The last two months have witnessed a simmering bloody conflict between pastoralists (balaalo and Basongora) and the non nomadic communities , bringing afore the country’s long unresolved land problem.
The conflict is particularly distressing for the pastoral communities whose nomadic norms are a source of insecurity in some parts of the country. In the areas of Kiboga, the indigenous Baganda , have out-rightly rejected the idea of settling pastoralists in the area..
The plight of these landless people is not helped by the political main effort- which seems to be directed at persuading the nomadic communities to surrender their constitutional rights. President Yoweri Museveni has been quoted in the media to have stated that the question of resettling the “Balaalo” was out of the question because it cannot be the responsibility of government to settle people who sell their land and start roaming around.
The president must have got his facts wrong. There is no recorded case of pastoralists in Bullisa selling their land in order to encroach on other people’s entitlements . To the contrary the Bullisa pastoralists have offered a huge sum of money to one absentee landlord to secure their land rights .Unfortunately the offer has since been turned down.
For starters , management of pastoralist communities for sustainable development has remained a huge challenge for government partly due to the high levels of corruption. There is this infamous quote from a once powerful government official who stated that people where standing on dams which they couldn’t see.
The bitter truth was there were no dams to talk home about. Money was simply swindled and no quality dams were built.
This ineptitude on the part of government , its misguided policies such as the allocation of pastoral land for other uses- ranching in Mbarara, Masaka, Rakai and Nakasongola districts; failure to provide social services including schools, health centers, veterinary services, lack of an integrated approach in development projects are all but the cause of the current standoff.
There is also a lack of understanding of the pastoral context by non-pastoralists and
sometimes by the government which has led to depletion of rangeland resources
and impoverished such communities .
But more worrying though is the emerging pattern of land conflicts in the country which seem to be pitting one tribe against the other . The promulgation of the 1995 constitution brought with it very significant changes to our land tenure system. The radical title ( interest ) in land was vested in the citizens of Uganda.
This means that all Ugandans (pastoralists) included are free to own land and live anywhere within the boundaries of a country called Uganda. The land Act (as amended) which was enacted to operationalise the provisions of the constitution- created and protected a new category of land rights under the communal/ customary land tenure system.
By its very nature this is a complex land holding system. The right to control, use and ownership of land in pastoral communities derived from being a member of a given community.
Those rights are also retained by performance of certain obligations in the community. This means that user rights are guaranteed in form of farming and seasonal grazing, access to water, pasture burial grounds, firewood and other community activities. No single ,specific ownership rights of control are conferred on one person.
A good land tenure system should allow people with land rights to voluntarily sell their land and for progressive framers/ pastoralists to gain access to land. Similarly people should not be evicted without offering them alternative land for settlement .
And much as Uganda is a multi-ethnic society, government should not allow tribal sentiments/ interests to divide the country. The sate should firmly propagate the doctrine of integration and republicanism.
Ethnic isolation cannot work in Uganda not even when you consider the numerical strength of some tribal groupings. We are all Ugandans first and our tribes are secondary. This is the same spirit of oneness that is being promoted to fast track the East African political, social and economic integration.
People should not look at Uganda through tribal lenses. The land rights of pastoral communities should be protected.
Next week: Government should introduce an anti-monopoly law
The writer is a Journalists and Advocate
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