Proponents of the ongoing commission of Inquiry into land matters, or President Museveni’s countrywide tours to galvanise support for the unpopular proposed amendment on land acquisition are deluded they will solve the land question, experts have warned.
A one-year investigation by Makerere University’s Human Rights and Peace Centre (HURIPEC) between November 2016 and October 2017 concludes that the land question is essentially a product of the political economy of a country.
“It is a governance issue. Unless the politics of the land question is comprehensively addressed, focusing on the reform of law or policy alone will not resolve the problem,” reads the report, whose framers are researchers who have deeply interrogated land disputes, administration, laws and policies.
The report, which was launched last week at Hotel Africana in Kampala and published under the Land Justice and Post-Election Governance in Uganda Project, is premised on the analysis of two fundamental points of departure.
First, that there is a deep land crisis, and secondly that such crisis is connected to governance introduced with the advent to power of the National Resistance Movement (NRM) government led by President Museveni.
While officiating the report’s launch, Dr Zahara Nampewo, the HURIPEC director, said they focused on Museveni’s regime because land, as one of the historical problems, was one of the platitudes for the bush war, as reflected under point 8 of NRM/ NRA’s ten-point program.
“And yet 30 years later, it remains an issue. The NRM has failed at redressing these historical errors,” she said.
Nampewo noted that in HURIPEC’s experience, working on the 2016 elections, with the support of Open Society Initiative Eastern Africa (OSIEA), land and natural resources became highly contentious issues during the 2016 elections, especially in areas of Bundibugyo and Kasese, hence the year-long investigations.
The report, which is compiled by Prof Joe Oloka-Onyango, a constitutional law lecturer at Makerere University, notes that whereas the Justice Catherine Bamugemereire-led commission could be a worth-while effort, it is highly questionable whether the findings and recommendations of the commission will fundamentally alter the existential crisis represented by the NRM rule and the historical legacy of the colonial era, coupled with failed attempts at land reform by the early post-colonial governments.
“While the public hearings of the commission have done much to expose the shenanigans of land “sharks” aided by a network of officially-connected and sanctioned individuals and groups, the fact is that it will do little to transform the coextensive system of patronage and the mechanisms of political control and dominance which have led to the crisis in the first instance,” the report reads.
The 80-page report further notes that land has become an intricate component of the networks of patronage, nepotism and neo-patrimonial governance which have been instituted since 1986.
Accordingly, the diagnosis of the report is that: “the roots of the problem lie in the complete lack of transparency around the acquisition of wealth by senior government/public officials, the failure to institute robust mechanisms for ensuring accountability over the acquisition of that wealth and the absence of effective sanctions for those who take advantage of or simply abuse their positions of authority.
In sum, the system is rotten, and the rot begins at the top. That rot permeates not only the mechanisms in place governing the acquisition of public land, it extends into the arena of the administration of private land, hence the major problems afflicting the system of land registration in the country as a whole.”
For that matter, the major conclusion of the report is that; “unless the governance crisis is resolved, very little can be done to change the conditions of land mis-governance, impunity and institutional collapse which are but manifestations of the wider problem.”
In that respect, there were three regional investigations of land disputes and administration carried out by researchers, through key informant and in depth interviews, observations and document analysis, in a total of nine districts from the three target regions of the country – namely northern (Amuru, Agago and Otuke districts), western (Kasese, Kabarole and Bundibugyo districts all located in the Rwenzori sub-region) and central (Kayunga, Mukono and Kampala districts).
Besides, another team of legal experts led by Makerere University land law lecturer, Dr Rose Nakaayi, who is also a member of the commission of inquiry into land matters, and Dr Monica Twesiime-Kirya, reviewed the laws and the legal jurisprudence on land governance by pointing out the loopholes.
All studies led to production of separate reports, which culminated into one synthesised report entitled “Land Injustice, Impunity and State Collapse In Uganda: Causes, Consequences and Correctives”, with an illuminating mapping of the land crisis.
The three main areas of focus for the report are Land Administration and Governance; Land Dispute Settlement and Adjudication and Land Impunity, which led to the broad conclusions, respectively.
On land ad- ministration and governance, the report indicates that there is an almost total breakdown of the institutions of land administration and governance in Uganda which is largely the result of; (1)inadequate oversight and protective mechanisms within the land administration and governance institutions; (2) insufficient resources and personnel to handle an issue of considerable magnitude; and (3) a proliferation of ad hoc, and largely incompetent institutions conferred with conflicting mandates over land administration.
Accordingly, it is observed that; “absence of a comprehensive transformation of the powers, independence and oversight mechanisms of the officially-designated land administration bodies, improvement of the land regime will remain a pipe-dream.”
As regards land dispute settlement and adjudication, the report notes that there is a need for a comprehensive overhaul of the powers and resources of the courts and a strong reaffirmation of their superior position and independence vis á vis the whole network of governmental institutions that should assist them to execute their mandate.
“In the absence of such reform, the settlement of land disputes will not only remain a matter of increasing contention, but also of mounting frustration,” reads the report.
As regards ending land impunity, the research notes that since those involved in land- related criminality are not only highly-connected public officials and significantly-placed non-state actors; “their actions of large-scale evictions, Land Office forgery and various acts of bribery and coercion can only be curtailed through a vigorous process of prosecution.”
But, in order to achieve the massive prosecution of the culprits in the land crisis, it is proposed that there should be inculcation of a new political dispensation with the necessary will to address the situation of impunity.
“The signalling of such will can only come from the highest office in the land, the Presidency,” reads the report.
The researchers opine that the disclosure of who owns what land and property, how they acquired it and whether their acquisitions match their earnings, is a prerequisite step that will lead to wider revelations of the wealth of public servants and those connected to them.
“The demonstration of that will is only possible with a full disclosure of all the assets and liabilities of all public officials, commencing with the President,” reads the report.
The way forward proposed by the report is that there should be a national dialogue to chart a way forward but with a strong focus on issues of human rights and governance.
During the launch of the report, stakeholders, including senior citizens, religious leaders, cultural leaders, local leaders as well as academia, critically reflect on the report’s findings.
Opening the discussion was Richard Mugisha, the executive director of OSIEA, who much as he agrees with the report findings on the land crisis to be an issue of state collapse, he argues that the diagnosis must be tilted further to encompass the land question in from the context of globalisation.
“The question of land is global...If the argument is that citizens are stakeholders, who are the owners? If the deprivation of the land is for development, whose development is it anyway? Development without people is useless.” Mugisha opened the discussion as he gave an anecdotal example of Madagascar, where land led to the overthrow of a government.
PREDATORY CAPITALIST STATE
Contributing to the discussion under the theme of “land as a cause of conquest, domination and subjugation: The case of Uganda,” Kalundi Serumaga, a native cultural and civic activist, said the report is a descriptive mapping of the land crisis.
“As a descriptive mapping, it is fine but when it goes towards the end, it talks about the break- down of the state as the cause of the problem; then it is wrong to that extent,” he said.
Serumaga argues that to understand the land crisis well, the curtain has to be taken back to the time when Uganda became an imperial state.
“This period will help you understand that the situation today is not accidental but deliberate...it was intended to serve the capitalist system. Land question must be interrogated from that perspective,” he argues.
Serumaga, who uses class analysis lenses, was not shy to inform the gathering that the land reforms must be appreciated from the global conversation of agribusiness.
“The whites need more corn to feed their cattle and chicken but they anticipate that most of this corn will come from Africa. Now two things will be needed: the land and the production. The only way to get this land is through the local elite depriving peasants, which they in turn will give to the so-called capitalist in agribusiness, under the guise of foreign investors,” he said.
On the needed production levels, Serumaga argues that this will be enabled through use of the genetically modified seeds.
“But for the GMOs, they will need laws in place to regulate it. Explaining why they rushed to pass the law on GMOs as we were in the age limit debate,” he said.
Serumaga concludes that to facilitate the needed outcomes, agri-business needs a government and a state system that supports it.
“The current capitalist state is a robber, thief or armed robber. A robber cannot change habits. So, any proposed reforms within this state is wrong...the solution is to get rid of it and get back to our native state system that was good,” he said advising that all citizen formations must be alive to the problem of land crisis from that context.
On his part, Daniel Kalinaki, a managing editor at Nation Media Group, agreed with Serumaga’s diagnosis.
”The land question is not merely legal, political or administrative but it takes us back to 1884. Let’s look at the companies that have come to take over. Who is buying this land and for what benefit? Rarely do you see someone taking the land and they develop it but they are merely commission agents,” Kalinaki said.
Norah Owaraga, a cultural anthropologist, thinks that the solution is to get rid of the English legal system that commodifies land and is couched in the neoliberal paradigm.
“If we are buying into the neoliberal paradigm, then the success of it is when the majority of the Ugandans are landless...English law can be subjugated by our old wisdom of the mutuba and user rights as opposed to individual ownership,” she said.
While reacting to the report and reactions to it, Betty Amongi the lands minister, disagreed with the report as being ill-informed.
“What is a state that has collapsed? Uganda is not a state that has collapsed, if we are use the definition of the UN. Injustice; we have given titles to people, is that injustice? Impunity maybe to some extent,” Amongi said.
On grabbing of land, Amongi disputed land grabbing; “You will not see any person grabbing private land...The problem is on mailo land, which creates multiple interests and public land,” she said.
On the part of investors, Amongi said investors are allocated land that belongs to government. “In the case where they want private land, that is when we give technical support to help them negotiate,” Amongi said.