Return power of granting Mailo land rights to district boards

District Land Boards should co-opt experts to constitute sub-committees to study, assess and recommend applications for approval. If need be, the applicants could be interviewed to ascertain their capacities. PHOTOs / FILE

What you need to know:

  • Recently, government announced that it is coming up with new land reforms, including scrapping Mailo land. In this article, retired judge Moses Mukiibi explains how can we achieve better land utilisation and productivity of public land.

For the moment our concern is not land that forms part of former public land (9,000sq miles of land – Mailo, 9,000), which was alienated as freehold or leasehold. We are concerned with land which remains unalienated of former Crown/public land in Buganda (Mailo 9,000).

The peasants occupy part of the former public land in Buganda (Mailo 9,000) under a very unclear land tenure system. For lack of a better term, their occupation may be referred to as customary.

It is yet to be ascertained what communities have occupied portions of unalienated Mailo 9,000 land. For how long have they settled on the land?
Do they have agreed rules governing allocation of portions of that land to individuals? Who is the authority for such customary allocation? The inquiry can go on and researchers can take it up.

For the moment, it may suffice to say that the land tenure system adopted by the peasants occupying parts of Mailo 9,000 is very uncertain.
To what extent did the practice of registering customary occupants at the sub-county level under the Land Reform Regulations, 1976 (S.I. No. 26/1976) succeed?

The Sub-county Land Committee had to establish and maintain a register of customary occupation.
Does any sub-county in Buganda have a comprehensive record of customary occupants of portions of land comprised in Mailo 9,000?

The answer is most probably negative. In many sub-counties in rural areas, the Sub-county Land Committees were not functioning because of lack of facilitation. So, how do we get to know who is occupying what?
Which institution can carry out a physical house-to-house check and recording?
What are our main goals?

(1) Securing the land rights of peasant customary occupants on Mailo 9,000.
(2) Ensuring that peasant occupants of Mailo 9,000 have secure settlements and land for agricultural production.
(3) Assisting the peasant occupants to achieve optimal utilisation of their land holdings through efficient management.
(4) To make land available for commercial agriculture and, generally, to assist peasant occupants improve their production.
(5) To design and publish regulations, rules or guidelines for land allocation, land use and modern land management.
How can we achieve better land utilisation and productivity?

(I) Structuring peasant land holdings.
From the time when peasants occupied portions of Mailo 9,000, upon payment for annual permits/ licences which were issued by District Commissioners, their holdings measured four to five acres.

Subsequently, when peasants applied to the sub-county chiefs in their areas for permission to occupy public land (Mailo 9,000) the sub-county land committees rarely allowed applications for more than five acres. This was under the Land Reform Decree, 1975, during the period 1975 – 1995.

What should be done today if we want to transform peasant occupation to a grade which can venture into commercial agriculture?
The answer is: make more land available to them. Their present holdings may be very small and incapable of expansion because of close neighbours.

Government should assist district land boards in making block surveys of unalienated portions of Mailo 9,000, the size of three to four square miles.
This land should be subdivided into plots of 10, 20, 30 or 50 acres. 
The district land boards would invite willing farmers (from within the district) to apply for land, depending on their intended projects.

The District Land Boards would co-opt experts to constitute sub-committees to study, assess and recommend applications for approval. If need be, the applicants could be interviewed to ascertain their capacities.
The peasant occupants and other applicants could acquire the land they need for development.

(II) Controlling land use through zoning.
The central government would provide soil scientists and facilitate them to visit different areas of Mailo 9,000 land with a view of testing the soils.
They would recommend to government specific plants/crops which would do well on what soil.

Government would advise the farmers on what to grow and in what areas. Having decided on particular crops for specified areas the government would assist the farmers;
(i) Get sufficient quantities of seeds or plants for planting.
(ii) Get good quality weed killers and fertilisers and on time.
(iii) By making available agricultural advisors/technical staff for the different types of crops.
(iv) Design schemes for and make equipment available for support irrigation in between rain seasons.

(III) Organise harvests, storage 
and marketing of crops
The central government or local government through the ministry of Agriculture or other relevant agencies would assist farmers on organising crop harvests and storage. They would educate the farmers on availability of markets and influencing prices.
Experts would advise the farmers on grading crops and maintaining good quality for exports.

Where same crops are grown on a block piece of land sufficient quantities could be harvested to sustain medium size processing plants. The farmers would upgrade and add value to their produce/food crops. This would give them increased incomes. Government would levy more taxes.

(IV) Processing, conferment of titles.
Government would assist district land boards in processing and conferment of land titles to successful applicants. A reasonable fee would be charged. The applicants would be given freehold titles. The farmers would be given initial certificates for say five or 10 years. There would be periodic reviews of the developmental activities on the land before recommending the issue of a freehold title in perpetuity.

The State, acting through its agencies, could exercise regulatory power over freehold tenure. The State would design and enforce uniform conditions and covenants on freehold tenure. Starting with land comprised in Mailo 9,000 the use and development of land under Freehold tenure would be regulated.

(V) Impact on other land holding tenures in Buganda and other areas.
If the said transformation succeeds on land comprised in Mailo 9,000 it would have a profound effect on land holding under other tenure systems. Bibanja holders on Mailo land would realise that they are in a worse situation than the former customary occupants of Mailo 9,000 land.

In areas outside Buganda where customary land tenure is practiced the people will be persuaded to parcel out individually owned customary land to be converted to freehold.

The people could adopt joint ownership of family land by spouses which would strengthen women’s land rights and the much sought access to land. The traditional authorities would be persuaded to exercise equality and natural justice in allocating and distributing land. They could even seek advice from experts.

With the advantage of individualised land holding and owning land titles, and positive government regulation of land use for increased productivity, the people could be persuaded to reduce communal holdings. They would try out the partitioning of land into economic units which can be developed following the model on former public land comprised in Mailo 9,000.

Let the good will of government be demonstrated in areas of less disputes like Mailo 9,000 land, and, thereafter people practising other types of land holding will be saying:- “ we too please”.

About mailo land tenure system
Mailo land is one of the three land systems in Uganda.  It derives its legitimacy from the 1900 Buganda Agreement where holding of registered land is in perpetuity by the owner of a given land.  

Mr Mukiibi is a retired judge of the High Court of Uganda, and a mediator.