MORE than 59,000 people were evicted from their land between 2007 and 2009, the Ministry of Lands has said.
The ministryâ€™s spokesperson, Dennis Obbo, told Saturday Vision that 8,445 families in more than 10 districts have been affected by evictions, which are often conducted at night.
According to the Uganda Bureau of Statistics, each family is estimated to have seven members. This means 59,115 people were rendered homeless and landless in the last two years.
Most evictions took place in the districts of Mukono, Kampala, Wakiso, Kayunga, Mityana, Mpigi, Apac, Lira and Kyenjojo, according to the ministry. In Wakiso, 600 families in Manyangwa, Katale, Nalumunye and Kitebi were evicted. In Kampala, 14,000 tenants were evicted in the suburbs of Bugolobi, Makindye, and Mengo Kisenyi.
Another 525 families were chased from their land in Bageza, in Mubende district and a total of 3,400 families in Myanzi, Kitenga and Bukuya.
In Mukono district, 50 families and a primary school in Wantoni were thrown out of the land they had lived on for years.
In Kayunga, 400 families were expelled in Kokotero village and 2,000 families in Bbale sub-county.
In addition, 265 families in Kyenjojo, Mwenge, Butaleja, Mayuge and Butaleja in Doho were forced to vacate their land.
Many evictions do not follow the right procedures and have necessitated Government intervention, said Obbo.
â€œTenants are not given the first priority to buy, let alone being compensated. And where there is an attempt to compensate, it is not adequate.â€
Land Amendments Bill
To stem the problem of illegal and irregular evictions, the NRM caucus earlier this week agreed to support the Land Amendments Bill 2007.
â€œThe amendment will protect lawful occupants of land from widespread evictions without due regard to their rights,â€ said lands minister Omara Atubo.
The bill is likely to be passed into law before the end of this year. From then on, landlords who evict tenants will face seven years imprisonment.
Tenants can only be evicted from registered land for non-payment of annual nominal ground rent. The ground rent, according to the bill, will be determined by the minister within six months. In the past, tenants were required to pay only sh1,000 as â€˜busuuluâ€™ (ground rent). This was considered too little by the land lords.The existing law does not criminalise eviction. Land owners who illegally evicted tenants were only charged with malicious damage of property which carries a light punishment. In most cases compensation is paid, which tends to be little.
The bill further determines that the court needs to issue an eviction order before a lawful occupant can be chased away from registered land.
In the eviction order, the bill notes, the tenant should be given a minimum of six months notice.
The bill empowers bona fide tenants to demand for expenses, damages and compensation. These shall be determined by the court, unlike in the past where the landlord would give a tenant any amount.
â€œA person who attempts to evict, evicts or participates in the eviction of a lawful or bona fide occupant from registered land without an order of eviction, commits an offence and is liable on conviction to imprisonment not exceeding seven years,â€ states the bill.
The bill further prohibits selling of land by landlords without giving first priority to tenants. It emphasises that an offer should be given to a tenant on â€˜a willing buyer-willing seller basisâ€™.
The land owner has to set out clear terms of the offer with sufficient details for the tenant to whom the offer is made to ensure that he understands the offer and makes an appropriate response to it.
The tenant has up to three months to respond to the offer, unlike in the past where land owners would sell their land without any notification to their tenants.
Two of the main landlords in the country, the Buganda kingdom and the Catholic Church, have opposed the bill when it was first tabled in Parliament in early 2008.
The kingdom has been the most vocal. It appointed a civic task force to decampaign the bill and used the - now suspended - CBS radio stations.
Mengo listed 10 reasons why it opposed the bill. The kingdomâ€™s Attorney General, Apollo Makubuya, observed that the bill was not going to stop rampant evictions.
He said there were sufficient laws to address the problem of illegal evictions; the problem was implementation.He quoted sections of the Penal Code which forbid criminal trespass and another section which outlaws malicious damage of property.
â€œBoth the Constitution and the Land Act guarantee the security of tenure for lawful and bona fide occupants. Clearly, the problem is not lack of laws but impunity and or corruption.â€
Makubuya also noted that the bill limits the grounds for eviction to non-payment of rent.
He argued that the Busuulu and Envujjo Law of 1928 was more progressive because it permitted evictions for â€˜public use and other good causesâ€™.
Good cause, according to the kingdom, could include environmental degradation, trespass onto other bibanjas and engaging in anti-social behaviour such as witch craft. Mengo further opposed the fact that the minister will determine the ground rent. â€œThere is no way the minister will be able to accurately and fairly assess how much rent is properly due and payable in diverse places.â€
In addition, Makubuya rejected a provision which says that a person only needs to claim an interest in communal land to be protected. This provision, he argued, would have protected the Balaalo in Buliisa, Apac and Soroti.
â€œThe people who live on communal lands are often poor and have no access to courts and lawyers to get the eviction orders,â€ he said.
â€œBut the land invaders are often rich with access to power who have the ability even to resist court judgments.â€
Besides, the Catholic and Buganda Kingdom, the banks also opposed the bill when they appeared in Parliament last year. They observed that once the bill is enacted into law, the banks will be hesitant to give loans to people who present land titles as security because they would not be allowed to evict tenants in case the borrower defaults.
The bankers were particularly perturbed with clause 32 (a) of the bill, which says that a lawful or bona fide occupant can only be evicted from land upon an order of eviction issued by the court and only after failure to pay ground rent.
The law, according to the bankers, creates two owners - the landlord and the tenant - on the same piece of land, making the issuance of loans a risky business.
During the caucus meeting, NRM legislators agreed to support all the issues in the bill â€œapart from a few areas which need harmonisation,â€ said NRM chief whip Daudi Migereko. He was referring to a decision to drop clause 32 (b) and instead amend section 59 of the Principal Act, which bars district land boards from conducting any transactions on customary land.
â€œFor avoidance of doubt, no transaction of any kind in respect of land, including land held under customary tenure, shall be entered into or concluded by a board,â€ reads the new amendment.
Obbo noted that the new clause dispels claims that the Government wants to grab customary land through the bill. Customary land is owned communally, and it is mainly practiced in northern Uganda.
The new amendments, the MPs noted, clearly state the consequences of illegal land allocations or unauthorised transactions entered into by district land boards. The amendments have already been submitted to the lands ministry, which is analysing submissions by the Buganda caucus. It will be presented to Parliament for the second reading soon.
Sources said the lands minister is likely to meet the Buganda caucus before the end of this month to discuss the clause on the minister determining rent.
Highlights of the Bill
60,000 evicted in last two years