Last week I traveled with my SAFE colleague Joyce to the northern districts of Lira and Pader to observe two field trainings, one for the Pader district local council and one for a group of traditional and cultural leaders from across Pader. The training for the two groups covered similar topics such as conflict awareness and mediation training.
Because so many land conflicts arise from gender discrimination the trainers from the Uganda Land Alliance began the workshop for the local leaders with a discussion on gender and land rights. The participants talked through the difference between sex and gender and how women can acquire and legally retain land both in and outside of marriage. The leaders all agreed that land is important for women to provide for themselves and their families and therefore it is important to protect the land rights of young women and widows who are frequently the victims of land grabbing. However, more difficult issues regarding land ownership after divorce or land ownership at the dissolution of a common law marriage were more divisive and lead to difficult discussions amongst the religious and traditional leaders.
It was extraordinary to see how eager this group was to learn the national laws and learn how to do legal mediations for their communities. Most of the participants were excited to learn how to conduct mediations and to receive the national Ugandan laws in their local languages. Now they can take the capacity for local conflict resolutions back to their villages and use their existing structures for conflict mitigation and resolution. Part of the reason for the group’s excitement stems from them feeling that they have been excluded from much of the government and legal structure in Uganda for the past several decades. Uganda has begun to rely more on a centralized government for peace keeping and law making which has left some traditional structures feeling left behind.
Hopefully, having the local traditional structures able to resolve land disputes and other conflicts in their communities will decrease the amount of crime and land grabbing that takes place in these rural communities. The state courts suffer from such a large backlog that land grabbing cases often take years to be resolved and can cost an exuberant amount of money which causes many of the unresolved cases to turn into criminal conflicts. By training the traditional and religious leaders in informal mediation SAFE is offering an alternative to the state court system.
I also learned a lot about the traditional structures and the causes of conflicts in these rural areas. The traditional leaders for example, are chosen by their communities to take positions of power for their villages and serve as representatives and mediators for their communities. The leaders are almost always men and are typically supported by a counsel of elders in their villages. The religious leaders represented the three major faith groups in Uganda, the Muslims, the Catholics, and the Protestants and although the religious leaders themselves were all men there was a sizable group of women at the training from a local interfaith peace club.
Similar trainings took place for the local counsel on how to recognize and mitigate conflicts in their communities and how to facilitate impartial mediations. The local counsel is elected by the district and contained a higher number of women than the group of traditional and cultural leaders. This group was also excited to learn from the trainers and carry dispute resolution tools throughout their communities.