LAND AND THE CITY - Grassroots engagements on effective land governance for increased access to adequate housing and public open spaces in the city

For the first time in history, more than half of humanity lives in urban areas. By 2050, this proportion will reach nearly 70%, making urbanization one of the 21st century’s most transformative trends. Like in most developing countries in sub-Saharan Africa, Uganda is experiencing rapid urbanization, with a high urban growth rate of 5.2% per annum. The Greater Kampala Metropolitan Area has the highest urban population representing over 50% of Uganda’s total urban dwellers (Uganda Bureau of Statistics UBOS, 2014). It is projected that by the year 2035 Uganda’s population will have grown to 68.4 million of which 30% will be in urban areas. (UN Habitant, 2016).

Urbanization presents massive challenges to sustainable urban development. The growing population in cities increases pressure on the limited land resource resulting in a number of challenges including for example; disparities in land ownership and access, illegal evictions, displacements and land grabbing resulting from increasing demand for land for investment,  underutilization of land due to poor urban land use planning and land fragmentation, inadequate land administration and management especially in land service delivery and dispute resolution, weak land systems that are prone to fraud and forgeries, landlessness, proliferation of informal settlements and slums, homelessness and lack of adequate housing for city inhabitants, and lack of public open spaces in the city as the limited land in the city is all given away for development of infrastructure.

In efforts to realize Sustainable Development Goal 11 – “Make cities and human settlements inclusive, sustainable, safe, resilient, and sustainable”, the New Urban Agenda (2016) makes a transformative commitment to promote sustainable urban development. It affirms a vision of cities for all, referring to the equal use and enjoyment of cities and human settlements. It seeks to promote inclusivity and to ensure that all inhabitants of the present and future generations are able to inhabit just, safe, healthy, accessible, affordable, resilient, sustainable cities and human settlements without discrimination of any kind.  It aims to achieve cities and human settlements where all persons are able to enjoy equal rights, freedoms and opportunities in ways that foster prosperity and quality life for all.

The New Urban Agenda focuses on Land and Housing as one of the key drivers of change towards realizing “The City We Need”.  It envisages cities and human settlements that fulfill their social function, including the social and ecological function of land, with a view to progressively achieve the full realization of the right to adequate housing as a component of the right to an adequate standard of living without discrimination. It commits to promote affordable and sustainable housing and housing finance...

It further commits to promote the development of urban spatial frameworks, including urban planning and design instruments that support sustainable management and use of natural resources and land in a manner that protects and improves the urban eco system and environment. It further commits to promote the creation and maintenance of well-connected and well distributed networks of open, multipurpose, safe, inclusive, accessible, green, quality public spaces, to improve resilience of cities to disasters and climate change, improve physical and mental health, promote ambient air quality and promote attractive and livable cities, human settlements and urban landscapes.

The Government of Uganda in the same spirit appreciates the significant contribution of planned urban development, effective management of land resources and housing development as critical engines in driving the country’s socio-economic transformation. Government policies and laws including the National Land Policy, the National Urban Policy, and the Housing Policy underscore Government’s commitment to a transformative and sustainable urban development.

However, there is a great disparity between policy and practice. Even if the Government of Uganda has invested in putting in place very positive policies that would go a long way in creating a transformative and sustainable urbanization process, the reality on the ground is very different with massive challenges in urban land governance and management, which require strategic engagement, thinking and collaboration in order to translate the good policies into practice.

Inclusive land governance is one that is pro poor and gender responsive. It is governance that promotes effective participation of communities not only as beneficiaries of urban policies and programs, but as key actors, decision makers, implementers, monitors and evaluators of the policies and programs that aim at creating “The City We Need”. Effective and meaningful stakeholder engagement, participation and collaboration is critical to accelerate a well-coordinated sustainable urban development. It is important therefore to create stakeholder engagement platforms where urban thinkers including government actors, private sector, civil society, land professionals, academia and grassroots communities, engage on the existing and emerging challenges and collectively identify and recommend sustainable solutions to address the challenges.

Uganda Community Based Association for Women and Children’s welfare (UCOBAC) in partnership with Fredrich Ebert Stiftung (FES) are therefore providing space for grass root communities including marginalized groups like women and youth, to engage with their local government leadership on challenges they face related to accessing land for housing and open spaces in the city and together come up with sustainable solutions that will ensure that all city inhabitants, without any form of discrimination, are able to access land and adequate housing, have increased security of tenure,  and can access public open spaces in the city. 

The objectives of the dialogue will include;

  • To broaden and strengthen the engagement and collaboration of grass root communities with key actors on urban land governance
  • To discuss the community challenges related to access to land and housing
  • To discuss challenges related to availability and access to safe public open spaces in the city
  • To collectively come up with sustainable and effective solutions to overcome the identified challenges
  • Clarify individual stakeholder commitments, roles and responsibilities
  • Share existing legal and institutional frameworks and plans for urban land, housing and open spaces
  • Share existing strategies, practices, mechanisms in promoting pro poor and inclusive land governance and management
  • Challenges in land governance – Access to justice, fraud and forgeries, corruption, financial constraints, disparity between law/policy and practice etc and how to overcome these administrative challenges by creating short, simple, affordable and accessible procedures and standards that consider local realities and can benefit all, including urban poor, women, youth
  • Come up with practice and policy recommendation to promote equal access to land and housing, enhance security of tenure for all and increase availability and access for all to public open spaces in the city.

The Urban Thinkers Campus will be held in the community and grassroot communities will take lead in the process.  50 stakeholders will come down to the community to deliberate on the issues affecting the communities. These will include;  

  • Government Ministries:- (Ministry of Lands, Housing and Urban Development, Ministry of Local Government, Ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development, Ministry of Finance & Economic Development)
  • Local government:- Kampala City Council Authority (KCCA),  City division leaders (city mayors, councillors)
  • National Planning Authority (NPA)
  • Civil Society actors including women, youth and grass root organizations, 
  • Private sector actors including Businesses and Industries
  • Research and Academia- Department of Architecture and urban planning, Makerere university
  • Multilateral partners – UN Habitat, UK aid, GIZ, DFID etc
  • Media – New vision, Monitor, NTV
  • Land professionals – Surveyors, Architects, Urban planners

Article by Birungi Frances -Odong
Photo Credits: UCOBAC - UN Photo/Myriam Asmani