More than 20 years of armed conflict between the rebel Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) and the Ugandan government displaced more than 1.7 million people and stalled development in northern Uganda’s Acholiland. Over the past several years, peace has returned to the region, and more than 90% of internally displaced people (IDPs) have returned to their villages of origin or locations close to home. The peaceful reintegration of returnees as well as the development of the region is undermined, however, by ongoing conflict over land.
Since 2006, Mercy Corps has implemented both peacebuilding and economic development programs in Acholiland. The agency has sought to integrate these approaches, motivated by the growing body of research linking poverty, slow economic growth, and conflict. Mercy Corps aims to develop holistic programming that will address both economic needs and conflict – interventions that will build peace by eliminating the underlying economic causes of conflict and, at the same time, open the doors to development by reducing violence. To better understand the relationship between economic development and conflict in Acholiland, Mercy Corps conducted a combined conflict and market assessment in October 2010. The assessment included a literature review, 21 key informant interviews, and eight focus group discussions.
In primarily agricultural Acholiland, access rights are a major flashpoint for conflict. Limited economic opportunity and the need to survive drive many land disputes, while others are driven by the failure of investors to engage with communities in a manner that is transparent and respectful of local values. These disputes arise in an environment where mechanisms for delineating boundaries, determining tenure, resolving disputes, and negotiating access are hindered by weaknesses in customary and formal law and by misunderstanding between stakeholders.
Ongoing land disputes in turn inhibit the productivity of small-scale farms due to reduced cultivation, decreased investment, and loss of economic assets. Moreover, while many Acholis welcome private investment, the engagement of private sector actors in the region has been compromised by limited transparency in the negotiation of land use, mistrust of outsiders among Acholis, and fear of instability and limited awareness of investment opportunities on the part of private sector actors. The economic consequences of land conflict limit growth and constrain economic opportunity, perpetuating the conditions that drive many of these disputes.
In order to break this vicious cycle, a two-pronged approach that simultaneously addresses land conflict and fosters market development through private sector investment is required. A market development approach allows aid actors to strengthen market and civil society actors to sustainably deliver both mediation and agricultural support services, rather than reinforcing dependency on external assistance through direct delivery by aid actors themselves.
Specific program recommendations include:
⇒ Strengthen land mediation and negotiation mechanisms;
⇒ Support conflict-sensitive business practice;
⇒ Develop key agricultural commodity markets; and
⇒ Strengthen delivery of services and inputs by lead firms and other market actors.