Kole, Uganda | By Michael Wandati | Widows in the Lango region have raised concerns about the mismanagement of land disputes by cultural leaders, accusing them of favoring individuals attempting to seize customary land from them.
The widows expressed their grievances during a meeting in Ayer sub-county, Kole District, where they highlighted that instead of resolving disputes over customary land, many leaders have become active participants in the unlawful acquisition and sale of land.
At the gathering, two clan leaders admitted to receiving “compensation” following the sale of customary land. Mr. Vincent Ebwoga confirmed a standard compensation rate of 50 percent from any land sale, while Mr. Tony Okot mentioned one percent as their standard rate. However, locals denied the accuracy of these figures.
Mr. Patrick Abal, the Awitong (clan head) of the Arak-Ongoda clan, argued against generalizing all clan leaders as perpetrators, stating that leaders in some clans are working diligently to safeguard widows’ land rights. Abal pointed out that the Lango Cultural Foundation has established guidelines for managing customary land, and the clan constitution provides clear directives on this matter.
Abal also criticized some widows for making unfounded claims against their clan leaders, especially when they are prevented from selling land for questionable reasons.
In 2021, Rose Atim, a widow with nine biological children, faced denial of access to land at Te-Opok trading center in Ayer sub-county, Kole district, following her husband Mr. Franco Okabo’s death. Mr. Godfrey Odongo, the Community Liaison Officer at Kole Central Police Station, attributed the rise in street children in urban areas to such land disputes, emphasizing the role of token payments to clan leaders in promoting conflicts.
Redeem International, an NGO dedicated to protecting widows and orphans from violence and exploitation arising from land disputes, has intervened in Atim’s case. The organization is providing free legal services to victims and has initiated a campaign to educate cultural leaders on the importance of safeguarding widows’ and orphans’ land rights.
Jane Acola, the Community Liaison Officer at Redeem International, revealed that their office has documented several cases against clan leaders who should be ensuring the welfare of the people.
A 2011 study by the Land and Equity Movement in Uganda (LEMU) estimated that 70 percent of widows in the Lango sub-region, along with 90 percent of unmarried and divorced women, are victims of land grabbing.