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‘Stakeholders’ in Uganda’s land


Lately, dominant discourse in Uganda is dominated with a lot about how ‘stakeholders’ in Uganda’s land are concerned about this or the other. One hears that so called ‘development partners’ are concerned about the non-registration of Ugandans land that is held under customary tenure, for example. 

One hears that the Government of Uganda (GoU) is seeking support – money and expertise – from foreign ‘development partners’ in order to implement the Uganda National Land Policy, thus making the GoU and the foreign ‘development partners’ ‘stakeholders’ in Uganda’s land, for example. 

There are several forums already established and others in the process of being established for ‘stakeholders’ in Uganda’s land to exchange and harmonise views. Yes, for example, at a meeting of those who considered themselves ‘stakeholders’ in Uganda’s land, one was surprised that the Chair for one of the Uganda national land forums for a certain region of Uganda was not born in that region of Uganda, was a non-Ugandan and was a non-African.

One has seen and read policies, strategies and reports in which the terminology ‘stakeholders’ is used in relation to Uganda’s land. In some of those documents, mapping of ‘stakeholders’ in Uganda’s land has been done by paid consultants who have been hired by those who are concerned to know who the ‘stakeholders’ in Uganda’s land are and how the capacities of those ‘stakeholders’ can allegedly be built – for what, one is not really sure.

In fact, the more one reads and hears about ‘stakeholders’ in Uganda’s land, the more one gets confused about who truly are the legitimate stakeholders in Uganda’s land. In one of the documents that one read, a document commissioned by the GoU and that is funded by foreign ‘development partners’, stakeholders are defined as:

“Persons within a system who affect, and/or are affected by, the policies, decisions and actions of the system; they can be individuals, communities, social groups or institutions of any size, aggregation or level in society... The term thus includes policy makers, planners and administrators in government and other organizations, as well as commercial and subsistence user groups... Broadly, the land stakeholders can be categorised as the State and Government, non-state actors, development partners and the public.”

Yes, one is baffled at the choice of definition of stakeholders on matters to do with Uganda’s land. When the definition is further explained, one gets even more baffled for the owners of Uganda’s land are not specifically mentioned as among the stakeholders. How is it that the owners of Uganda’s land are referred to in vague terms as “subsistence user groups” or “non-state actors” or “the public”, why not clearly specify land owners?

After all, when one Googles “Stakeholder Definition” the first definition at the top of the search results defines stakeholders as:

“(In gambling) an independent party with whom each of those who make a wager deposits the money or counters wagered.”

When applied to Uganda’s land, who are those that are making wagers that have impact on Uganda’s land and who are those who have received the deposits of the money for the wagers? Are the recipients of current and future wagers truly independent parties? Most importantly, who are they exactly?

The second definition of stakeholder that appeared in the results of a Google search was: 

“A person with an interest or concern in something especially a business.”

Seemingly, dominant discourse on ‘stakeholders’ in relation to Uganda’s land is located in neoliberal economic markets.  Land is discussed in business terms. Who are those persons or institutions that are interested in Uganda’s land as though it were a commodity to be traded?

Why not use the legal definition of stakeholder as:

“A person holding property or owning an obligation that is claimed by two or more adverse claimants and who has no claim to or interest in the property or obligation.”

In which case, the owners of Uganda’s land would be at the centre of those who would genuinely fit within the categorisation ‘stakeholders’ in Uganda’s land. And here land ownership is not necessarily only defined as having absolute right over land to buy and sell it; but can also be defined by one having use rights over land, as is the premise of ownership within the land tenure systems of nearly all the first nations of Uganda, such as the Iteso.

So, if we were to apply the legal definition of stakeholders to audit those currently included as being stakeholders in Uganda’s land, how will they do. Will they truly hold as genuine stakeholders in Uganda’s land? Will they be the owners of Uganda’s land? Are they the legitimate – legally and morally – persons or institutions to hold the stakes on matters Uganda’s land? If so, are they doing so independently – free of claim to or holding interest in Uganda’s land? 

One, in fact, believes that if a legal audit of those now included as stakeholders in Uganda’s land were done, it would reveal that many who call themselves stakeholders in Uganda’s land do not qualify or are not fit to be so. It would also reveal that the major and legitimate stakeholders in Uganda’s land are excluded or if included are underrepresented and are grossly undermined. 

A category of genuine stakeholders in Uganda’s land that is underrepresented and grossly undermined within GoU and within the interventions of its ‘development partners’, for example, are those institutions which own obligations over land that is held under customary tenure – the cultural institutions of the first nations of Uganda – Teso, Lango, Acholi, Karamoja, and more.

A legal audit, in fact, would likely reveal that some so-called civil society organisations (CSOs) who are included as stakeholders in Uganda’s land do not have the legitimacy that is required for them to genuinely be categorised as such stakeholders. For it is unlikely that when those CSOs speak on behalf of the owners of Uganda’s land – especially those whose lands are held under customary tenure – they have received blessing and instruction from the leaders of the first nations of Uganda. So from whom have those CSOs received blessing and instruction?

For any meaningful discourse on Uganda’s land to occur it is important for the term ‘stakeholder’ as applied to Uganda’s land to be unpacked. Questions need to be asked and answered such as: Who exactly are the stakeholders and from whence do they derive their legitimacy –legally and morally? Whose interests do they serve? How are the interventions of the stakeholders ultimately impacting on the current owners of Uganda’s land?

This article is written by Norah Owaraga, CPAR Uganda Ltd Managing Director (April 2012 to date). Read more about her here. Please note that her views are not necessarily those of CPAR Uganda Ltd.