I joined the Center for Global Justice this semester and have had the pleasure of working on a project for International Justice Mission’s Uganda base with some other staff members. This project focused on “land grabbing” in Uganda and addresses the issue of land and property rights—specifically among widows in Uganda.
Here in the U.S., we often take land for granted. When we buy a house or land, we expect it to be there for us if we leave for a vacation or an extended stay elsewhere. We certainly expect it to remain our property even if a family member dies.
That is not the case in Uganda. For instance, if the male head of the house dies, leaving a widow and/or children behind, they are at risk of losing what little they have left. Many widows and children live off their land, raising crops like cassava (a carbohydrate similar to a potato, which turns into a thick white porridge, usually eaten with beans) or at least enough food to sustain themselves.
Who puts these widows at risk of losing house and home? Usually members of their family or husband’s family. In researching these cases, I came across many instances of family members of the widow wrongfully forcing the widow of her land; sometimes claiming they were the rightful heirs, and sometimes even alleging the widow was not a legal spouse of the deceased. These cases occasionally are tried as “trespass” cases, which is what they are. Other times, the court analyzes who has the certificate of title to the land. IJM works to aid widows by properly registering themselves as owners of the land to avoid legal battles and land grabbing.
The good news is, Uganda’s legal system does seem to be addressing the problem. I came across several cases where the land was returned to the widow with the judge ruling that the only proof needed was that the widow had been married to the deceased. International Justice Mission does incredible work training local government officials and building up the legal system so that the land systems reflects right and just motives. Their hope is to ensure widows are protected from land grabbing. It’s a privilege to work alongside this organization from afar and see their progress in Uganda.