President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni was the chief guest at the launch of the National Land Use Policy at Hotel Africana on March 27.
When we are discussing the policy of land use in Uganda or anywhere else, we must ask the following question: â€œwhat are the uses of land?â€
In my opinion, the uses are three: economic production, human settlement and ensuring the sustainable use of the environment so that we do not end up in self-destruction (conservation). Let us look at each one of the three.
1. Economic production should come first on our radar screen if we are to emancipate ourselves out of poverty. There was traditional production, mainly, for subsistence but also for exchange in trade.
There tended to be specialisations according to the different communities of Uganda. In Buganda, for instance, they would grow bananas for food and brewing; but they would also grow fig trees (ficus natalansis) for making bark-cloth (embugu, ebitooma, etc.) for self-clothing and trade with other communities.
In Ankole they would look after cattle, grow millet for food and grow sour bananas (embiire) for making beer. Since the Banyankore were a symbiotic community with two highly specialised sub-groups (cattle-keepers and cultivators), they traded among themselves through barter-trade (okuchurika) as well as trading with other communities selling ghee, skins, etc.
Bakiga specialised in growing sorghum (omugusha) and peas (obushaza). The other communities also specialised in other products â€” ground nuts, shea-nut butter (moya), etc. The artisans in the different communities also utilised the products of the land to make tools, implements, weapons and other facilities.
They used iron ore (obutare) to make iron-products (hoes, pangas, knives, swords, spears, etc.); they used wood (domestic and wild) to make wood-products (e.g. wooden-bowls, shields, milk-pots, stools, drums, dug-out canoes, cattle-watering-buckets, etc.); clay (eibumba) to make pots, bowls, water-jars, etc.; skins and hides to make textiles, thongs, shoes, etc.
As our area got in touch with the outside world (more than 1,000 years ago), we would obtain products of the wild (e.g. ivory, rare skins, giraffe-tails, etc.) for trading with the Coast of East Africa through African Long Distance Traders from Tanzania, in exchange for cowrie-shells (ensimbi), glass-beads (enkwanzi, embira, etc.) and cotton textiles.
Therefore, land use, in the past as well as today, was or is characterised by human settlements (amaka, gang, etc.); production-gardens (emisiri, endimiro, ensuku, etc.) grazing-grounds, etc; and conservation areas (in the form of wildernesses (amahamba, ddungu, etc.), swamps (ebisharara, ebitoogo, dog kulu, etc.) and mountains.
With colonialism, we got into more linkages with the outside world that required some products such as coffee, which was indigenous here but not commercialised; cotton; tea (a new crop) as well as minerals (ebirombe). While land was, generally, used communally in many communities in Uganda, there were also private land rights.
In Ankole, for instance, there were, since time immemorial, two very clear concepts: enshambu â€” an area where somebody grew some seasonal crops in addition to the Rutookye (banana plantation) and ekyanya â€” the area of 200-400 metres around a cattle-kraal (eka, ekiraalo, dwol dyang, etc.) where other peopleâ€™s herds were excluded from, as this was for calves and sick cattle that could not go to the communal grazing-grounds. Somebody could not encroach on ones nshambu (banana plantation and cultivation ground) or calves area. There were also rights to wells. In some of the communities there was a background of nomadism. After sometime, either because there were deaths in the family or the cattle did not fair well, one would shift to a completely new area (kufuruka) and abandon the old site.
The old site would now become itoongo (abandoned place) and, if new people came there before you returned, then, you would lose your rights there. Instead, your rights would have been transferred to the new site â€” the new home (eka). In the case of Ankole-Mpororo (including Rukungiri and parts of Kabale), the land belonged to the King â€” Omugabe (the State). The people had the right of use in the manner I have described above.
2. The second factor to consider is human settlement. There has been a lot of irrational human settlement, especially during the time of colonialism and since, leading to excessive land fragmentation in many areas of Uganda.
This leads to undermining the core functions of land which are production and conservation. With individualized ownership or use of land, every successive generation further fragments the land into smaller units. Some of the rural areas look like rural slums.
Each homestead have their own mbuga (bare patch for threshing millet or beans), separate huts or houses, numerous latrines or lack of them, separate granaries, etc. In the parts of North Ankole, I have been promoting two ideas in relation with this problem of land fragmentation.
First of all, I have been promoting the idea of family companies with shares instead of physically subdividing the family land on inheritance and consolidated family settlements where the whole family build on one spot and leave the rest of the land for production.
There is, however, one proviso here. I do not recommend such consolidated ownership and settlement for polygamous families. They will end up committing murder against the family property once the patriarch is out of the way. If somebody has got many wives, then, he should provide for them separately in order to perpetuate family prosperity.
The family building on one spot is good. Eventually, we may build multi-storeyed buildings with flats for different family units to release more land for production.
Somebody told me of Indian families who build flats and the grandmother occupies the ground floor so that she can monitor the time of the family teenagers come back from their youthful indiscipline which should not be encouraged in African families.
I have been speaking mainly in connection with rationalising rural human settlement. There is, however, the bigger problem of rationalising land use in relation to agriculture, industry, services and urban human settlement.
There are well established characteristics of backwardness. These are: a bigger proportion of the population in the countryside than in the town; a bigger proportion of the population in agriculture rather than in services and industry; backward inheritance practices leading to land fragmentation as pointed out above; illiteracy, etc.
The NRM Government has rigorously tackled the problem of illiteracy through UPE and USE. We must similarly plan for urbanisation and industrialisation so that we can provide great and assured prosperity for our people like Japan, South Korea and Malaysia have done for their people and yet we have got more resources than those countries.
There is no doubt that the countries that have transitioned from over reliance on agriculture to more reliance on industry and services are more prosperous. In fact, there is not a single country in the world that depends predominantly on agriculture that is sustainably prosperous.
Yes, agriculture is important for food production and raw materials. It must, however, be linked to industry and services to sustainably maintain prosperity in a country; otherwise, the prosperity is not sustainable.
In 1900, Argentina was the 10th richest country in the world by exporting beef, wheat and even petroleum. By the 1990s, it had sunk to the 48th position in the world ranking for prosperity and development.
It is countries that combine agriculture, industry and services that have become prosperous such as Australia, New Zealand, India, South Africa, Brazil, etc. Even countries that have no agricultural capacity, but which have industrialised, have become prosperous. Japan and South Korea are good examples.
Therefore, while talking about land use, we must make it very clear that large chunks of land must be put aside for industry, services and urbanisation in addition to the traditional agriculture. In future, the bulk of the population of Uganda, like in the developed countries, will be in urban centres.
The urban centres may be scattered. However, villagisation and urbanisation are more efficient in terms of production and services delivery â€” providing clean water, electricity, schools. Therefore, land use must plan for this desirable eventuality.
3. The third and final factor on land use is environmental protection. You cannot talk of land use without talking of protecting the environment. Otherwise, there will be no land use.
The land will become a desert. Therefore, the wetlands, the ecologically sensitive forests, hill-tops, mountain tops, river banks and lake shores must be protected at all costs.
That is why the NRM turned Mount Rwenzori and Mount Elgon Forest Reserves into National Parks â€” to give them maximum conservation. Without the protection of the environment, there will be silting of rivers and lakes; soil erosion leading to the crusting of the top soil, a phenomenon that will, on the one hand lead to floods and, on the other hand, the lowering of the water-table as little water will be sinking in the soil; etc.
However, we reject the nonsense that you can protect the environment without industrialisation, electrification, modernisation of agriculture, urbanisation and modernisation in general.
The four land tenure systems in Uganda, like Ugandaâ€™s marriage code, are good because they are flexible: mailo, freehold, leasehold and customary ownership.
Once the Land Bill is passed to give protection to the peasant-tenants (bibanja-holders), the rest will be easier to deal with under the conditions of stability. Colonialism introduced a lot of distortions.
These, however, will be sorted out by the NRM policies of education for all. With everybody empowered through education, people will use money to buy land. Those who want to sell land will also sell. Money is already sorting out past distortions.
The chiefs that collaborate with colonialism and got the 10,000 square miles of land as well as rewards started selling to new title-holders with money. Hence, former bibanja-holders have now bought titled land (mailo).
The grave of my great grand-father and that of my grand-father is now occupied by people who came from other areas of Uganda and from outside.
This came about because of the chaotic human migration policies in the colonial times, inefficient animal husbandry practices our parents were practicing leading to high animal mortality rate and the nomadic culture of our parents. However, through education I was able to end this nomadism by buying titled land.
In the short run, it is important to encourage the indigenous communities to use the ancestral land commercially. Migrating from the rural areas to the urban areas would have been healthier. Horizontal rural migration between communities causes unnecessary frictions.
Colonial policies caused a lot of distortions in this respect. Nevertheless, these distortions will also be sorted out by market forces. The only thing to take care of is to protect the peasants against evictions in the short run.
Using research to increase yields will also maximize the returns per acreage. Higher yields will mean that same unit of land will solve more of our problems.
The writer is the President
The land use policy