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Lands ministry moves to protect customary rights in oil region

Following widespread land wrangles in the oil-rich Albertine region, the Ministry of Lands has announced plans to resolve this through guidelines to aid in compensation of customary land owners.

“It is crucial at the moment since people’s rights are at stake and we have the responsibility of protecting the poor and their property. We therefore have to put in place guidelines to ensure that those big oil companies and investors have an arrangement to adhere to and operate within the laws,” Ministry spokesman, Dennis Obbo, told Oil in Uganda.

He said the guidelines will protect customary land owners who have been displaced by land buyers.

Without divulging further details, Obbo explained that at present this is an internal exercise that will later be approved at a political level.

He intimated, however, that compensation due to temporary land use by the oil companies will be covered in the regulations.

He added that people who have already been displaced should consider negotiation or the option of going to court.  “Co-existence is vital as the oil companies establish their operations in these areas and there is a wide range of options to choose from to have a conclusive solution,” Obbo noted.

This comes at a time when civil society organizations are demanding a solution to land grabbing in the oil region.

Richard Mugisha, a land expert with the Participatory Ecological Land Use Management (PELUM) NGO, argues that the current leadership has no will to protect people’s rights and their property.

“The challenge is that our government has not agreed to the concept of land grabbing and believes that people willingly give out their land. As such, it has not offered a quick solution [to protect people] as investors rush to the Albertine region,” Mugisha says.

PELUM advocates for the protection of land use rights to enable communities and individuals to improve their livelihoods.

Customary land certificates

Obbo, however, emphasizes that government has an obligation to protect its citizens but no obligation to grant favours to investors at the expense of the rights of local people.

“It is our constitutional mandate to protect the vulnerable people and we are taking this seriously,” he said.

He added that people’s reluctance to acquire customary land ownership certificates increases their vulnerability to land grabbers.

“Acquiring the customary land ownership certificate is a cheap and simple process since it is approved and sealed by the District Land Board without the hassle of travelling to Kampala as it is the case for a land title,” he explained.

Although the customary land certificates do not have the same status as land titles, Obbo says that they do offer protection against land grabbing and “ultimately protect rights.”

The lands ministry plans to consult other stakeholders, including civil society organizations and media, as it draws up the guidelines, which it expects to be completed by the end of this financial year.

Report by Allan Ssempebwa