The Ugandan man who became a lawyer to win back father’s land taken 23 years ago

Mildred Europa Taylor Jan 28, 2020 at 10:30am

January 28, 2020 at 10:30 am | Success Story

Mildred Europa Taylor

Mildred Europa Taylor | Associate Editor

January 28, 2020 at 10:30 am | Success Story

Jordan Kinyera was six years old when his father lost the family land in Uganda following a legal dispute.

In 23 years, he would grow up to be a lawyer and would help his family win back the land.

In April 2019, Kinyera argued his father’s case at the High Court of Appeal in Uganda. The court ruled in his father’s favor, ending the long-run land dispute that began about two decades ago when neighbors sued Kinyera’s family.

“I was happy that all my years of hard work had finally paid off and that my father had got his land back,” Kinyera told CNN.

“On the other hand, it was painful to know that he could no longer fulfill whatever plans he had for the land because he is 82 years old.”

Kinyera, who went through 18 years of education and legal training before taking on the case, said even though he made the decision to become a lawyer later in life, much of it was inspired by events he grew up witnessing, the circumstances and frustrations his family went through during the trial and how it affected them.

Growing up as a child, Kinyera’s father made complaints about some people attempting to grab his land in the Kitgum District in north Uganda.

“That left an indelible mark on me,” Kinyera was quoted by CNN. “He had applied for the land and got a certificate of title for it but could not develop it because of the surrounding issues.

“I, therefore, resolved that I wanted to be a lawyer, so that I can help people in desperate situations like his.”

Kinyera’s father, who was a retired civil servant, lived in the land for most of his early years right up to adulthood.

“He had a lot of emotional attachment to it, having buried many of his deceased relatives on it, including his brother, after whom I was named,” said Kinyera.

It was, therefore, painful when the land dispute began. In 1996, Kinyera’s father was sued by neighbors after the dispute. “There were injunctions against my father, barring him from carrying out any activities on the land,” said Kinyera.

“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,” Kinyera told BBC.

Almost depressed, Kinyera said his father sometimes broke down and cry, and this affected his health.

Having resolved to study law, Kinyera focused on land law when he entered law school. There, he researched extensively to better understand the nature of the dispute and also find possible solutions for his father.

And this paid off years later when Kinyera won back the land for his family last year.

Even though his father, who is said to struggle with Alzheimer’s, couldn’t attend court during judgment, he was elated when he was told of the development.

Being 82 years old, he wouldn’t be able to do much with the land now, however.

“It’s up to us children to pick up from where he left,” said Kinyera.

“For most people in Uganda land is equivalent to capital. “If you’re poor, and you want to do something to get you out of that situation, it’s going to start and end with land because it’s the only thing you own,” said Phoebe Murungi, BarefootLaw’s director of legal services.

In 2015, a survey by the Hague Institute for Innovation of Law, a Dutch social enterprise, estimated there had been about 5 million land disputes in Uganda in the preceding four years.

A report by The EastAfrican said, “in only one in three cases did the parties go to the police, and in just 4 percent did they seek advice from a lawyer.”

Describing land disputes as widespread in the East African country, Kinyera is one of the few lawyers representing such clients.

He said the situation is worse for internally displaced Ugandans who come back to their home regions after spending so many years in camps.

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