A raging battle for and against the abolition of mailo land tenure has pitted Buganda kingdom against the ruling government for months, but cooler heads have prevailed so far.
But a new, unflattering revelation that the state minister for Lands, Sam Mayanja, the principal architect of government’s plan to abolish mailo land, evicted bibanja holders from his family land is likely to cause some head-scratching and escalate tensions.
In his 35-year rule, President Museveni has never hidden his disdain for mailo land tenure system. Mailo land tenure system is a result of the 1900 agreement between the Buganda kingdom and British colonialists, which led to the creation of landlords and tenants or bibanja holders.
Under mailo, the landlord has a right of ownership while the tenant has a right of occupancy. For years, there has been friction between the two parties over rights but it is only recently that a divide has been widened, leading to mass evictions and land grabbing.
Whereas Buganda kingdom is content with the system and blames the vices on well-connected people in society, government has always sought to dissolve the system.
On his part, President Museveni has always approached the issue in a subtle way but during the June 9 Heroes day celebration, he went full blast and described the mailo tenure as “an evil system.”
In fact, he promised to do away with it. A day earlier, he had appointed Sam Mayanja, a long-term lawyer for the NRM and outspoken mailo land critic, as Lands junior minister.
After assuming office, Mayanja didn’t waste time. He declared mailo land illegal and vowed in an interview with Daily Monitor that bibanja holders will not compensate mailo land owners when the latter system is abolished.
The Observer understands that cabinet is soon drafting a bill to present to parliament to amend the Land Act and get rid of mailo land.
A source close to cabinet has intimated that several leading figures within government, many of whom are the biggest owners of mailo land, are currently in a rush to secure their mailo land from tenants or bibanja holders before the system is revoked.
“It is a big concern that by the time a bill is presented before parliament, everyone needs to have gotten rid of bibanja holders, whether through paying them off or coercing them to leave,” said a cabinet source.
Ironically, one of those who has successfully removed all bibanja holders on his land is Mayanja, the principal architect of the impending controversial move.
Our sources have intimated that Mayanja’s family owns more than 400 acres in Bukumula village in Mityana, where he removed all bibanja holders by paying them off.
“Mayanja evicted bibanja holders off his farm following the death of his father. It is ironic that his father welcomed the squatters to occupy more than half the land but when he died, Mayanja took over and removed all the squatters,” said a source.
The source adds that while Mayanja faced little resistance from the bibanja holders because of the generous compensation offers, many of them today live a destitute life.
“As we speak, many of these people are renting in nearby towns and used the little compensation to start businesses that have since collapsed,” said the source.
Our efforts to interview Mayanja for a comment were futile but one of his handlers who preferred anonymity confirmed that Mayanja paid off all squatters on his land before they left. He said any other allegations are an attempt to blackmail the minister.
“I offer the media a chance to come and have a tour of the entire area and verify the claims,” said the handler. “It is none of his business how they [squatters] used the money.”
When The Observer visited Bukumula village, William Mutyaba, the LC I chairman, said Mayanja came in the early 2010s and told them that he was going to pay every kibanja holder to leave his land. Mutyaba said he was one of the bibanja holders and he was handsomely paid to leave.
Meanwhile, Jane Nakachwa, a resident in the area who also used to hold a kibanja on Mayanja’s land, added that Mayanja paid them between Shs 10m and Shs 30m depending on the size of the plot.
I have no problem with him [Mayanja] because he didn’t put us under duress during negotiations but many of us misused the money and are now on the streets.
In one of his recent anti-Buganda opinion articles titled ‘After years of suffering bibanja holders need to win their land back,’ the junior lands minister Mayanja passionately made a case for bibanja holders.
He castigated the sale bonanza by landlords which has caused bibanja holders to live in a permanent state of trauma, thus the need to abolish mailo land and allocate freehold titles to all bibanja holders.
“They do not know when they will be sold off to a ruthless landlord. They do not know if the in-coming landlord will compensate them adequately for them to start a new life elsewhere. They do not even know where that “elsewhere” is.
What is ironical is that under the current circumstances Mayanja would have forfeited more than 200 acres of his land if the law he is pushing through were operational.
In a recent interview with The Observer, David Mpanga, Buganda’s minister in charge of Research and Special Duties, said statements from individuals in government don’t become government policy until they are processed.
“What is there are proposals that might end up being policy. What is undeniable, though, is that there are issues in land ownership and the tenure. There is a problem of land administration; the land register is no longer 100 per cent reliable in telling you who is the owner of the land, or even in relation to boundaries. There is a problem in relation to titles; people losing their land in the land registries,” he said.
“There are problems of overlapping administrative entities with powers over land. You’ve got the ministries, you’ve got State House, resident district commissioners, Police, the LCs, all of these cause lack of cohesion in administration and enforcement.”
Dr Rose Nakayi, a Makerere University law lecturer, provides a possible solution in a recent article published in www.theelephant.info.
“The big question remains: how can the layers of entanglement be disentangled? To eradicate the dual and overlapping rights (of landlords and tenants) on the same land, the best two options are: first, mutual agreements to share land such that both landlord and tenant get (exclusive) registered title,” she reasons.
“Second, grant of leaseholds by landlords to tenants. The law makes provision for government support to acquire registered interest in land through the land fund.”