It is very much alarming how the widows are being impacted by land violence trends in Uganda.
This violence interferes with their ability to survive and the authorities should be worrying about them. They ought to work to ensure that men and women have equal access to land rights.
According to the records from Redeemed International, a non-governmental organization that fights for the protection of land rights in the district, 1,038 widows were displaced from their land between 2020 and June 2022 by their in-laws.
This prevented them from engaging in agricultural production, which was their only source of income and economic empowerment.
A newly proposed law in parliament has regulations on how to divide up individual and matrimonial property in the case of monogamous and polygamous marriages.
Additionally, it suggests that the partners should come to an understanding of jointly and individually owned property.
The bill also suggests that if a spouse acquires property before or during a marriage but it is not considered matrimonial property but that spouse makes a contribution to improving that property, whether it be monetary or in kind, the spouse who does not have an interest will be given a beneficial interest equal to the contribution that was made.
In a polygamous marriage, the husband and the first wife will hold the matrimonial property jointly, and the succeeding wives only are interested in the husband’s portion of the matrimonial property.
The argument made by Ugandan economist Walter Atiko, who is based in London, is that removing women from agricultural production not only denies them a source of support for their livelihood but also stalls the region’s economic recovery because they are confined to the kitchen and are only allowed to perform domestic tasks.
Samuel Openy, a legal advisor on land rights protection with Awino Law Firm, asserts that many of the women have been victimized under the pretense of the law where thousands are evicted as they struggle for livelihoods, even though the law only cares about a married woman in such a possible scenario.
According to Openy, women who are married but have lived together for a long time are particularly affected by the customary ownership of 90% of the land in Acholi.
Many have been forced to leave their homes, although some have managed to stay by selling the land’s stake to their children. They are unable to assist such a mother at this time, but they hope that the current Bill on marriage and divorce will close the existing legal gaps.
When it comes to the devastating effects of land violence, 52-year-old Jacob Olum Gerison from Opara village still recalls how they prevented not just economic recovery but also the illiteracy of the entire village because there was no money to send the kids to school.
Only 7 of the area’s more than 500 residents managed to finish elementary school and enroll in post-primary education, but they later left senior one and senior two, respectively.
Olum had met his nine grandchildren, but none of his biological children, who numbered seven, had gone past the fifth grade because the family had become involved in a land dispute with others.
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In September, several people camped out at the Opaa Sub County administrative building, hoping to resolve a land dispute through mediation.
One night, Akumu, a 25-year-old, was harvesting her rice on roughly 2 hectares of land while other kids were off to school.
Four of her children, who were assisting her in keeping the horde of wild birds from devouring the rice that was ready for harvest, were carried into the garden by the woman. They have to yell and beat empty tins to generate noises that will scare off the birds so they won’t ruin their crops.
Even though the Sub County has not yet passed a bylaw limiting the sale of property in the region, Lukwiya disclosed that local leaders who benefit from the conflict are the main cause of land violence in the area.
In the case of these land disputes, the majority of the complaints filed concern widows and orphans who are fighting for justice after being allegedly driven away from their marital properties by in-laws and relatives.
The Acholi Kingdom’s Prime Minister, Ambrose Olaa, claims that the lack of a re-settlement plan is the reason for the violence on the land. Olaa noted that since many elders who knew the location of the land boundary passed away in the camps, those that returned were unsure about where to start.
However, he pointed out that the various 55 chiefdoms have established land tribunal courts every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday to handle land-related disputes. These courts have been successfully mediating at least 7 of these disputes each week that directly affect widows and orphans.
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