Confusion reigns in the oil-rich Albertine graben as a result of government’s moratorium on issuing fresh land titles in the Bunyoro region following several land wrangles.
“Our people when they go to Entebbe (National Lands office) with applications, they are told there is a ban on Bunyoro,” says Hoima District chairman George Bagonza, adding, “This has affected development as people can’t easily use reliable mortgages in banks.”
But the situation will soon get clearer. State minister for Urban Development, Justine Kasule, says her ministry has finalised a programme for selected development plans ,and that it may come into force this year.
But political leaders in the various local governments in the region, some of whom dispute the existence of the moratorium, may need some convincing.
Kasule says the programme` will guide land use, settlements and infrastructural developments in the area, which has been proved to have commercially viable oil deposits.
She says besides developing a land use policy, the ministry of lands, housing and urban development has created a department for land use planning and developed national physical planning standards.
However, the land boards and political leaders of Hoima and Buliisa districts say they have not received any official communication from the ministry on the matter.
“Which law will they use to deny people to title their land? We are functioning normally. We have not yet received any communication to that effect,” the Buliisa District land board chairman, Sabiiti Tundulu, says.
But Hoima mayor, Mary Mugasa says, “For me, I don’t think the government ban is on all Bunyoro land, it came after the people in Bugoma and Kyangwali had encroached on government land, forest reserves, and army land. But some people in Hoima town are still getting titles.”
“This is one thing that the oil industry is going to face as a challenge; land here is owned communally, so no one can sell land. As the leader of Buliisa sub-county, have never received any government circular as regards a ban on land titles,” said Kubalirwa Nkuba, the LC III chairman.
It is this scenario that is somehow hampering development in the area as individuals try to strategise themselves in the budding oil industry.
The minister says cases of land grabbing and unplanned developments had begun to emerge which prompted government to come up with a directive to regulate land dealings in oil areas which will be planned under a special programme. Kasule however said District land boards in Bunyoro have ignored the ban and are going ahead to process titles in the prohibited areas.
“I have been told that some people are conniving with members of district land boards and some officials in the lands ministry to process fake titles. Tell whoever is doing this to stop it. Let them not con people because they will turn against them,” Kasule told the physical planners.
Oil exploration in the sub-region has discovered 2.5 billion barrels of oil in place but of this, only 1billion is recoverable. Tullow Oil, the company contracted by government in oil production is at appraisal stage for the oil wells. The discovery has led to influx of people in search of land, trade and jobs into this region.
Nonetheless, some people in the sub-region think that the government’s moratorium is useless and ineffective basing on the historical land factors of Bunyoro.
“I think the moratorium is a hoax,” says Yolamu Nsamba, the Principal Private Secretary to the King of Bunyoro. He adds, “So much land here is in forests and game reserves, so the ban has no impact.”
But the spokesperson for the Lands Ministry, Denis Obbo insists the government’s moratorium is on and is “not to issue land titles until the rightful indigenous people are registered.”
“We are looking for a permanent solution to the Bunyoro land question, so we have suspended issuing of even certificates of customary land, free hold or any other until this is sorted” Obbo told Daily Monitor last week.
“Some seek leaseholds while others seek freehold titles. Ultimately, we want to see how the locals can co-exist alongside the oil developers,” Obbo further explained.
However, this raises some constitutional questions about land ownership in Uganda where the constitution grants a willing buyer and willing seller to settle anywhere in the country.
“The constitution allows any Ugandan to get land anywhere in Uganda, so all this is challenging and we have to seek legal advice from the Solicitor General to see whether what we are doing is legal,” says Obbo.
Basing on the fact that the Constitution in Article 244 (2), says: “Minerals and mineral ores shall be exploited taking into account the interests of the individual land owners, local governments and the Government,” some individuals may lose out if the land in question is not solved earlier than expected.
Ethnic land conflicts
Bunyoro has been a hotbed of land and ethnic conflicts between Bakiga and Banyoro in Kibaale District, the Bagungu and pastoralists in Buliisa District and lately the Alur and the pastoralists in Kigorobya Sub-County in Hoima District. The parties in Kigorobya are feuding over land demarcations.
“Police has held various meetings with these communities under the community policing programme but they have failed to come to a consensus,”the Midwestern police spokesperson, Zurah Ganyana, says.
The land under dispute is adjacent to Taitai oil well. Anatoli Kyamanywa, LC I chairman of Runga village, the epicentre of clashes in Kigorobya, says: “There has been increased rush for land by people from all walks of life in areas adjacent to oil sites as perspective landlords anticipate to get royalties when oil is discovered on their land.”
Call for free land titles
There is a call from some sections of people in Bunyoro for government to survey and title all land in Bunyoro and offer free land titles to the Banyoro to curb rampant land wrangles that has escalated since the of oil discovery in 2006.
Shem Byakagaba, the chairman, Kitara Heritage Development Agency, says the directive on titles is being done at the detriment of the locals.
“Processing a land title in Uganda costs about Shs1.5m, so this halt is not enough, government must move faster and protect the people who can’t afford titles and should avail titles to them,” reasons Byakagaba.
Utility: “Our people when they go to Entebbe (National Lands office) with applications, they are told there is a ban on Bunyoro,” George Bagonza, Hoima District chairman.