Buganda, just like the Land (Amendment) Bill 2007 has done.

In spite of this, Lukiiko went ahead and in the afternoon of September 4, 1945 passed the Bill into law, sparking off spontaneous protests and demonstrations almost throughout Buganda. The demonstrators in Kampala mounted broadcasts on motorcycles and trucks and moved in all directions with the message. “They have sold the land”.

Within less than 24 hours from the passage of the Bill, the Katikiro was dead. His assassin, George William Semakula, a displaced lorry driver, shot him four bullets at close range in the morning of September 5, 1945 as he was about to enter Namirembe Cathedral for early morning prayers. Semakula was later arrested and arraigned in court charged with murder. His plea that he did not know how to shoot a gun did not save his life. He was punished with death.

In 1966, Dr Louis Leakey, a renown wildlife conservationist, invited Dian Fossy, a nurse from the United States of America to come to Africa and be in charge of mountain gorillas in the Virunga Forest, shared by Uganda, Rwanda and Zaire (now DR Congo). She came and stationed herself on the Rwanda side of the forest.

Dian Fossy soon clinched a financial deal with National Geographic Society for purchase of gorilla pictures at prices varying from $50 to $200 a piece. Any article she wrote about mountain gorillas and was published in a magazine or newspaper would fetch her $2,000.
As the business became more and more lucrative, Dian Fossy, without any authority, grabbed large chunks of land on the Rwanda side, bordering the forest for the expansion of the gorilla park. She then “persuaded” the gorillas on the Rwanda side to move to this newly “acquired” land.

When this was done, she attracted colonies of gorillas from both Uganda and Zaire (Congo) side to cross the borders and occupy the areas formerly occupied by the gorillas moved inside Rwanda.

Soon, stiff competition for land ensued between the gorillas and the people of Rwanda. The people of Rwanda having discovered that the white woman had expanded the gorilla park without authority, constituted themselves into a village court, arrested, tried, convicted and punished Dian Fossy, a millionaire, by execution.

In conclusion, it suffices to say that under the NRM administration, the land sector is, by design, in crisis. If not handled properly, the land question may permanently divide the country. Some parts of the country may be forced to seek self-determination, which is a human right.

Mr Okello Okello is MP, Chua Consituency, Kitgum

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Written by torit1955

December 15, 2008 at 3:25 pm

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