OPINION: Land contestation in Uganda

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OPINION: Land contestation in Uganda
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Going by the reports in the news media that we consume daily, the work of most RDCs and their deputies all over the country has drastically changed from what we had known them for before.

Currently, most of the RDCs and their deputies are constantly engaged in trying to arbitrate in land matters. In a way, the primary engagement of these RDCs has now turned to be land issues!

No single day that goes by without a media news report of land eviction, land grabbing, land contestation, land related violence or land related loss of life. All this continues to happen in-spite of the already known government position in regard to land matters in the country.

The questions to be asked are many but are as follows:

  1. What has the country failed to do in trying to stop the ever increasing contestation over land?
  2. Can the country Uganda afford to continue limping on with the current unresolved issues with land?
  3. Can this country still hope to develop when one of the key primary and very crucial factors of production called land is always a subject of vicious contestation?

What must be noted is that as the country's population continues to grow exponentially, contestation of land is also going to skyrocket because land is inelastic in nature and certainly more pressure is going to be exerted on this finite resource by the demand to support the increasing number of human beings that are being added to the country's human stock.

It is estimated that currently we are 48mn people as of today as we close the year 2023. This figure is estimated to increase to 60mn people by 2030 and to 150mn people by 2050.

Not to sound so alarmist, we should however note that there are countries of the world which are actually much smaller or a little bigger than Uganda which have much larger populations and that however those countries are progressing economically providing for their citizens with far much better lives.

From the above table, there are a number of interesting facts that we need to focus on as we try to find ways of addressing the land issues that are currently bedeviling our country and have become the major source of unending conflicts and acrimony.

For example, it can be seen that although Uganda has a much larger land size availability of 199,819 sqkm than countries like Austria (97,230 skm), South Korea (97,230 skm) and Singapore (700 skm) respectively, each of those countries have much higher GDP and Per Capta incomes than Uganda. While on the other hand, United Kingdom which has a slightly bigger land size than Uganda is having a very large GDP and Per Capta income than Uganda.

What can be deduced from the above analysis is that a country can have a small land size and a large population like the case of South Korea and United Kingdom, but what determines the quality of life in terms of its GDP and per capta income is how that land is utilized and what economic activities the population of that country is engaged in.

As for most of the countries that we have compared with Uganda in the table, it is evident that it is not the elasticity or the inelasticity of the land size that has propelled them to prosperity but rather, the way they have utilized whatever land that is available to them. The striking fact about the countries that we have considered is that they have all moved away from being dependent of agriculture as their development economic activity.

Those countries are all engaged in industrial economic activities which are supported heavily by technological and logistical advancements coupled with planned urbanization. This means that as urbanization grows, there is a decrease on the pressure exerted on the rural farmland which consequently enables more and better managed commercial farming for increased and better yields.

On the contrary, in Uganda, our economy continues to largely depend on agriculture and the bulk of our population is still engaged in subsistence farming of tilling of the land. Therefore, any increase in the number of households that are to be engaged on a particular piece of land will inevitably exert more pressure on that land and this inertia will be exhibited not only in the reduction of production yields of those fragmented pieces of land, but even more so in the increase in the number of land conflicts.

As the population grows to outstrip the available productive farmland there will be increase in land contestation which do result often in the kind of land wrangles that we are witnessing all over the country.

Therefore, given the fact that our population is exponentially growing yet we are still primarily an agricultural country, we must find ways of restraining on population growth as we do deliberately do whatever it takes to try and move the largest section of our people from agriculture to industrial manufacturing.

Should we fail to heed to the clarion call on reigning in on the rapid growing population, it won’t be a surprise anymore to anyone that not only the RDCs and their Deputies will find themselves fully embroiled in arbitration of land matters, but even other organs of government will be sucked in this matter endlessly. The issue of land will just get bloodier and more acrimonious as our population continue to rise exponentially and unabated. It doesn’t help matters, when a country continues to encourage unplanned for population which is largely dependent, unemployed, unskilled and unproductive.

--- By Edward Baliddawa - 20th December 2023

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