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ugandan man becomes lawyer to win father’s farmland back

April 4, 2019
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In 1996, Jordan Kinyera was just 6 years old when his father’s land was seized in a legal dispute. His father would become one of the 33%-50% of landowners fighting legal disputes over land in Uganda. The problem has become so serious that there’s an entire branch of the Supreme Court dedicated to land disputes. Kinyera spent an 18-year journey, studying and eventually turning to the law, equipping himself with the skill to argue his father’s case.

Kinyera’s father’s dispute would last two decades in courts, up until April 1st, when the Supreme Court finally handed down judgment that Kinyera’s father’s land be returned to the family, reported the BBC.

“I made the decision to become a lawyer later in life but much of it was inspired by events I grew up witnessing, the circumstances and frustrations my family went through during the trial and how it affected us,” Kinyera said. The lawyer described how the experience and his upbringing guided his life’s path; his father’s struggle influencing him to do something about what looked like an un-winnable situation. “My dad was retired, so he didn’t have a lot of resources. He wasn’t earning at that time. He was desperate and there is something dehumanizing about being in a desperate situation and not being able to do something about it. That is what inspired me the most.”

Africa is filled with economies that rely on agriculture to run and Uganda is one of them. When agriculture drives an economy, then land becomes a precious commodity, resulting in illegal land grabs. Uganda also has the fastest growing population in the world according to All Africa, creating an environment where a growing number of people are fighting over the same parcels of land. Population increases have also placed greater pressure on land to feed more people. Colonization brought with it the wiping out of histories and records, such as land registries and the scarce documentation left behind creates an unreliable system of records that make determining ownership that much harder. Ugandans have to contend with land reclamation issues on all fronts and with a government that is not invested in strengthening the courts and the infrastructures surrounding them, the burden is left to people like Kinyera.

Kinyera is happy that his father and family found justice but he is also aware that his father’s prime earning years were gone before this dispute came into existence. He told the BBC,”Justice delayed is justice denied. My father is 82 years old and he can’t do much with the land now. It’s up to us children to pick up from where he left.”

This is the stark reality for the current and oncoming generations who have to fight for the stolen legacy of their families, in Uganda and places like South Africa. This new generation has had to inherit the struggles of previous generations with the knowledge that land ownership is a vital aspect of self-actualization, survival and possibly thriving. Land is a means of sustainability, often for generations for those privileged enough to have that asset in their families for that long. It is a gateway to generational wealth and when you consider the number of colonizer descendants who have land compared to actual Africans and compare that with the generational wealth present in either group, the proof is clear as day.

Jordan’s feat is one that should be celebrated but it also speaks to a larger injustice that has only recently become a widespread conversation in the fight for equality. When we look at the role of land in the centuries-long systemic oppression of Africans, we begin to detangle and undo previously imposed truths that justified the mistreatment of Africans. A son to have to dedicate his life to understanding and fighting the injustice leveled on his family makes for great filmmaking — someone should definitely pay the Kinyeras a bucket load of money to tell their story. The other side of that reality is that Jordan’s story should not be used to romanticize the suffering endured by Africans like the Kinyeras. This should be a reminder that the state of Africa and its people should not be taken for granted as natural, and that its youth are more equipped to fight for our legacy than our elders will allow. The everlasting African conundrum.