The year 2018 was not any different from its predecessors in relation to land management in Uganda.
Most news outlets constantly reported about a litany of land wrangles, fights, court orders and evictions. The most prominent case came at the tail end of the year when scores were ‘wrongly’ evicted at Lusanja.
Similarly, the Justice Catherine Bamugemereire-led commission of inquiry into land matters frequently heard of bizarre cases of land mismanagement, right from registrars at the ministry to village chairmen. Mailo land remains the most volatile tenure in Uganda partly because of the vague laws.
As such, the government has tried to harmonise the tenant-landlord relationship by introducing registrable interests in form of certificates of occupancy and land titles where possible. For instance, President Museveni recently presided over the issuance of over 300 land titles in Nakaseke to bibanja holders funded by the Land Fund.
The same was earlier done in Bunyoro in 2017. Another gesture was extended to Karamoja in mid-2018, where clans were given titles. The ministry is also promoting the certificate of occupancy as the most reliable form of documentation for bibanja holders.
It is undoubted that most land wrangles and evictions are a result of lack of documentation or forgery of the same. It is a worrying trend that over 90 per cent of land in Uganda is untitled.
So, if measures to register people are taken by government, we can only support and be optimistic. Amid all this, I was especially elated when I saw the spokesperson of the ministry of Lands, Denis Obbo, making reference to Buganda Land Board’s Ebbaluwa Ekakasa Obusenze (certificate of occupancy) when on TV speaking about the importance of registration.
Obbo had been hosted on BBS TV’s Ettaka ye Nnyaffe program where he talked about the ministry’s new certificates of occupancy and equated them to BLB’s Ebbaluwa Ekakasa Obusenze. He noted that no tenant on Kabaka’s land would be given a certificate of occupancy by the ministry unless they have already obtained Ebbaluwa Ekakasa Obusenze from the landlord. The same applies to private mailo landlords.
I got two things from Obbo’s statement. First, that government is willing to work with Buganda to streamline land administration in the country. This is a big step in the right direction. In a statement prior to the issuance of titles in Nakaseke, the ministry indicated that they intended to strengthen their collaboration with Buganda Land Board to create awareness about land rights, especially for people on Kabaka’s land.
That is good. As a BLB manager in the Kyaggwe region, I have worked firsthand with officials from the ministry in collaboration with other land-related organisations in a campaign known as Land Awareness Week. During this intervention, we realized that many people are victims of ignorance and misinformation.
We managed to share resources and sensitise people about their rights, and the ministry was able to come with a computerized system where people could check the status of their land while other organisations provided legal aid. Such interventions need to continue.
Without being biased, Buganda has the most organized land management system in Uganda. It can be used as a case study for other areas. Secondly, I obtained that all bibanja holders have a legal mandate to seek from their landlords and obtain documentation acknowledging them as lawful occupants before they go to the ministry to obtain certificates of occupancy. I believe this is the way to go.
In my experience in land management, I have realized that most cases of land wrangles and rampant evictions have resulted from a huge disconnect between landowners and bibanja holders.
Many people obtain bibanja through land brokers without finding out who the landlord is. And when the landlord later comes to claim his/her land, chaos erupts, sometimes leading to bloody evictions.
When Buganda Land Board introduced mass registration in 2015 and Kyapa mu Ngalo in 2017, some people were reluctant to register due to the politics of the day. But events in the preceding year have exonerated us and proved to the entire country how foresighted the Kabaka was when he urged his subjects to secure their tenancy.
Some people are worried about the long processes. It is true that sometimes land titles take long to be issued, but as someone who knows the land management system in Uganda, I can’t be surprised.
BLB handles the registration and survey part of title processing but the rest is done at government offices, which are most times challenged by inadequate and demotivated personnel.
All in all, the time is now for the central government and Mengo to join hands to tame the mailo land question in the country. Let government learn a thing or two about BLB’s land management systems.
Let both parties improve on efficiency by serving all people with equity and in record time. Let government introduce fair land dispute resolution measures. There may have been historical injustices especially on mailo land, but we can do little about it now.
As we plan to streamline our land laws in the long run, let us concentrate on creating a harmonious relationship between the landlord and the tenant, with both feeling empowered and secure.
The author is a BLB branch manager for Njeru.