Make land laws enforceable to end massive evictions

By Admin

You can’t be scared if you have the right documentation for land ownership

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By Geoffrey Mulindwa

Uganda’s increasing population has exerted a lot of pressure on the inelastic land, resulting in a scramble for this precious factor of production and food insecurity in most areas.

The inadequate tenure rights increase vulnerability of communities and individuals, leading to conflicts and environmental degradation. Many such conflicts arise out of poor governance of the tenure systems and associated loopholes. Land governance is critical in determining how people acquire rights to use and control land.

Uganda has four tenure systems – leasehold, freehold, Mailo and customary – which carry clear procedures on how they should be managed. However, none of these tenure systems has a clear mechanism of enforcing compliance to their stated management procedures.

The existing ambiguity in law has consequently let to lawlessness by both omission and commission on the side of landlords as well as tenants.

Let us take the example of hundreds of people that were recently evicted from a piece of land in Lusanja Village, Wakiso district. There are a number of questions to be asked here: did the person who evicted these people follow all the prescribed legal procedures: Were all the evicted people legal occupants? Who is subject to legal protection in this scenario?

I will leave the courts of law to answer those questions but there are few things we all need to observe. Whenever you intend to buy, sell or sub-divide any given piece of land, there is one question you should never forget – is the transaction legal? Before you invest your money in that plot of land, it does not hurt to do due diligence.

Find the owner of that land. When you meet the landlord, seek their consent to the given transaction. Find out if the landlord is willing to give you legal documents to show ownership of that plot. The same applies to the kibanja holder. Before you sell that piece of land, the law requires you to seek the consent of the landlord. Such small procedures help you acquire a secure tenancy and improve the tenant-landlord relationship.

One of the reasons that have been given to the Lusanja and majority of other evictions is because most people not known to their landlords – call them illegal settlers.

Such state of affairs leads to uncertain ways of life. A recent research conducted by Prindex (a global organisation measuring global perception of land and property rights), reported by indicated that out of every four people one person is scared that their home/land will be taken away. Out of the 15 countries surveyed, 25% of residents live in fear.

You can’t be scared if you have the right documentation for land ownership.

While our current tenure system has its flaws, but we can put the following mechanisms to ensure security of persons, communities and food as we try to achieve global sustainable development goals.

1. Let’s put enforcement mechanisms in the law to ensure that the different procedures prescribed in the different tenures are followed.

2. Make ground rent (busuulu) attractive to landlords.

3. Massively sensitize people that any transaction done without the consent of the landlord or lawful occupant is illegal on Mailo land.

4. Ensure speedy, fair and timely settlement of land conflicts by courts of law.

5. Ensure that all land issues are handled by professionals alone.

In a recent land awareness campaign in Kyaggwe (Mukono and Buikwe districts) organised by Ministry of lands, Buganda Land Board, Transparency International Uganda and other land actors, the issue of absentee landlords on private Mailo came to the fore. This in turn results in illegal settlers.

Other people also lacked knowledge about busuulu (ground rent); they don’t know how much busuulu they have to pay and what to do in case the land lord refuses the busuulu.

It was also reported that land administered by institutions such as churches and Buganda has less conflicts and tenants felt more secure. However, majority are not complying with the legal requirements such as registration and payment of busuulu.

Some landlords have made moves in the right direction to ensure that tenants are given an opportunity to secure their land, such as the Kyapa Mu Ngalo promotion by Buganda Land Board where tenants on Kabaka’s land receive lease titles at subsidized fees. However, many people in eviction-prone areas have not taken advantage of these opportunities to secure their tenancy.

These are some of the challenges straining our tenure systems: we need to legally address them to ensure the protection of everyone’s right to land and peaceful co-existence.

Writer is a sensitisation, research and corporate social responsibility officer at Buganda Land Board