WOMEN IN LEBNGEC CHALLENGE LAND GRABBING WHILE BREAKING PATRIARCHAL NORMS
For more than a decade, the Lebngec Community has been subjected to a deal of land injustices effected by local politicians, investors, and state-owned institutions. These have aggravated several unjustly evictions and intimidation of residents, resulting to escalated land rights violations.
The women of Lebgnec, who live in a patriarchal setting, which often excludes them in taking on important decisions that relate to land ownership and use; have been the most affected, yet they play a significant role in taking care of the land through farming.
The land struggle of the Lebgnec community has not just begun. It began more than 20 years ago after the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) war that greatly destabilized Northern Uganda, leaving many families homeless and temporarily settled in Internally Displaced People’s (IDP) Camps. Years later when they returned home, covetous politicians and top army officials had grabbed their land robbing them of their homes and livelihoods. Some had lost their land, while others were on the verge of losing the little, they had secured because of evictions by the military. Those who protested the military’s abuses were met with harsh retaliation through intimidation, beatings, and arbitrary arrests.
In 2018, the National Land Defense League (NLDL) began working with the Lebngec community. They trained and empowered the people to nonviolently stand up against oppression. They also worked hard to have fair representation of women in decision making of land discussions in the communities, because decisions were made by men and defending land rights was considered a men’s affair. Majority of the women in Lebngec appeared disempowered at the time. They lived in fear and were almost indistinguishable in community roles and responsibilities.
The NLDL became intentional and focused on the involvement of women in different programs. Through training, nonviolent resistance concepts and tactics were incorporated in the struggle. We were amazed at how powerful and resilient the women had become. We also observed how committed they had developed in defending and protecting their land, for their families and communities.
In 2020, the NLDL scaled up its nationwide membership recruitment, hitherto had only a few resources to support all member communities, yet land injustices were on a rise. The covid-19 pandemic added more uncertainty, and so did the communities we work with. Land grabbing cases raised to its peak during the lockdown. With courts of law closed and civil society organizations unable to reach the distressed communities, several state and non-state actors took advantage to evict and grab land from vulnerable communities despite the government halting all evictions. So many communities needed our support, yet we only had a few resources that could only do so much. We wanted to help, but we were constrained. Then CivFund came through. NLDL received funding from the CivFund through the Zishaye Grassroots fund which helped us support communities in Northern Uganda facing land injustices. The Lebgnec community is one of the three communities we continued to support during this time.
In November 2020, A senior army officer, deployed a team of seven armed soldiers to guard the land of (dispute), who forcibly evicted 31 households before fencing off the area. The soldiers roughed up whoever tried to access the (disputed) farmland and detained others. The senior army officer declared that he was carrying out the eviction on state house's directives. The women in Lebgnec raised complaints to the local leaders who remained deafeningly silent for months.
When the local leaders refused to respond, the women organizers resorted to utilizing nonviolent resistance (NVR) tactics to regain their land. With support from NLDL, about 20 women organized a peaceful demonstration at the Nwoya District Headquarters in February 2021, where they delivered a petition to the district leadership and the President's office. The locals demanded that the military vacate their land and end all brutality and torture.
The demonstration drew the attention of the State House Directorate of Lands who dispatched a representative to address the community after conducting a fact-finding mission on the issues raised. On March 24, 2021, the assistant Private Secretary to the President on Lands, Mr. Sunday Edward Ochieng confirmed that the soldiers who were deployed were not only deployed unlawfully, but also hindered locals and landowners from accessing their land and properties. This was the beginning of the disbandment of military deployment in several parts of Lebgnec. Over 2000 hectares of land was recovered. Their struggle was not in vain. This was one of the most notable successes for the Lebgnec Communities since the start of their struggle.
As the women and community celebrate their successes, they also recognize the challenges they face every day while tackling corruption and oppression. They continue to be at the forefront of protecting their land but also contravening patriarchal norms that have held them back for centuries. Through solidarity exchange visits they share experiences and lessons with other women facing similar struggles in other communities. Women groups like the one in Opit community in Omoro held a sit-down demonstration in May 2021, on the farmlands they reclaimed from land grabbers after a solidarity visit. They are now peacefully cultivating their land and supporting their families. The Ondegedi women in Amuru district are also cultivating their repossessed land after holding a peaceful demonstration.
Our hope is that we continue to liberate each other from the grip of greed, corruption, and oppression. Women are rising and nothing will stop them!