For better or worse, politics play a big role in Uganda’s forest tenure reform efforts. The topic was explored during a workshop, titled ‘Forest tenure reform implementation in Uganda: What lessons for policy and practice?’, which took place late last year in Kampala, and introduced five new publications stemming from four years of research in Uganda.
Esther Mwangi, a team leader at the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), said the workshop was held to present results to a diverse range of actors from the fields of forest conservation management and community resources in hopes of fostering debate on reform in Uganda.
“I hoped that there would be debate about what has worked well and improvements needed, as well as a set of key recommendations for policymakers and practitioners,” she added.
POLITICAL PROS AND CONS
During the workshop, researchers touched on the topic of political interference in the land tenure reform process.
Researcher Steve Nsita, who was at the workshop to talk about his study, Forest tenure reform implementation in Uganda: Current challenges and future opportunities, said many locals thought that instead of helping, politicians more often acted as an impediment to the land tenure process, especially around election time.
“The politicians were involved in conflict resolution, but most people thought they interfered more than they supported the reforms,” he said. “They tended to exert pressure on implementers to do some things that were unethical for the sake of votes. They also tended sometimes to support people who wanted to override other people’s rights.”
But it wasn’t all bad news for politics. Although Nsita was not surprised by the respondents’ opinions of the government and politicians, he did note that on the ground level, other government figures were helping to resolve conflicts.
“For example, village council chairpersons were often asked by the people and government agencies alike to intervene in forest-related conflicts,” he said.
The nexus of political interference, however, remains oblique. Barbara Nankanu, a researcher at Makerere University, advocated for more political support, which will in turn promote action, she said.
“In a way, there was political support, that’s why we found a lot of progress in getting things done in certain places,” she said, urging researchers in the conservation sector to “to find a way of dealing with political factors”.