Researchers call for re-examination of Customary Land Tenure System

Makerere University with support from the Swedish International Development Agency (SIDA) has been undertaking research under the project Dr Ahikire disseminating the research findingstitled: Strengthening Social Sciences Research for National Development. One of the projects focused on customary land tenure in the context of contemporary policy imperatives.

On 11th April 2019, the Principal Investigator, Dr Josephine Ahikire disseminated research findings of one of their projects to the Makerere University community and stakeholders in the lands sector. The paper titled: “Men, Marriage and Women’s Land Rights: Reflections on Customary Land Tenure Systems in Rural Uganda” interrogates the place of men and women in various customary land tenure trajectories and brings to the fore the need to re-problematise the issue of women’s land rights.

It is based on a study conducted in Acholi (Amuru), Buganda (Kayunga) and Kigezi (Rukiga).

According to Dr Ahikire, the study was informed by the need to re-examine customary land tenure especially in view of new policy directions such as registration and issuance of Certificates of Customary Ownership (CCOs), as well as the apparent land rush across the country leading to mass evictions and displacement. The main concern was about the under-theorised nature of gender relations in customary land tenure which has also tended to recreate and legitimate patriarchal discourses on land in contemporary times, thereby infusing itself into policy and new modes of land access.

Dr Ssali (L), Dr Manyire and Prof. Bantebya follow the proceedingsIn the paper, Dr Ahikire and her research team analyze the challenges that are unique to women as regards to the customary land tenure system. These include the inherent dilemma of customary tenure where rights are allocated and sanctioned following the customs of a given community; the increasing individualization of land; men’s abuse of power- in the name of custom, and poor land governance.

In light of the challenges, the research team underscores the need for more dialogue and redefinition of the customary land tenure system in a bid to protect women’s rights over land. Dr Ahikire notes that blind registration under the customary land tenure system may cause more exclusion of women.

During the dissemination workshop, the representative from the Ministry of Lands, Housing and Urban Development, Ms. Nabakwa Eunice briefed participants on the relevance of registration under the customary land tenure system. She however noted that a lot of sensitization is required before embarking on the registration process. “There is need to understand the customs of particular communities before embarking on registration to avoid challenges that may arise over disagreements on who appears on the Certificate of Customary Ownership”.

Ms. Nabakwa from the Lands Ministry briefs participants on the registration process under the customary land tenure systemLike the researchers, most participants questioned the relevance of registration and issuance of Certificates of Customary Ownership under the customary land tenure system given the increasing impunity of land grabbers in the country.

According to one of the discussants, Dr Henry Manyire, “Customary land rights were inherent and the Customary Land Tenure System used to protect everybody but it isn’t safe anymore. It is becoming hard to protect land rights with the extreme commercialization in people’s minds. People have increasingly moved towards crude individualism and are abusing positions of authority to forcefully grab land. They don’t respect other people’s interests over land”. Dr Manyire called for the re-invention and strengthening of the Customary Land Tenure System in a bid to protect the common man’s rights over land.

Another discussant, Prof. Grace Bantebya commended the research team for the job well done in capturing people’s narratives, noting that they are critical to the development of policies to secure land rights. Commenting on the customary land tenure system, she observed that inheritance of land through the male line largely dis-empowers women.

In her remarks, the Dean School of Women and Gender Studies, Dr Sarah Ssali commended the research team for the great contribution towards informing the national land policy. She also applauded the team for raising the University’s research profile.

The dissemination workshop was moderated by Dr Amon Mwiine, Lecturer at the School of Women and Gender Studies and a member of the research team. Other members of the research team were Ms. Harriet Pamara (graduate, PD Iceland) and Ms. Jovah Katushabe (MA Gender Studies).

See abstract below

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