Experts push for customary registry in revised land law

Ms Naome Kabanda, the acting director of land management at the Lands ministry (centre), Mr Jonathan Ochom, the acting chief executive officer of Landnet (right) and Mr Francis Gimara,  the technical adviser on the publication of the customary land registry handbook, during the launch of the document at the Sheraton Kampala Hotel yesterday. PHOTO | STEPHEN OTAGE

What you need to know:

  • View. “This [proposed customary land registry] is a system which shows you who owns the land, its size, and the location. It puts control to ensure that there is no unfairness on other clan members and the when a customary land title is issued, the land cannot be transferred without the consent of other clan members,” Mr Jonathan Ochom, the acting chief executive officer of Landnet.

Officials at the Ministry of Lands and that of Landnet, a land rights organisation, have proposed a raft of measures, among them, the establishment of a central registry for titling and registering customary land.

The blueprint is contained in a book titled ‘Customary land registry resource book’ jointly prepared by the two entities and launched in Kampala yesterday.

It’s derived from the more progressive 2014 Uganda National Land Policy, developed after the Land Act 1998 (as amended) that was enacted to “provide framework for articulating the role of land in national development, land ownership, distribution, utilisation, alienability, management and land control”.

The overarching goal of the land policy, according to the formulators, is to transform Uganda from a peasant to a modernised, urbanised country.

But the elaborate policy has remained on paper largely because there is no enabling legislation to support implementation of some of its more progressive provisions that cure the gaps in the Land Act that preceded it.

With the Constitution and the 1998 Land Act set for amendments, a change by government account motivated partly by the desire to abolish Mailo tenure, drafters of the new customary land tenure registry propose the creation of titling and registration of customary land in line with the culture and customs of user populations.

Mr Jonathan Ochom, the acting chief executive officer of Landnet, said the advocacy is to ensure the interests of members of a family or clan that collectively own such land are not adversely affected.

Presently, the government has registries for transaction records of leasehold, freehold and mailo tenures, and customary land holders are often encouraged to convert ownership to freehold (personal land holding in perpetuity), a practice that Mr Ochom described as “lazy and wrong”.

“This [proposed customary land registry] is a system which shows you who owns the land, its size, and the location. It puts control to ensure that there is no unfairness on other clan members and the when a customary land title is issued, the land cannot be transferred without the consent of other clan members,” he added.

Ms Naome Kabanda, the acting director of land management at the Ministry of Lands, said they are collecting views from different stakeholders to inform the required changes to the 1998 Land Act.

The ministry, she said, is grappling with the problem of constantly changing membership, qualification and administration of land boards across newly-created towns, districts and cities.

Ms Kabanda said almost 80 percent of land in the country is customarily held, underlining the urgency with which the government should establish a registry for titling and registering customary land to stem widespread land grabbing.

Former Uganda Law Society president Francis Gimara, who alongside others provided technical support to the customary land registry resource book, said the operationalisation of freehold, leasehold and mailo tenure through dedicated registries has meant faster transactions, higher values and ownership documentation – all difficult for customary land holders.  

Among the 10 recommendations in the book are adoption of a hybrid system for land registration that is specific to Uganda’s customary context; reform of all applicable laws to enable customary registration, document various rights to be reflected on customary tenure, develop geographic scope of systematic-approached land registration system, standardise land attributes in the National Land Information System, and, specify transferable data in land registration and transactions.   

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