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Do Certificates of Customary Ownership as Currently Issued & Delivered Translate into More Secure Land Rights for Women and Men

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A Case Study of Nwoya Using Data Collected by the Ministry of Lands, Housing, and Urban Development

This blog is a summary of a paper that assesses the effectiveness of a specific land tenure intervention to improve the lives of women, by asking new questions of available project data sets.

Customary tenure is the predominant land tenure system in Uganda. About 80% of Uganda’s land is held under this tenure, which is administered according to customary rules and practices pertaining to a given geographical and/or culturally defined area. Customary tenure is recognized in law, but land held under customary tenure remains largely unregistered. Despite customary tenure being widespread, it is not homogeneous: land can be communal or individualized and, in some cases, even held by families, clans, or sub-clans. Article 237 of the Ugandan Constitution elevates customary tenure to be equal to other types of statutory land tenure (for example freehold, leasehold) where the bundle of rights in land are clear, absolute, and exist in perpetuity. Section 4 of the 1998 Land Act and Chapter 4.3 of the 2013 National Land Policy of Uganda endow customary tenure with the attributes of freehold tenure: the land being held in perpetuity and having the same legal protections and standing in law. These policies and legal provisions also provide a number of tools for the formalization of customary tenure, one of them being the certificate of customary ownership (CCO).

Proponents of CCOs contend that CCOs enhance tenure security for women and men, while critics argue that CCOs fall short of expectations, disenfranchise, and, at times, extinguish rights to land. The objective of this secondary data analysis was to assess changes in tenure security that are attributable to CCOs by focusing on the completeness of the bundle of rights using the Conceptual Framework on Women’s Land Tenure Security. The analysis focused particularly on the dimensions of: usus, abusus, fructus, transfer, and future interest bundles of rights as defined in the Conceptual Framework, and it used three existing data sets collected by the Ministry of Lands, Housing, and Urban Development in April of 2018 with the support of Associates Research Trust-Uganda. The data was collected from the Nwoya district located in the Acholi sub region in Northern Uganda, an area where customary tenure is dominant and where many CCOs have been issued. The data sets included: an extractive data set from a quantitative census of all CCO applications of the Nwoya District Land Office; a quantitative survey data set of CCO beneficiary and non-beneficiary households; and a qualitative data set from established illustrative case narratives on the process of CCO delivery and effects of having CCOs.

Key Findings

Administrative data results suggest that the CCO application process is largely inclusive of women. The majority of land area (82%) for which CCOs were applied does include women among the applicants. However, the survey data results show limited completeness of rights, looking at the rights of usus, abusus, fructus, transfer, and future interest rights. For the areas under study, women’s bundles of rights tend to be less complete than men’s, but women in households with CCOs tend to have more complete rights than women in households without CCOs.

From the results, it is apparent that the CCO intervention did not, or is yet to, improve tenure security as defined by the Women’s Land Rights Conceptual Framework. Experience gained from using the Conceptual Framework for analysis suggests that the framework’s broad definitions of bundles of rights may allow for disparate or incomparable definitions and metrics. The process of constructing analytical specifications also shows that existing programmatic data sets may not contain sufficient information to measure the bundle of rights.

To read more about the research and outcomes, access the full paper here.