Unfolding Land Conflicts in Northern Uganda: Introduction

Guest editors:

Michael Whyte

Department of Anthropology, University of Copenhagen, Denmark

Quentin Gausset

Department of Anthropology, University of Copenhagen, Denmark

Peter Henriques

Department of Anthropology, University of Copenhagen, Denmark



          After two decades of war and seven years of peace, the Acholi region in the north of Uganda is still struggling to regain levels of prosperity and security that existed in 1986. Family and community capital, in the form of cattle and livestock, tools, seed varieties, personal possessions and rural infrastructure, was looted or destroyed during the years of conflict and much has yet to be replenished. The land conflicts that we explore in this issue have many roots, but certainly one major cause is continuing impoverishment. 

Land politics have long been a fraught issue in Uganda. At the very beginning of the colonial era, British authorities introduced in the Buganda Kingdom the land grants that became the tenure form known as mailo (the grants were initially in square miles). This was land politics pure and simple, a plan to restrain the power of the king of politically crucial Buganda by establishing an independent landed aristocracy indebted, or at least more responsive, to British rule. Politics, land policy and governance, born in 1900 in one part of Uganda, have persisted – and the links are certainly no less contested today, a century on. 

Over the past seven years of relative peace, some 1.8 million Acholi have returned to their land, but the scars of conflict and the social and psychological effects of enforced displacement remain. Today land rights and land conflicts – actual and potential – form a pervasive discourse north of the Nile. Brothers quarrel over portions; widows and orphans seek land access and recognition; neighbours suspect each other, bearing silent grudges for current and past encroachments; clans make competing claims to territory. And it often seems everyone suspects the wealthy and the politically powerful of grabbing land – or enabling “investors” to do so. But the conflicts that typically find expression through claims to land, our contributors argue, are not simply about plots and boundaries. They are multi-level conflicts, embedded in history, social identity, economy and politics. Land cases conflicts must be unfolded and explored in order to be understood.

This first number of the Journal of Peace and Security presents six studies drawn from current research in land and governance in post-war northern Uganda, focusing on studies from Amuru and Gulu Districts. A core group of authors are from Gulu University, Uganda, and from the University of Copenhagen and Århus University, in Denmark, who have worked together as part of an Enhancement of Research Capacity (ENRECA) Project on Human Security (2008-13) based at Gulu University and supported by Danida. Four of the articles in this first issue were presented in the panel ‘Unfolding Land Conflicts in Northern Uganda’ at the biannual Nordic Africa Days conference in Reykjavik in October 2012; they appear here in revised form. The special number has been supplement with contributions by Atkinson, Owor and Göttsches, who have been working independently on land issues in Acholiland. >> View Full Text (PDF)