By Simon Mone, civil engineer
Many years have elapsed since the war in northern Uganda forced over 1.7 million people into Internally Displaced peoples’ camps (IDPs) for fear of being maimed, abducted or killed.
The hostile environment couldn’t allow communities to make good use of their land. Some people relocated near urban centres where they felt more secure because of Government protection.
So a good percentage of the current generation of young people in north Uganda were born and bred in IDP camps.
Once the war ended, communities returned home but many found it difficult to point out the actual boundaries of what were once their homesteads.
A significant proportion of young people having lost parents during the war became child heads of households. It meant that an attempt to recover boundaries of what became defunct homestead would create conflicts.
Their vulnerability gave the initiative to elderly community members to try and take advantage by possessing land that doesn’t belong to them.
There have also been cases where ‘Good Samaritans’ helped settle some displaced persons who fled from the far ends of affected districts on their land near towns.
Once the war ended and they were expected to vacate and return to their villages, a number of people found it hard to go back.
They instead insisted that having been hosted for many years, they deserve to settle there. Majority of such people have even established permanent houses and are promising not to leave. Local council chairpersons have had to intervene in a number of land conflict cases but in vain. Communities are not willing to heed to calls to vacate.
Those who returned home found portions of their land occupied and this has caused what we have hitherto been witnessing as boundary clashes.
Conflicting villagers have continued to detain, confiscate property, and destroy crops and kill each other. Resolution of many such disputes has had to go to higher courts but the problem is far from over. A permanent solution lies in lower level institutions that exist in communities.
Traditional leaders (‘rwots’) and clan chiefs are still highly regarded and listened to by the local population. They know the extent of their peoples’ boundaries.
Most boundaries should still have records but where records are absent, features are available that can facilitate easy identification of land that belongs to particular communities. In the olden days, some areas were given names according to particular historical events, which events can only be vividly remembered by the elderly community members.
In the past, certain vegetations were planted at certain locations to demarcate borders between homesteads or communities.
These are features that the younger generation cannot easily tell. Cultural leaders still have the voice and so can find a compromise with their counterparts to allow peaceful settlement of all disputed land. Their direct involvement should go a long way in putting land conflicts to bed.
Where another community is only utilising the neighbour’s land for cultivation, traditional heads should be able to prevail over this to ensure that crops are not destroyed. For a long time, communities have believed in their cultural leaders and this has not changed yet.
They can successfully supervise land dispute resolutions and can also facilitate peaceful vacation of land occupied by other communities.
One of the reasons cultural leaders exist is to be able to provide solutions to difficult situations so that people can live in harmony.
Cultural leaders in the country should get involved in settling land disputes to end clashes among communities and tribes.
The writer is a civil engineer
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