By Emilian Kayima
Home sometimes becomes the battle ground when spouses betray their cause and team up with greedy land owners to illegally evict those who are firmly protected by the law.
Matters of land ownership and land use are delicate and deserve care and concern while handling them. Knowing how the law protects spouses in this case is a huge step in ensuring their survival, keeping the greedy dealers on the edge.
Early this year, a legally married woman ushered us in her house where her marriage certificate hangs in her modest living room in one of the districts surrounding Kampala. She told us a moving story where she woke up one morning only to find her piece of land (kibanja) fenced off without her consent.
Mind you the law in Uganda especially in Buganda provides for dual ownership of land; in the first case, a land owner who has legal interests co-exists with a kibanja owner who has equitable interests.
This lady’s rights as a legally married wife on a piece of land where the family resides and derives livelihood were being grossly abused by the land owner, a fellow woman! What would you do if it were you or if she were your mother, your sister or your neighbor?
She knew pretty well that her security and safety especially in terms of livelihood were at stake hence her reason to rally her children, the community around and some local leaders in the brave act of destroying the fence that was erected around her kibanja. Is that taking the law in her hands?
She suspected foul play by her husband who had since left his matrimonial home to live with a relatively younger and richer woman.
Thank God, she knew something about spousal consent in the management and disposal of matrimonial property. She also probably knew something about self defence which is not only allowed but also encouraged to ward off potential criminals that use all sorts of tricks to cage their victims.
After the fencing materials were removed, those who had fenced off cried loudest, the reason we intervened to appreciate the situation on ground.
Already the land owner had reported the matter to the local police and the old woman, her children, some members of the community and the area vice chairperson were arrested as suspects in the case of malicious damage to property, threatening violence, theft of fencing materials and criminal trespass.
All these offences are clearly stipulated in the penal law. Reader, who is victim and tormentor in this matter?
The acts of malicious damage, threatening violence and criminal trespass could have been occasioned by the community and they have to be investigated but shouldn’t we listen to those whose piece of land (kibanja) was fenced off without their consent?
Did they set out to go and commit these “crimes” against the land owner or they reacted in self defence? Was there malice aforethought?
There are many issues that must be fully understood including spousal consent in property management and property disposal, forceful eviction of a tenant by a land owner which is criminalized by the Land Act (read section 92 of the Land Act), brute use of force to intimidate the weak and beat them into submission or unfair settlement of disputes and sheer arrogance by some rich land lords.
The other monster is corruption that keeps raising its ugly head around many corners of the world.
To know some piece of law and to have the courage to challenge irregularities and criminal acts of this nature need no condemnation but support from all stakeholders.
What would she have done if this greedy landlord had secured a court injunction restraining her from growing food as they usually do?
From where would she get the food and how would she ably hire legal services when even survival is hard? These two battles; to feed and to hire competent advocates to battle legal suits require steadfastness, finances, speed, expertise, and social support or else you risk collapsing under their weight.
And many do collapse, some die!
Victims of such machination indeed deserve our firm protection and defence but also our ears and shoulders unto which they can lean and sometimes cry.
But why let them cry when we can make them smile? Realities of life can sometimes be so ugly and shameful. At times, it is as if you are watching a horror movie!
This is not about this lady alone, the one who was betrayed by her absentee husband. It is about you and I and everyone else around us.
Do you know your rights and will you stand to defend them, no matter what?
The writer is a Senior Police Officer in Uganda
Why spouses, land owners must respect the land law in Uganda