Despite impressive growth rates and significant progress in reducing poverty, inequality widens in Uganda. Even as GDP figures tell a story of success, the poor get poorer, while the rich get richer. Among contributing factors to this growing gap, land stands out as the lead driver of inequality in the country.
In a country where most people depend directly on land, laws and policies governing its use and management support big investors rather than ordinary Ugandans. They exclude the poorest from enjoying their land rights while benefiting corporations and already wealthy individuals.
Inequality in land use, management, and governance especially affects already vulnerable people and marginalized communities such as women, pastoralists, youth, and smallholder farmers.
The impacts of unfair land systems
Inequities in land ownership and access have persisted in Uganda for centuries. In recent years, the situation has worsened due to the government giving away publicly owned land or acquiescing in illegal land grabbing.
Nearly 70 percent of households in Uganda are engaged in land-based subsistence farming. Yet, national policies prioritize economic growth through privatization and consolidation of land for big infrastructural or agricultural projects.
This unfair distribution of land through direct transfers of public or customary land to individuals and companies increases inequality as wealth is concentrated in the hands of a few who further use such lands to generate more wealth.
Let's look at the numbers
Between 2013 and 2017, the number of people living in poverty in Uganda increased from 6.7 million to 10 million.
Between 1996 and 2012 the richest 10 percent of the population increased their share of national income from 29.9 percent to 35.7 percent, while the share of the poorest 10 percent decreased from 3.2 percent to 2.5 percent.
Poverty is more than twice as prevalent in rural as urban areas. Over 80 percent of rural households are considered to be vulnerable to poverty compared with under 30 per cent in urban areas.
While women constitute 73 percent of the agricultural workforce, they own only 7 percent of the land.
Less than 4 percent of the national budget is allocated to agriculture, which is far below the government’s Maputo Protocol commitment to allocate at least 10 percent.
Women disproportionately affected
Most people in unpaid subsistence agriculture are women, who are more likely to be poor and vulnerable. Women often bear the brunt of climate-related shocks, and the health effects of indoor pollution.
As land, forest and water resources are increasingly compromised, women’s livelihoods are particularly marginalized. Gender equity and equality in land tenure, access and control is essential to improve food security, education, health and economic development.
Put ordinary people before wealthy investors
These inequalities are not inevitable. The question of land is a question of power, and the way land policies over the years have failed to address injustice and inequality.
In a predominantly agricultural country, land can be an important resource for reducing poverty and inequality. Access, control and ownership of land by the most vulnerable has the potential to transform the lives of families and ensure a better life and livelihood over generations.
However, poor people can benefit from land only if laws and policies prevent the rich and powerful from trampling on their rights. Drastic measures are necessary to address land tenure, control and ownership and need to focus on the most vulnerable. Without access to so important a resource as land, the poor have no route to exit poverty.