LEMU’s land rights intervention slows down land-related crimes in Dokolo

RDC of Dokolo Barbara Akech (M) hands a certification to one of the investors. Right is Dokolo DWR Sarah Aguti Nyangkori.

In Summary:
Land and Equity Movement in Uganda (EMU) works in partnership with mainly the government of Uganda through the Ministry of Lands, Housing and Urban Development.
– LEMU has partnerships with local governments in all of the districts where they work and is a member of several international, national, and local networks.
– Internationally, LEMU is a member of the International Land Coalition, which has over 90 members worldwide.
– LEMU is one of Uganda’s six Global Coalition members.

Dokolo, (UG):- On Monday, 50 delegates from over 35 countries gathered in Okwongodul sub-county, Dokolo district, in preparation for the main international event (Learning Week), which will take place from Wednesday, June 12 to 14 in Munyonyo, Kampala.

The delegates interacted with investors and community members to gain firsthand experience with efforts to strengthen partnerships between communities and local land institutions in order to improve mapping and registration processes.

The interactions also included discussions about conflict resolution capacity and natural resource management, including wetlands in Uganda.

According to the Executive Director of Land and Equity Movement in Uganda(LEMU) Ms Theresa Auma Eliu (PhD), 60 delegates were also in the Butaleja district “learning a different thing.”

Theresa added that starting June 12, delegates who have been on field trips interacting with communities and investors will begin sharing what they have learned and what they can take back to their respective countries.

“Here (in Dokolo), we are learning from our delegates, and they are learning from us,” she said during a meeting at Okwongdul sub-county headquarters.

Delegates first visited Awer Forest Reserve, where there had been some disagreements between the community, the National Forestry Authority (NFA), and one of the investors, before congregating at the sub-county headquarters.

In its May 2024 report, LEMU noted that even when they, along with Dokolo district leadership, “put pressure on NFA and the demarcation took place in August 2023, the NFA authorities continued to withhold the survey report and left all the affected community members who were eagerly waiting for the outcome of this process in suspense.”

The same report also highlighted complaints from some community members who were discouraged from participating because LEMU’s project intervention came late, after too much damage had been done, and they were unsure if they could get full justice for the losses, including lives, they had incurred.

“Over the years, there have been several complaints or grievances. The investor is complaining people are grazing in the forest – people are complaining. Since 2022, LEMU came in with support from the GIZ and partners to begin brokering a better relationship. Today, I also saw as a miracle – when Bob [Elwai] was dancing together with the community and the community was singing to thank Bob for planting the forest. “It is the miracle we have been waiting for,” Executive Director Theresa stated.

Even if there are still some issues, the Executive Director stated, “This dance, as well as coexistence and cooperation, mark a brighter future for the community and the forest, and I believe that we should promote that with all of our efforts.”

Under the GIZ project, LEMU identified private investors based on the criteria, and it has been working with investors whose investments range from 5 acres and up.

Jacinta Ebot is a member of the local community. She said that she and two other women’s cows overpowered them and went to the forest, where the forest guards impounded the animals. “When they impounded our cows, they never called us, the owners, to assess the extent of the damage; they did not even contact our area leader, and they later sold our cows.

After their cows were sold, Ebot and the other women filed a case with the Dokolo Central Police Station, which later arrested the forest guards.

Richard Madete, Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) of Dokolo, stated that the land where the Forest Reserve is located was leased to a private investor for approximately 50 years, and that the “dividend” they will receive from the forest is “enormous than the money we have put there.”

“What we hope for is the sustainability programme,” he added, congratulating Okwongodul’s private investors on a “job well done.” “You know the government has its own method of working but they said let’s use the other approach of the community which I found very, very key in terms of managing that forest.”

The CAO stated during the Okwongodul event that he was well aware of the challenges. “The challenges that you heard from the community are local challenges; they are Dokolo challenges and therefore their solutions should be generated from the community.”

“I want to thank LEMU for helping us generate Dokolo solutions. So, the challenges are local and the solutions should be local – and we thank GIZ for the partnership we have had through LEMU,” CAO Madete added.

SP Patience Baganzi, Dokolo District Police Commander (DPC), stated that the majority of cases reported to the police are land-related. “Most cases when we investigate are land related but with the intervention of LEMU it has really helped us to fight the reduction in crime.

“Along the way, as we were trying to realize what was causing the bad-blood between the investors and the community we realized that the challenge was in the initial stage of investment in land. That was one critical stage that had been missed out and that was the initial stage of due diligence which stipulates about land mapping, engagement of stakeholders, social and human rights aspects,” DPC explained.

“We also realized that in all the relationships between the investors and the community, there was one serious component of power and vulnerability. In the mindset of some investors they thought they were very powerful, and then equally on the side of the community they thought they were very vulnerable so they are there to be sympathized.”

DPC Baganzi stated that LEMU has made significant efforts to change their mindset. “… of course as police, we would also talk with sense such that the issue of power and vulnerability is sorted out. In our messages, we have been saying whether you are an investor, community member you are all the same before the Law, before the government of Uganda and before the implementing partners.”

There are 27 central forest reserves in East Lango under the Kacung sector, according to Aguti Gracious, sector manager of NFA-East Lango, which covers the districts of Lira, Dokolo, Amolatar, Alebtong, and Otuke. Five central forest reserves exist in the Dokolo district, according to her.

“In 2022, we managed to open the boundary of 9 central forest reserves when I was transferred in East Lango,” she said, adding that 9 forest reserves are yet to have their boundaries opened.

Private tree farmers were allocated to central forest reserves in 2007 and 2018, according to the sector manager.

 Most of these farmers have planted while others have not due to hostilities. “People entered there forcefully and constructed buildings during the insurgency and they cannot now accept to come back, but we are trying to double our efforts by sensitizing community so that they can go back.”

In the real sense, she said, NFA realized that population increase is the major challenge disturbing our community. “Most of these central forest reserves were gazzetted in 1952, their boundary is not clear. That is why as population increase, people look for available land where they can construct building, where they can do their cultivation, where they can do grazing.”

Even when NFA educates the community, Aguti said they are hostile. “No one will accept, people will just go and pick pangas, bow and arrow to fight our staff; that is the big challenge we have. Most people wanted to kill us because of government land but we went down, sensitizing them the advantages of trees in our area.”

RDC speaks out

Barbara Akech, the Resident District Commissioner (RDC) of Dokolo, stated that LEMU made the work of security so easy – you made our work as security so simple, adding, “What you did in Okwongodul helped us a lot.”

The RDC said development partners like LEMU have educated people. “Our people are knowing their rights.” In the past, she said women were kept outside land. “In this region, women were nowhere near land rights; they were not even supposed to be anywhere, but as I speak, women are registering their land, they know their rights on the land, and they know they are supposed to own these properties as a result of what our implementing partners are doing, the dialogue, community engagements, radio talk shows, and many others.”

The RDC commended the delegates’ learning visit to Okwongodul sub-county, stating that both the community and the delegates learned from one another.

She stated that the sustainability of the project area is all that remains. “How are we going to sustain our people, especially the community and investors?” she asked, stating that she returned from the regional stakeholders’ meeting organised by GIZ and LEMU in Soroti, she intervened in an dispute.

“I took an intervention to meet and talk to our investor. When I spoke to him, he was very, very bitter, he wasn’t in any support but since the RDC has called you – you are left with no option – he had to accept, came down and explained what is the interest.”

Source: tndNews

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