In the rural communities of Kikwanda, Uganda many people suffer from property rights violations but have nowhere to turn to for help. Farming villages are often illiterate and have difficulty understanding complex legal documents and procedures. And those that can read find that the documents haven’t been translated into local languages. Even if they could read and understand the meaning of the legal documents who will protect their property rights and enforce the law? The nearest legal firm for villagers is more then 7 miles away — an hour and 45 minutes walk. Villagers such as 87 year old Kizza who depends solely on growing food in the small plot of land she owns. Last year, Kizza sold off a piece of land to her neighbour for a small amount of money; the neighbour paid Kizza half of the money in cash and promised to pay the remaining balance next month. However, 9 months later, the outstanding balance had not been paid. Where should Kizza turn to, and whom should she report this injustice to? Fighting for the justice of villagers like Kizza is Robert Kibaya. His passion is community work and rural development. In 2006 he established an NGO in his local community called Kikwanda Rural Communities Development Organisation (KIRUCODO) with the aim of empowering villagers and improving access to property rights. There are three objectives of Robert’s project — the first is educating people on their rights, the second is raising awareness and promoting where offenses should be reported, and thirdly is providing free legal services so that communities have somewhere to report their injustices to. Robert introduced Kizza to a volunteer lawyer working for KIRUCODO. He was able to give Kizza a free legal consultation and resolve the dispute; Kizza was paid the outstanding balance owed within two weeks of Robert’s help. “The communities have faced enough injustice out of ignorance.” Patrick Semakula, a volunteer lawyer explained. “We feel the time is ripe for them, armed with the necessary information, to fight for their own rights and freedoms.” KIRUCODO is helping poor rural communities in Uganda to seek justice confidently and without fear; regardless of their economic status, educational level or gender. Robert designed Rural Communities Criminal Justice Awareness Project – RCC-JAP which kickstarted in June 2009 in Kikandwa villages after he got awarded with a Justice Makers Award of International Bridges to Justice. With the Rural Communities Criminal Justice Awareness Project, committees are formed at the village level and equipped with basic legal and human rights concepts by contracted lawyers to sensitize locals to legal concepts and encourage them to monitor, guide, and report any injustice to the lawyers for action. Consultation dialogues with community and personnel from key departments are organized.
Robert Kibaya is founder and executive director of the Kikandwa Rural Communities Development Organisation (KIRUCODO) in Uganda. In 2008, he became a JusticeMakers Fellow for his project providing legal assistance to rural villages which enabled him to kickstart his Rural Communities Criminal Justice Awareness Project. Focusing on property rights, KIRUCODO educates rural populations on how and where to claim their human and legal rights and report injustices. Furthermore, KIRUCODO provides free legal services with the help of volunteer lawyers. Robert’s organization is an important contribution to rural empowerment and legal assistance in Uganda. IBJ would like to congratulate him with the progress he has made and support his endeavor in the Changemakers competition, where he competes with a land rights project. For more about Robert’s project, please go to http://www.changemakers.com/node/88504