Uganda has made significant strides in recognition of the rights of vulnerable persons in most of the recently passed laws and policies.
The Uganda National Land Policy (2013) says vulnerable groups including persons infected and affected by HIV/AIDS, persons with disability, elders and internally displaced persons, are prone to loss of land rights due to poverty-induced asset transfers, distress sales, land grabbing and abuse of land inheritance procedures.
In the land policy, government commits to ensure that legislation and management practice accord all vulnerable groups equal land rights in acquisition, transmission, and use of land. It also provides for regulation of land markets to curtail distress land sales and ensure that the land rights of the vulnerable groups are protected. Such rigor in the policy should be commended as we await implementation of the strategies laid out to make the policy statements come to pass.
We should, however, note that laws, policies and civil campaigns per se cannot translate into security of tenure for the vulnerable groups. Real investments must be made in other directly productive and social sectors to create a fertile ground for protection of land rights. For instance, we may be interested in finding out what makes persons infected and affected by HIV/AIDS, the terminally ill, persons with disability, elders and internally displaced persons vulnerable. The cause of vulnerability is most likely rooted in inefficiencies in other sectors other than land management and administration.
For many years, investments in Uganda’s sectors which could translate into reduced vulnerability of poor citizens have remained low or even dwindled. In April 2001, heads of state of African Union countries met in Abuja, Nigeria and pledged to set a target of allocating at least 15% of their annual budget to improve the health sector. In the 2013/2013 financial year, Uganda allocated only 7.9% of the budget to the health sector, which was a reduction from 8.3% in 2009/2010. Ugandans directly meet 50% of health financing through out of pocket payments when they fall sick. The poor sale their land in distress to pay bills in health facilities, hence worsens their poverty situation.
The agricultural sector is not doing any better. At the Second Ordinary Assembly of the African Union in July 2003 in Maputo, African Heads of State and Government endorsed the “Maputo Declaration on Agriculture and Food Security in Africa”. They made a commitment to allocate at least 10 percent of national budgetary resources to agriculture and rural development policy implementation within five years. It is disappointing to note that Uganda’s allocation to the agricultural sector has been ranging between 3-4% of the national budget.
The biggest percentage of the vulnerable people referred to in the National Land Policy live in rural areas and derive their livelihood from subsistence farming. Without deliberate agricultural investment programs targeting these groups, they will never realize the value of the land they till everyday.
Turning to the education, recent reports released by stakeholders such as Uwezo paint a grim picture of the state of the sector. They indicate that our children attend school but many of them are actually not learning.
The education sector is widely recognized for its multiplier effect since it raises ‘antennas’ of individuals to seek more information and aspire for a better quality of life. Low levels of education greatly curtail people’s appreciation of the whole concept of rights and limit their access to land administration structures among other opportunities. The terminally ill, persons with disability and elders who are educated can hardly be categorized as vulnerable because they can acquire assets and use them.
If your peer into budgets of Uganda’s neighbours, you realize that Rwanda allocated 17% of the total budget for the 2012/13 financial year to productive capacities cluster (agriculture) and about 32.7% to the human development and social cluster (education and health). This financial commitment probably explains the success stories we read about rural development in Rwanda. Over 90% of the country’s population is insured under the Community Based Health Insurance and other schemes covering civil servants and servicemen. Illness is therefore no a reason for an elder or a person with disability to sell off their land.
As the government embarks on implementing the national land policy, it is very important to equally focus on reducing the vulnerability of Ugandans through ensuring their access to quality health, education and agricultural services which can translate into increased incomes and levels of awareness on people’s rights. In the long-run, poverty-induced asset transfers, distress sales, land grabbing and abuse of land inheritance procedures will not find space to thrive.
The writer works with Uganda Land Alliance