Land conflicts and livelihoods of people utilising Namatala wetland in Eastern Uganda
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Although conflict over fertile land is an increasing feature of wetland use, the effects of these conflicts on livelihood are seldom well understood. This study examines how the perennial land conflicts in Namatala Wetland shared by Mbale, Budaka and Butaleja districts in eastern Uganda shape the livelihoods of wetland users. Adopting qualitative and quantitative research techniques, and guided by the relative deprivation theory and the theory of practice, the study focuses on the dimensions, drivers, land use choices of wetland users and mechanisms of managing the conflict. The study illustrates that increasing demand for water for production and moist land shapes the dimensions of conflicts resulting in cleavage formation based on class, ethnicity, and location. These dimensions overlap and are embedded with perceived multiple deprivations of water, livelihoods, social class, tenure, identity and jurisdiction that manifest at local and district levels. The study also reveals that land conflict drivers are compounded by perceived inequality among conflicting groups, arising from geophysical and dynamic factors. As a transboundary resource, the wetland use arouses ethnic tensions among the communities of the three districts that share the wetland, and it is exacerbated by political gerrymandering. Consistent with the theory of practice, the wetland users negotiate their livelihoods amidst the conflicts. Their livelihood choices and opportunities however are determined by both the larger forces within the social structure and the individual experiences and practices. The study reveals that the conflict environment diminished capital endowments by hindering optimal use of land and shrinking or modifying financial, human and social capital of the wetland users. In response, the wetland users have constructed unified fronts in securing livelihoods through loose and strong informal social networks that serve as collective labour, social and financial safety valves and buffers against attacks. The study further illustrates that the mechanisms for managing the conflict have been largely formal adopting the public structural model, and have implemented protectionist and divisive interventions that aimed at securing conflict zones, halting access to wetlands, threatening wetland users, surveying and demarcating the contested wetland. While these interventions can deescalate the violence, they reinforce feelings of relative deprivation between the groups, cultivate latent hostilities and produce uncertainty and fragility which can erupt into further violence. This study therefore argues that cultivating enduring peace needs a shift from a geo-spatial structural model to locally grown informal conflict management systems, and improving communication and information sharing. The study makes a contribution to management of conflicts in transboundary wetland by developing a transboundary wetlands conflict management framework. The use of the wetland therefore needs to be guided by a well-regulated system through deliberate and elaborate plans that promote eco-friendly alternative livelihoods, accompanied by training, technical support, and supervision.