What a week! After wrapping up my first week in the office in Kampala, I was invited to attend a two-day conference in Jinja about land rights disputes in Uganda. Ninety-eight percent of land plots are unregistered in Northern Uganda, meaning people are very vulnerable to being forcefully evicted from their homes. Especially in the aftermath of the conflict with the Lord’s Resistance Army, there are a great number of unresolved disputes over land, and many people’s ability to move forward after the conflict revolves around their ability to reclaim their homeland. We heard stories from people who had lived on a given land plot all their lives and had buried their ancestors there for generations, only to be recently told that the land did not belong to them. The importance of this issue was really impressed on me during this conference, but of course that does not mean that there is an easy solution.
It was a very sobering conference, learning about many ways that people are approaching these disputes, and the pros and cons of each. The conference was attended by some of the top leaders on land rights in Uganda, from neighboring African countries, as well as a few representatives from Europe and the United States. Despite the diversity in the room, one of the speakers noted how many were missing from this conversation, including numerous traditional Ugandan clans. It struck me how privileged I was to be there, as the American legal intern who has been in the country for less than two weeks, yet there were entire clans of Ugandans with deep roots here who did not have a seat at the table.
Some of the people had a lot of praise for organizations like SAFE, among others, who have run “sensitization” workshops in Northern Uganda, to educate the people about their land rights and train them in Alternative Dispute Resolution, so that they can hopefully be involved in peacefully resolving the disputes on their own. Others were more critical of these sensitization workshops, pointing out that the people teaching them first needed to sensitize themselves about the complexity of the issues at stake. Some people were in favor of converting the Customary Land Tenure system to a new system, as the Ugandan Constitution permits. Others were so opposed to this conversion that they talked about rallying their voices all the way to the national level to repeal that clause of the Constitution. All in all, I am glad that I was able to attend this conference because it really deepened my understanding of this complex and important issue.
A group photo outside of the conference with the Uganda Land Alliance.
Outside of work, I was also able to spend an amazing weekend exploring Jinja. Jinja is the famous home to the source of the Nile, so naturally I spent my weekend on the river. I’ve done plenty of kayaking in my life, but the sheer, simultaneous power and peace of the Nile was unlike any other time I’ve spent on the water. I am truly thankful to have this opportunity to work in and explore Uganda.
Kayaking on the Nile. I could have spent days out on the water, and this view would never get old.