In 1989, Mr Roman Alenyo of Kosim Village in Kobwin sub-county in Kumi District was hacked to death together with his son, William Oluka, over a land dispute. They were picked from their home during the evening hours of 4.30p.m.

The dispute was over the 30 acres of land that one rich advocate in the village wanted to grab. For over 20, the late Alenyo was in court battles.

According to Alenyo's eldest son, Steven Angiro, who on several occasions has survived death traps, his grandfather also died over the same piece of land.

"They strangled him and dumped his body in a cave. He was returning from drinking," said Angiro. He recalls how the rich man then hired people to kill him for resisting to give up the land.

In 2004, Pastor Godfrey Wanyama was taken to court by Ms Sarah Nantongo over a piece of land in Namanyonyi sub-county. Nantongo is an orphan. Her uncle however, sold land to Pastor Wanyama, without the beneficiaries' consent.

Mbale Magistrates Court in May 16, this year recorded a trespass case between Mr Kadoyia Magombe and Twahim Yofesi Wamboga. Magombe is accusing Wamboga of trespassing on his land. On May 18, another case involving land grabbing between Mr Clement John Waswa and Fred Watti was recorded with Waswa claimining that Watti took his piece of land in Sibanga sub-county.

Mr Moses Kirunza, a records officer in charge of land disputes in Mbale Magistrates Court says every year, they record on average 20 cases regarding land disputes.

"This year since January, we have already recorded 20 cases," he said. These and many other cases indicate how precious land is in Ugandan societies to an extent that those who have money use it to acquire it at whatever cost.

In most communities, land is an asset - used for several purposes such as farming and other development activities. Sometimes, it can be mortgaged to acquire other assets.

These reasons make land socially and economically important thus the desire for every body to own it. Owing to the sensitivity of land issues, the government through the Ministry of Lands has come up with a system believed to bring a permanent solution to the land wrangles besides fighting poverty.

Better system

The system called Systematic Land Survey involves the massive survey of land. Under it, land is surveyed and each individual is given the land title for their respective plots. The system is cheaper and efficient unlike the sporadic system that involves a single individual's effort.

The latter takes a long period as an individual has to go through many stages applying for ownership and the process may also involve bribery. Usually, an individual spends not less than Shs1m before he/she acquires the land title, coupled with so much time spent chasing the title which makes the entire system quite frustrating.

But with the systematic land survey, the beneficiaries only meet administrative fees of about Shs20,000. Other costs involved in processing the land titles are met by the government and it takes less than two months for one to access the land title.

The State Minister for Land, Dr Kasirivu Atwooki, while launching the programme in the two parishes of Bumbobi and Bumasikye in Bungokho and Busoba sub-counties in Mbale District (that are piloting the exercise) said the programme provides authentic land ownership. It also helps fight poverty as beneficiaries will be able to access loan facilities.

The system therefore provides solutions to land grabbing which guarantees security, unlike before when the rich used money to buy off the rightful land owners. The standards of living of the beneficiaries would subsequently improve because then, people will be able to access loans, let alone increasing the value of land.

Mbale District Natural Resource Officer, Ms Ann Nakayenze, speaking on behalf of CAO, at a workshop on Systematic Land Survey expressed optimism, saying the programme will reduce land wrangles.

"Once this programme kicks off, we are sure problems of land wrangles will come to an end," she said. The exercise is expected to take three months before it’s implemented in other parts of the country. According to the Acting Director of Lands, Mr Justine Bwogi, the government has already secured funds to conduct the exercise country wide.

"We have got the money and very soon, we shall be advertising for private survey firms to come and assist area land committees do the work," he said.

For one to qualify as a beneficiary, he/she is required to prove that they are the rightful owner of the land. This is done with the help of the system demarcation team, area land committee members, village local council members and all neighbours.

This is aimed at avoiding situations where the wrong people get land titles. The programme was first piloted in Rukalongo Parish in Ntungamo District before it extended to Bulowoza Parish in Iganga District where about 800 beneficiaries will soon receive their land titles.

Dr Atwooki however said the programme has met some resistance especially where residents were ill informed that the government was surveying land with a hidden agenda of grabbing it. In Soroti District, a government surveyor was cut with a machete leaving him for dead during the conduction a similar exercise.

He adds that the programme is voluntary and will only be conducted in places where the beneficiaries fully support it, explaining that the government has no intentions of grabbing land except that it is committed to fighting poverty and providing security to land ownership.

According to Bwogi, the exercise takes into account the third party rights. Third party interests refer to those interests communally owned such as wells, common watering places, roads and wetlands. "The demarcation will take care of things like giving other people access to wells. If someone has to go through your plot in order to access a well, you have no choice but to pave way through your land," said Bwogi. He says that in areas where it has been conducted so far, the beneficiaries are happy as it helped to settle family wrangles. The buyers are now confident when buying because the y know exactly what they are buying.

But there is still difficulty accessing loans given the bureaucracy involved in the verification of land tittles. "We give loans to salary earners but not to land owners.

Perhaps we might take on assets now that the land titles are authentic," said Ronald Rucecerwa, the Regional Operations Manager of Bayport Financial Services. Currently, no bank has received a beneficiary of the programme seeking to access loans.

Source: The Daily Monitor, September 5, 2007.