It isn’t true that land was taken from peasants and given to chiefs

Tuesday February 18 2020

Peter Mulira

Peter Mulira 

By Peter Mulira

Talk are rife that a recommendation to abolish mailo land will be announced in the near future. The recommendation is based on the claim that the land reforms of 1900 resulted in peasants losing their land to chiefs who collaborated with the colonialists.

Under Section 15 of the Buganda Agreement of 1900, about 1,000 chiefs and private landowners received “estates of which they are already in possession of……” This wording referred to customary holdings.

Successful claimants whose interests were confirmed by the Lukiiko were issued with provisional certificates, which were then deposited at the department of lands and surveys pending survey by government surveyors. After survey and issuance of a final certificate, the land became known as mailo land under the Land Act of 1908, whose Section 1 provided: “To hold land in this way will be known as holding mailo and land of this description will be called ‘mailo.’”

Section 2(c) provided that “The owner of mailo will not be permitted to hand over his mailo to one who is not of the protectorate or to a church or to a religious or other society without the approval in writing of His Excellence, the Governor and the Lukiiko.”

The rationale of this provision was to protect the 8,000 square miles reserved for Africans from being gobbled by non-Africans.

This protection was removed by Article 237(1) of the Constitution, which provides that land belongs to the citizens of Uganda both Africans and non-Africans, which in effect abolishes mailo.


Presently mailo only exist on the register at the Land Office, where all land frauds originate through double titling, alteration of records and hiding of the relevant files.

Luckily enough, there are sufficient laws to cover these abuses. For example, where there are two title deeds issued in respect of the same piece of land, the law only protects the title which was registered first in point of time which means that the second title is automatically cancelled.

Another form of abuse is where freehold titles are issued in respect of mailo land. The Registration of Titles Act of 1922 established three registers in which all interest in land are entered namely freehold, mailo and leasehold registers. A freehold title cannot be registered in a mailo register and accordingly people holding such titles only have pieces of paper.

Between 1888 and 1900, Buganda was ruled territorially by Christian chiefs appointed by their leaders in the absence of the Kabaka, who had exiled himself. These are the chiefs referred to in Section 15 of the Agreement. The Agreement replaced the territorial chiefs with 20 county chiefs, who were allotted land which they held as trustees, for future office-holders.

It is not true that land was taken away from peasants and given to chiefs. The preamble in a note signed on October 13, 1900 by J. J. Cunningham, Secretary to the Special Commissioner under which the Special Commissioner gave a total of 1,000 square miles to “Bamasaza, second grade chiefs and other sub-chiefs,” read: “When the Special Commissioner allotted 8,000 square miles out of the land in Buganda to be divided among private landowners, it was found in the final distribution that when each person had received full satisfaction of his claim, there remained over a certain amount of land undistributed. This land was further divided up in proportion set forth in the accompanying table filed in the land office……”

There is need to rationalise our approaches to land matters. The land problems created by the reforms of 1900 were settled through a court case in 1920 and the introduction of Busulu and Envujjo Law of 1927.

Mr Mulira is a lawyer.