From Uganda to Kenya: Day 4 and 5 of the Learning Route!

From Kampala, we continued on to Kayunga district – also called the “United States of Uganda” for its tribal diversity - on Day 4 of the Learning Route, where we visited a group of 15 women that have been working with a rights-based organisation called AHURICA (Association for Human Rights and Civic Awareness) on understanding the implications of the spousal consent clause on women’s land rights. AHURICA undertook research in the community, at the same time raising awareness of the Land Act and in particular, the spousal consent clause, which stipulates that any land transaction by either partner in marriage can only be done with the consent of their spouse. The key issue with this is that not many marriages are actually legally registered in the district and in Uganda generally, where marriages are often customary only – what we would probably classify as cohabitation. Also, polygamy is widely practised, across religions, adding another layer of complexity to the question of how to secure women’s land rights.

The women from the Kayunga association, which was formed little under a year ago and is in its incipient stages, shared how they have become aware of their marital status through this action-oriented research project. They shared with us how they have started to feel empowered by the knowledge they gained on the rights of women as enshrined in the Land Act and other relevant laws in Uganda, for instance, those governing inheritance – and how they have started raising awareness by informing their own husbands on the importance of getting their marriages legally registered.

Legally registering marriages were identified as a first step to secure women’s land rights in this context, and the sharing their experience, the participants from Mozambique suggested promoting mass marriages, something they have successfully done in Manhiça district, where they brought 30 couple to the district registrar’s office in December last year to have their marriages legally sanctioned. Sounds like many a man’s nightmare!

Some representatives from the local administration, including the chair of the local council, were present at the meeting, and in fact the role play the women had prepared for us showed how land conflicts can be solved: women whose land rights are violated can report to the local council, which can summon all parties involved to find a solution and ensure that no-one stands above the law. The presence of the representatives of the local administration seems to indicate that there is an opening for women to bring their cases forward, however, it is likely the more progressive and transparent administrators are present, not the ones that are corrupt or ignore legal provisions because their personal belief system does not recognise a woman’s right to own land.

We spent that evening with a round of feedback on the experience of the Learning Route so far so as to improve it for everyone and went to sleep for a few short hours (time of departure for the next morning: 3.30 am!), excited about the next part of the route in Kenya – and happy about our rickety bus having been changed into two more comfortable models so we could spread out and sleep!

Day 5 was mainly spent on the bus and at the border between Uganda and Kenya, where the immigration formalities took a long time – and even so, when we came out walking into Kenya, our buses where nowhere to be seen! Turns out that the Kenyan border police was in a meeting to discuss strike action and hence there was no-one to clear vehicles. So having spent more than two hours waiting, I guess we could count ourselves luck to have passed through before a strike! Once in Kenya, it was quite striking how fast the landscape and climate was changing and it was quite a pleasurable ride, though still a long one! We arrived in Nakuru after 3pm and found a panel of members and partners of the Kenya Land Alliance (KLA), an ILC member, waiting for us to introduce us to the Kenyan context.

Catherine Gatundu from KLA also organised a field visit for us to go and visit two camps of internally displaced people (IDPs) near Nakuru the next day, and two of the panel speakers were representatives from an IDP network. Despite our sorry state after 12 hours of travelling, the panel was lively and gave us a good overview of the status quo of land issues in Kenya – though some of the complexity only started to become evident the next day when we went to see the camps. As we arrived at the first site, we were awaited by MACOFA (Mau Community Forest Association), a member of the Kenya Land Alliance, to plant some trees in the arboretum they are planting for the nearby school. We planted native trees such as avocado (and to my shame, I don’t remember the other ones), one for each continent represented in the Learning Route.

The first camp was desolate, people, mainly young women with a lot of children, living in overcrowded tents on a small plot, working as day labourers on nearby farms to get by, while the second camp was organised, an association had been formed, a committee elected (nearly gender equal, 6 men and 5 women) and money had been pooled to buy more land for farming. We discussed the difference between the two camps that evening, asking ourselves what accounted for the difference between them, as both were camps formed by IDPs that moved on from a camp at Molo town formed after the 2007-8 election violence when this was dissolved. Both camps were established by people using a government “compensation”, paid as a “go back home” package, to buy land since they could not go back to their original homes (in most cases, those who owned land went back to their original community, while those that rented land or had small businesses did not). We discussed the reasons for the different outcomes in the two camps, and one of the key factors seemed to be the ‘englightened leader’ in the second camp, who recognised the importance of involving all members of the association, who contacted Kenya Land Alliance to get information on legal procedures related to land acquisition, and who recognised the importance of going to Nairobi to follow-up with the relevant government department.

The visit to the IDP camps raised a lot of questions for those of us not coming from Kenya, as we were not that familiar with the complex reasons for the post-election violence in 2007-2008. Our lively discussion that evening answered some of those, and by this stage, participants were interacting much more also outside of the programme (in the little space there was!).

Representatives from ILC Latin America and Asia: Patricia Costas and Roshan Jahan

More to follow on the remaining two field visits in the next blog post(s)!