The System isn’t Broken, it’s Working for the Benefit of those in Power
“If you look at the faces of the two ministers, it is obvious they are completely clueless!” Ms. Esther Obaikol, the former executive director of Uganda Land Alliance, commented on a photo of elderly women, from the Amuru district, stripping in protest before two Ugandan ministers in a bid to save their land from being taken. Ms Obaikol was delivering her keynote address at a conference organized by LANDac, the Netherlands Academy on Land Governance for Equitable and Sustainable Development.
The image is an example of communities’ drastic attempts at gaining justice within a poor land governance system where the rights of many land holders and users are threatened. The image provoked an interesting discussion; despite the existence of a functioning land service delivery system, why did the women feel compelled to take such an action? What should have been done differently? Were the ministers actually oblivious to the protests?
This conversation set the pace for the three day LANDac International Conference on Land Governance for Equitable and Sustainable Development, which took place between July 8–10, 2015 in Utrecht, the Netherlands. The conference was attended by policy makers, civil society members and the academics from around the world taking stock of research, policy and practice related to land governance. It was an opportunity for us to share, expand and disseminate knowledge on this topic in the field of international development.
Organized as sessions, the conference focused on various themes including local governance and stakeholder participation. As presenters on that panel, we addressed stakeholder interaction in large scale land acquisition, with a strong emphasis on local governance. In my presentation, I emphasized the role of farmer organizations as legitimate representatives in land policy spaces and shared recommendations from a study conducted by the Land Academy and Agriterra on the role of farmer organizations in decision making on land governance issues in Uganda. I highlighted the fact that district farmer organizations as well as Uganda National Farmers Federation were intent on promoting farming activities while placing minimal effort in representing farmers in spaces addressing land governance issues. Participants agreed farmer organizations need to make a deliberate effort to build sustainable linkages with all stakeholders to promote an accountable, transparent and inclusive land governance system.
Other sessions at the conference addressed a wide range of topics, from urban land issues to food security, public land policies, the role of the private sector, conflict related displacement, gender and environmental issues. The discussions provided new insights and ideas through defining new research frontiers, policy options and investment modalities that would contribute to food security and sustainable development.
As the debate on the ‘clueless’ ministers raged on, I recall the words of Rachel LaForest, Executive Director of Right to the City Alliance; “We keep saying that the systems are not working which is not true. They are working perfectly for the benefit of those with power.”