Work package 1: Clanship, kinship, marriage and the governance of land

This work package addresses Objective 1: To explore issues of trust and mistrust in governance patterns based in clanship, kinship and marriage. It includes research that yields Outputs 1 (Studies of land rights and descent relationships) and 3 (Studies of women’s rights to land and security).

In patrilineal descent systems, land passes from fathers to sons, and there is a strong moral weight to ‘entrustment’—the obligation to care for a legacy in order to pass it on to the next generation. Relations between generations are marked in mortuary rituals and graves, while the spirits of the ancestors remain connected to the land where the deceased is buried. Graves are material indices of belonging, centres of attachment to people and land. They are also concrete (sometimes cemented) markers of the claims to land entrusted from generation to generation. One study (Meinert + 1 AU PhD) will examine the role of the dead and graves in land governance, first by studying the use of graves and oral testimony about ancestors as evidence in land cases. Are graves changing from anchors of belonging with vague limits to proof about boundaries of ownership? How do clan leaders and family elders use material signs and spiritual principles concerning the dead to establish trust in their authority to govern? To what extent do concerns about entrustment and future generations inform governance in different institutions of land adjudication? This study will explore some of the variation in land systems across NU.

Generation conflicts in relation to land are mentioned in various reports. Youth mistrust their elders, accusing them of alienating land that should be held in trust, or of not recognizing their needs and claims; elders mistrust the youth, claiming they just want to sell their portions of land in order to move to town. A study (Langole) on land sales and their implications for family relationships will illuminate these different sets of relationships. This study will encompass sales of rural agricultural land, as well as plots in small and larger urban centres. It will compare the governance rules and processes concerning the two different types of land, with particular focus on the rules regarding relations of generation.

A study (Oloya) of clans and land administration will focus on the relations between clan administration of land and the new generation of customary holders most of whom were born in displacement. Using case studies to identify areas of conflict, it will consider benefit from the legal provisions in the Land Act 1998 and ways of managing land with minimal conflicts, based on markets and local demand. The objective is to elaborate a land management framework for clan leaders. The study will suggest policy options, technical specifications for delimitation of land, and amendments of the current law, to benefit the new generation of clan members regardless of gender.

One of the most important issues in the study of land governance, carried out in the first phase of the project, is gender. In a patrilineal, virilocal setting, women are given use rights in the land of their husbands. Yet during the era of encampment, few marriages were formalized through marriage dues, and women often had several different partners in succession. Widows, co-habiting female partners, and divorcées are often thought to have weak claims to land. Ethnographic studies suggest that single women often return to live on the land of their fathers and brothers, but further research is needed on their long-term acceptance, and particularly on the land access of their sons. Many women do not have certain exclusive rights in a bounded piece of land, but rather possibilities of using or renting land in different locations where they have social ties. One study (Mogensen) will examine the strategies women develop for moving among different principles of land governance to ensure possibilities for themselves and their children. It will look at the significance of land rights in relation to other sources of security, belonging, and livelihood. Another study (Obika +1 GU PhD) will focus on the role of women’s groups in livelihood security with emphasis on the balance between kin-based and marital security, and that offered by women’s organizations based on other principles. In both studies, we will examine women’s access to assets under current conditions.

Relations of clanship, descent and marriage are affected by the loss of livestock. A study (M. Whyte) on livestock loss and customary land governance will examine these unexplored connections. Cattle were a traditional store of value in Northern Uganda. They served as quasi-commodities, exchanged in market and nonmarket spheres. Their social and symbolic exchange (in bridewealth, childwealth and at funerals) marked important relations between families and generations, the living and the dead. Their economic role as marketable assets provided opportunity for investment and savings. Traditional institutions of governance (clan elders) managed grazing land as a form of commons and dealt with disputes. Realizing the far-reaching consequences of loss of livestock, government and donors have instituted a livestock compensation programme in the North. The study will follow selected cases of conflict concerning cash compensation for cattle lost years ago, as a springboard to studying the changing role of livestock, clan management of grazing commons, generational relations, and the commodification of land.

The changing role of land in relation to social belonging is the topic of a related study (Gausset). With the increasing individualization and commodification of land, the traditional idea that people belong to land is giving way to the idea that land belongs to people. The old conflicts about belonging continue: Who can farm land? Who can be buried where? How is clan membership and belonging acquired? What role do gender, marriage, divorce, widowhood, polygamy play? But they are being negotiated differently, as the traditional openness towards internal migrants, sisters, or uterine nephews is giving way to a general fear that land will be lost to their offspring. Working class urbanites are increasingly cut off from their rural roots, and must send gifts to the village (‘buy their way’) to maintain their claims to clan identity and ancestral land. The new perception of land thus engenders splits and mistrusts at the very core of the traditional family system.

The individualization of ownership, as land is divided and sub-divided among sons, fanned by high population growth and the ‘phobia’ about possible land loss, will be the object of a study (Nielsen) that introduces a theoretical analysis of changing governance. Rather than assuming that political governance remains unaffected by processes of subdividing land, this research project sets out from the hypothesis that the relationship between governor and governed is being fundamentally transformed through processes of subdividing land. Whereas governance over collective land focuses on making connections and establishing social intimacy, governance over subdivided land emphases social detachment and physical distance. Consequently, an analytical and methodological objective is to explore to what extent ongoing conflicts are actually caused by such differences in governance rationalities.