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The Land Bill 2007 is a fair Ugandan law

By Vision Reporter

Added 14th January 2009 03:00 AM

There is a misplaced perception, amongst an influential section of society, on the debate on the Land Amendment Bill, 2007, suggesting that the NRM administration is opposed to the individual ownership of land in general and mailo land tenureship in parti

There is a misplaced perception, amongst an influential section of society, on the debate on the Land Amendment Bill, 2007, suggesting that the NRM administration is opposed to the individual ownership of land in general and mailo land tenureship in parti

By Kintu Nyago

There is a misplaced perception, amongst an influential section of society, on the debate on the Land Amendment Bill, 2007, suggesting that the NRM administration is opposed to the individual ownership of land in general and mailo land tenureship in particular.

Uganda is one of the few countries that constitutionally vests the radical title, or authority over land, in its citizens. For most countries, including Europe, land is owned by the state in trust for its citizens.

However, the NRM Government’s initiated 1995 Constitution article 237 (1) explicitly states that: “Land in Uganda belongs to the citizens of Uganda and shall be vested in them in accordance with the land tenure systems provided for in the Constitution.” The tenure systems are Mailo in addition to customary, freehold, leasehold and public land tenancy.

Hitherto, and even under the 1962 independence constitution, the radical title of land in Uganda had been held by the state in trust for its citizens. Furthermore, Idi Amin revoked the Mailo land system and the payment of busuulu through the Land Reform Decree of 1975. This decree existed for 20 years until 1995, when the NRM administration re-introduced this peculiar land tenure system.

President Museveni also returned Buganda Kingdom’s 350 square miles of mailo land that had been expropriated by the state in the wake of the so called “1966 Revolution”. These facts should put to rest those misplaced views regarding the private ownership of land in Uganda. For land ownership rights, including those of Mailo, were constitutionally entrenched by the same Museveni administration that is being admonished.

The Land Amendment Bill does not deal with the issue of the rights of Mailo land owners and other landlords, because whatever anomalies that they were faced with in the law were adequately settled through our constitutional making process.

Uganda’s current crisis regarding land is one of the illegal evictions of vulnerable bibanja tenants on Mailo land by unscrupulous landlords. This in addition to customary tenants on customary land.

Hence the focus of the Land Bill whose objective is to enhance the protection of lawful and bona fide occupants and occupants on customary land from widespread evictions from land without due regard to their rights as conferred by the Constitution and the Land Act is misplaced. Yes the bibanja and customary tenancy holders (not squatters) are statutory tenants. Recognised and protected by both the constitution and law established.

The peculiarity of Mailo land lies in the fact that since the Busuulu and Envujjo Law of 1928, two legitimate claimants of land are recognised on the same title. These being the usually absentee Mailo landlord, owning the title and any unencumbered land on it, and the more numerous bibanja tenants.

The root cause of this dual ownership is rooted in a history of bizarre colonial social engineering, dating to the 1900 Buganda Agreement. Here the colonialism arrogantly offered gratis, 8,000 square miles of Buganda’s land mass to a few colonial collaborators numbering less than 0.50% of the population, while expropriating the rest as “Crown Land”!

The recipient chiefs were, to paraphrase Lwanga Lunyiigo, “rent harvesters”. Solely interested in parasitically benefiting from Busuulu and Envujjo (rent on land and produce) all extracted from their peasant tenants. As the fine print of the 1900 Buganda Agreement illustrates, the chiefs applied for and got land that in the main was already settled on. Hence it’s the Mailo landlord who imposed himself on the bibanja tenants and not the other way around.
The writer is a political analyst

The Land Bill 2007 is a fair Ugandan law

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