UNMISS supports dialogue on how land ownership disputes in Juba can be prevented and solved
With a decades-long history of civil war and several waves of citizens fleeing or being displaced as a result, it is easy to understand why land grabbing, disputes over plots and subsequent violent conflicts are common problems in South Sudan, not least in and around the capital Juba. The UN peacekeeping mission is supporting local authorities and communities in their quest for solutions.
“Yesterday, a group of armed men cleared my late father’s tomb with an excavator. I was beaten and forced to leave the ancestral land where I and my family have lived for years,” said a chief from Juba’s Rajaf district. “If this can happen to me, what about others who are not community leaders?”
The man spoke at a forum organized by Central Equatoria State’s committee in charge of resolving incidents of land-grabbing. The event, attended by a total of 48 representatives of youth, women, elders, civil society organizations and other groups in the districts of Rajaf, Luri and Mangala, was funded by the United Nations Mission in South Sudan and facilitated by its Civil Affairs Division.
They had lots to discuss. Accelerating urbanization, impunity as a consequence of a lack of rule of law, age-old intercommunal conflicts, the proliferation of small arms among civilians and a tradition of violence, not least against women, mean that many citizens lose their land to unscrupulous people who take advantage of the uncertain situation.
“They burn down our houses. Our husbands often lose their lives. We and our daughters are raped, our children are abducted and our crops destroyed by cattle belonging to those who occupy our land,” said an emotional women’s representative from Mangala County as she summed up the ordeals that many go through.
She and the other participants were invited to give the affected communities an opportunity to voice their concerns and discuss their grievances with local authorities and the UN peacekeeping mission in the country.
“Protecting civilians is a key part of our mandate. By supporting this forum, we are hoping to prevent conflicts that can affect individuals or entire communities,” says Civil Affairs Officer Victor Fasama.
In and around Juba, the responsibility to demarcate, register and allocate plots of land for public or private use, for a variety of different purposes, lies with the state Ministry of Land, Housing and Public Utilities.
Its former Minister, Ladu Rombe, was present at the forum. He says that the complex land registration process in the capital area differs from other parts of the country and has made it easier for potential land fraudsters to act.
“They are savvy. They get hold of the plot numbers and the names of the owners and register the land in their own names. When the rightful owner shows up to register his or her land, it has often been done already, by someone else,” Mr. Rombe says.
Many detailed recommendations on how to come to terms with Juba’s all-too-common land grabbing issues were made at the forum. Most suggestions focused on the need for clear policies for the use of land, less complicated bureaucracy and additional legislation and judiciary action to prevent illegal takeovers of plots. Decentralized decision making and accountability for land ownership disputes was also recommended, as were special courts to deal with these frequently complex cases.