She goes about her home in an early morning drizzle, carrying a broom to clean her cow’s kraal. Later she brings a basin of water and pours it on the floor, and sweeps some more. Moments later she appears from the corner of the house, a sack of fresh grass on her head, for the cow’s breakfast. You can see why the cow looks very healthy; it is the centre of its owner’s life.
This is the home where Lydia Mako Ogole finds peace and refuge and is able to go tend to her precious cow. The home is located in the Central Division of Lira Municipality. But it wasn’t always her home. Even her late husband Ogole is not buried here. He was laid to rest in Okwelkwo village, present day Dokolo district (formerly part of Lira), about 40 kilometres away, for that was his ancestral home.
It is also the village in which Lydia cannot reside, because one of her brothers-in-law won’t let her rest. Alfred Acol has threatened Lydia with death, over a piece of land that was allocated to the 42-year-old widow’s late husband.
“When my husband died, we took him to our village home for burial. We had gone with some of our property. My brother-in-law grabbed all the household property. Then he started disputing the land boundaries that my father-in-law had demarcated, accusing me of having left my husband while he was still alive. He said I had no right to the land,” she says.
Lydia is a person living positively with HIV, and the threats from her brother-in-law don’t make the daily struggles to survive and live healthy any easier. But through her support group in Lira town, the Community of Women Living with HIV, she heard about an organisation that provides free legal Aid for people in her situation.
Surrounded by societal stereotypes about women and property ownership, Lydia was still fearful.
The mother of eight explains, “People used to tell me that a woman has no right to property. And I also sat back and decided to bear my misery. Some of the property that was grabbed got lost because I took long to seek help.” But that was before her brother-in-law’s threats on her life got worse.
On September 9, 2009, she reported at the UGANET office in Lira town, and her life started to take a turn for the better.
The UGANET legal officer organised the family members, the police and local leaders who mediated in the matter and the land demarcations were re-marked. Lydia now also possesses a Letter of Administration for the land.
“UGANET helped me in a way that I was able to know that as a widow; I also have a right to my husband’s property. Even if I wasn’t able to get back the household property that was grabbed, the land dispute was resolved and I got my late husband’s piece back,” she says.
Cypriano Opio, a village elder was part of the community members that participated in the dispute resolution. He attests that Lydia and her children are the rightful owners of the piece of land, saying, “This land belonged to Yayiro Ongom who had five sons, he divided the land among his sons, one of whom was Richard Ogole who was Lydia’s husband, when Ogole died he left his piece to his wife and his eldest son Dan Okwok.”
Tom Abia, the LC1 Chairperson, who was part of the team of witnesses, notes the importance of the community and his participation in such matters.
“I was present when the land was being demarcated as a witness but also a government official, to make sure that there would be no further conflict after the land was divided. I was present as a point of reference, where the agreements that were reached can be referred to in future by other government officials in case of further dispute,” he points out.
Joan Alwedo, the UGANET Legal Officer in the Lango sub-region, says that as the LRA conflict ended and people started to return home from internally displaced people’s camps, land disputes became the order of the day where by people were returning to land that was formerly not properly demarcated or boundaries that got destroyed during the war. The UGANET Lira office received 29 land cases between October and December 2010.
For Lydia, it has been a long and wearisome struggle, but one that has been worth the while.
“I can say right now that am living a better life than I used to. I got my land back and am able to plant crops on it. If anyone steals my crops, that one would be just a thief. No one can threaten me anymore. I got empowered by the knowledge I got from UGANET and I know that if anyone disturbs me, I can take matters to the courts of law and seek assistance,”
The lean, dark complexioned and soft-spoken widow now knows that her brother-in-law’s threats are harmless. She feeds her cow with a smile on her face, knowing that there is a chance of the two sharing many rainy mornings.