The task of a researcher is to identify problems and make recommendations for policy makers to act on. A lot has been written and published about Uganda but much more remains to be done to identify challenges especially those related to globalization and East African community and the associated influx of foreigners looking for land to own.
Uganda is a country whose economy and livelihood of her people depend on land for food and foreign exchange. The land has been worked and owned by peasants for centuries. British colonial authorities respected and protected that age-old tradition. In 1986, NRM government presented a people-centered ten-point program confirming that land belongs to the people. It gave an assurance that peasants who lost their land due to political instability and/or faulty policies would get it back.
In 1987, the government launched structural adjustment with a major policy shift and a potential adverse impact on peasants. Private sector and market forces would drive Uganda’s economy and the distribution of assets. Studies were conducted that emphasized large-scale farming as a more appropriate model for speeding up economic growth and transformation from subsistence to commercial agriculture. In other words, peasants were presented as less productive than large-scale farmers and should give way to the latter. Other studies supported rapid urbanization as the fastest path to Uganda’s development, implying rural-urban influx to create room for large farmers. Free mobility and settlement would be facilitated through various instruments.
In 1995 a new Uganda constitution came into force. Article 29 (2a) states, inter alia, that every Ugandan shall have the right to move freely throughout Uganda and to reside and settle in any part of Uganda. Uganda’s liberal immigration policy of workers and refugees has also facilitated large numbers of people entering and occupying land in the country in some cases replacing indigenous peasants. This development reminds us of a story in which a missionary priest presented a bible to a group of Africans and asked them to close their eyes while they prayed. When they opened their eyes they had the bible but the land was gone!
Similarly Museveni and his guerrillas presented Ugandans with the National Resistance Movement (NRM) government after 15 years of political, economic, social and religious crisis. Ugandans went to their respective places of worship and closed their eyes to thank the Almighty for removing Obote from power, restoring kingdoms, giving them the 1995 constitution and allowing relatives and others to join them in a land of plenty. And many are still praying with their eyes firmly closed. Furthermore because Ugandans have focused too much on fighting each other for political gain, stealing public funds and obtaining dual citizenship, etc, they have not paid enough attention to the fast changing land ownership development.
Meanwhile the rich Ugandans are busy buying large swathes of land, admitting and settling foreigners into the country. The incorporation of large rural areas into municipalities is in large part designed to facilitate transfer of land from peasants to rich Ugandans and foreign settlers.
Uganda is located in the greater horn and lakes regions with countries that have an acute shortage of land and political instability. The immediate neighbors of Rwanda, Kenya and Eastern DRC have had both political problems and land shortages. Sudan, Ethiopia and Somalia have had political problems that have pushed many refugees into Uganda who are silently acquiring land. The data compiled in the 1998 Uganda Statistical Abstract from 1993 to 1997 shows that Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania and DRC have by far large numbers of people entering Uganda than other countries. The large number of Tanzanians needs explanation as they could be citizens of neighboring countries entering Uganda as Tanzanians.
A few Ugandans that have opened their eyes cannot believe what they are seeing. In many places particularly in southwest and western parts many foreign settlers have moved in and the immigrants have outnumbered indigenous settlers in some locations. Land disputes have increased and some have resulted in loss of lives.
While globalization and East African community have benefits, they should be weighed against costs to determine net gains or losses. The influx of foreigners may not only fundamentally change the demographic composition but worse may overhaul land ownership that the indigenous people could end up landless. People who are coming in from land shortage areas know the value of land much better than Ugandans and will do everything to dispossess Uganda peasants of their land, the only asset and source of livelihood they have. Already the number of land less people without education is high and increasing. These landless and illiterate people cannot find another source of livelihood. They have become a problem in rural and urban areas.
Museveni gave us the NRM. “The party is synonymous with Museveni, with no permanent values or interests other than his own”, wrote Zachary Ochieng (News Africa October 31, 2010). The way Museveni has opened Uganda borders to facilitate globalization and the speed with which he is driving towards East African Community and political federation raises many questions including what will happen to land ownership in Uganda.
The worry is that many Ugandans who are increasingly becoming individualistic and selfish seem to be blind to what is going on. When they finally open their eyes they may get a shock to find that they have a federation without land. Ugandans beware!