[Reuters] As candidates canvass for votes in Uganda's Feb. 18 presidential election, contenders are promising sweeping reforms to resolve land conflicts, one of the country's hottest political issues.
Elton Joseph Mabirizi, an independent candidate hoping to unseat President Yoweri Museveni, says he would set up a tribunal to settle land conflicts, particularly in the north of the country, where millions have been displaced by an insurgency, and in western oil frontier districts.
"We've gone to every part of Uganda and the stories are the same," Mabirizi told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. "People are living in fear of their land being grabbed by rich, powerful people."
Uganda's land conflicts date back decades. Illegal land acquisitions from the poor, unequal access to property rights and mismanagement of public land have all contributed to the disputes.
Museveni, who has led the East African country since 1986, is facing his most formidable contest in years ahead of next week's vote, which will see him face off against his former prime minister, Amama Mbabazi, longtime opposition figure Kizza Besigye, and others.
In his manifesto, Besigye of Uganda's main opposition party, the Forum for Democratic Change, has pledged to implement a public lands audit and review all land laws to ensure the rights of vulnerable members of society are better protected.
He has also promised to return all land grabbed to the rightful owners.
Other presidential candidates - including Museveni himself - have made similar promises on land reform. In his manifesto, the president outlined plans for addressing land conflicts, including the systematic registration of land and strengthening institutions for dispute resolution at local government level.
"The land question is one of the most important issues in this country, that is why it is emerging everywhere during the campaigns," said political historian Ndebesa Mwambutsya, of Makerere University.
But making promises is easy, the academic said, much more challenging will be their implementation in a country where corruption around land ownership is deeply rooted.
"These are just glossy pronouncements that do not address the fundamental question of the problem at hand," Mwambutsya said.