Buganda, govt clash over Mailo land

A  demarcated piece  of land in Luzira, Kampala. Buganda Kingdom has asked the government to look into failure by the police to investigate and conclude land conflicts, and courts to dispose of land cases on time. PHOTO | RACHEL MABALA

As President Museveni swore in for his sixth term in office, he made it clear that one of his priorities would be to end the rampant evictions, which he blamed on Mailo land, a tenure predominantly practised in Buganda. 

Speaking during Heroes Day celebrations last month, Mr Museveni expressed strong disapproval of the Mailo land system as “very bad” and ‘’ evil.’’ 

“It’s not anywhere else in Uganda,” Mr Museveni said during the 32nd Heroes’ Day anniversary celebrations at Kololo Independence Grounds in Kampala.

Mr Museveni’s strong utterances and decision to appoint a Mailo land critic, Mr Sam Mayanja, a veteran lawyer, as junior Lands minister has provoked Buganda Kingdom, which has a lot to lose in the Mailo land tenure, to issue a seven-point statement defending the tenure and instead blaming government, its agencies, and politicians for the land conflicts in the country.

“Land is the most important asset in most parts of the world that people can own, including [in] Uganda. In Buganda, land is the way of life as the kingdom’s cultural aspirations are based on land, hence titles like Ssaabataka for a prince, who is going to become the Kabaka,” a statement released by Buganda’s information minister Noah Kiyimba reads in part.

“Clan heads and elders in Buganda are known as Abataka. However, this scenario isn’t only prevalent in Buganda. The land is a major asset across the country.  It is the biggest means of production since our economy is agricultural-based,” he added.

Whenever land conflicts occur, Mr Kiyimba said, it is easy to put the blame on land tenure systems such as Private Mailo land, yet even in areas such as Acholi, Teso, and western Uganda, there are land conflicts even when they don’t follow a Mailo land tenure system.

The Buganda Kingdom statement said rather than blame Mailo land system, the government should look into its police, which they say has weaknesses and can’t investigate and conclude land conflicts fully and in a timely manner.

“The police is not equipped with the skills necessary to do this job. There might be a Land Squad in the [Uganda] Police Force, however, in most cases, they don’t adequately investigate cases. In some other instances, some elements in the police force side with land grabbers, leaving the public frustrated,” Mr Kiyimba wrote.

Buganda also asked the government to look into failure by courts to dispose of land cases on time, explaining that since courts depend on investigations by the police to try cases, if the investigations are inadequate, there is [only] so much courts can do. 

“However, this doesn’t mean that the Judiciary should be absolved of any wrongdoing,” Mr Kiyimba wrote.

“Courts take their time to dispose of cases. Many lawyers in town have land cases that stretch to more than five years and others over a decade. There is a high court division responsible for land, but it doesn’t solve these cases on time. More often than not, judges and magistrates don’t turn up or simply adjourn sessions,” he added.

“Judicial officers are transferred without finalizing cases and then claim to be studying files forever of the new cases they are supposed to preside over where they have been transferred. There is a need to create a timeframe in which court cases are solved just like we do with election petitions,” the statement added.

Additionally, court orders, Kiyimba said, don’t work because they are not respected by politicians. Instead of strengthening courts of law, Kiyimba said, politicians, spend the best part of their time chiding them. Everyone with a land problem thinks it should be solved by politicians who give contradictory statements all the time.

“While the government has made it a point to lament how land compensation stifles its infrastructure development programmes, Buganda says that public officials who design these infrastructure projects rush to the same areas and purchase tracts of land well aware that a project is going to be implemented there.”

“Land prices go up and when the time for compensation comes, they demand much more because they created an artificial demand in the first place. In some cases, they even build there some form of structures so that they increase the land value. That way, a lot of public money is spent compensating these government officials or their protégés. Uganda experienced a lot of its infrastructural growth between 1950 and 1970 and landowners have been compensated adequately. No project failed to be delivered on time because of ‘bureaucracy,” Mr Kiyimba wrote. 

But in an interview with Sunday Monitor, Mr Mayanja attacked the Buganda Land Board (BLB), the organization that manages what is known as “Kabaka’s land,” saying it is in charge of public land yet it’s owned by a private individual.

“Buganda Land Board is registered in the name of [Kabaka] Ronald Mutebi. It’s a corporate, so how can it be in charge of Official Mailo, which is public land,” Mayanja said.

Mr Mayanja is not the first Lands minister to have a go at the Mailo land tenure system.

 In 2016, Ms Betty Amongi criticised the land tenure, terming it an unfair land acquisition introduced by the 1900 colonial agreement between the British administrators and Buganda Kingdom. She then promised to engage BLB over the matter.

However, the kingdom says instead of blaming the Mailo land tenure; the government should sort out the mess in the Land Registry at the Ministry of Lands.

“There are cases of double certificates of title over the same piece of land. Conveyance takes forever. It can be very frustrating to verify land ownership and transfer land from one entity to another. There is a need to streamline operations in the Ministry of Lands to ensure that land registration takes the shortest time possible,” Mr Kiyimba said.    

The other issues that have caused land wrangles according to Buganda are – Uganda’s population which is said to be among the fastest-growing  in the world and the increased activities on the same land caused by the population pressure.

“In the past, our grandparents would leave some portions of land to fallow in order to regain its fertility. That is hardly the case today. A family that could survive on one acre 50 years ago today needs two acres to grow the same amount of food. Yet we should be promoting animal husbandry in each household so that we use animal waste to fertilise our land. The government needs to create a policy that promotes this type of farming and see to it that it is properly implemented,” Mr Kiyimba said.

To compound the matter, the Buganda Parliamentary Caucus now led by Muhammad Muwanga- Kivumbi, the Butambala County MP, has promised to defy the government if comes up with amendments in the land law that don’t favour the kingdom. 

“We have rampant evictions, but they are mainly carried out by men with guns,” Mr Muwanga- Kivumbi said.” 

“Government should first look at its men before blaming anyone else,” he added.

 Mr Muwanga-Kivumbi also resurrected the debate on the 9,000 square miles of land that Buganda has been demanding from the central government, saying before government talks about amending any land law, it should first account for that land that has been in its possession.

“We need to know what they have  been doing on that land,” he said.

“The kingdom can’t mobilise because they aren’t allowed to participate in politics, but as political leaders, we can mobilise the population against any unjust laws, and very soon I will be calling a [Buganda] caucus meeting to let the public know the practical steps we shall be taking.”  

 Some of the land titles that comprise the 9,000 square miles that Mr Muwanga-Kivumbi is talking about, have  been returned to Buganda government, while a huge chunk of it is still under the Land Commission and the district land boards.

Timeline on Buganda land matters since 1900

The Uganda Agreement, 1900: By the terms of this agreement made between the British Special Commissioner and the chiefs of Buganda, 1,003 square Mailos of land were allotted to the King and his family and to the chiefs both in their  official and private capacity. 

Another 8,000 square miles were given to at least 1,000 chiefs and land owners at the discretion of the king.

The Land Law, 1908. In this law, the tenure system of Mailo came into force-to legalise and regularise the 1900 allocations.

The Crown Lands Ordinance 1903: The difference between the total land area of Buganda and the land covered by Mailo estates is 8,292 square miles.

1922. Registration of Titles Ordinance

The Busuulu and Envujjo Law 1928. This was enacted to define a relation between the land owner and peasant, because these hadn’t been addressed by the 1900 and 1908 laws.

In 1969, the Public Lands Act vested all public land (land which was neither mailo, freehold, nor leasehold, but held under customary tenure) in the Land Commission

The 1975 Land Reform Decree: It decreed that all land in Uganda be vested in the state in trust for the people to facilitate its use for economic and social development.

The 1995.  Constitution and the Land Act Cap 227. 

The Land Act 1998: Was enacted to provide for the tenure, ownership and management of land to amend and consolidate the law relating to tenure, ownership and management of land; and to provide for other related or incidental matters.

The Land (Amendment) Act, 2004

Effected certain amendments to the Land Act, Cap. 227; and to provide for other related and incidental matters.

In January, 2010 an Act to enhance the security of occupancy of tenants on registered land came into force as law.

Additional reporting by James Kabengwa