Mailo land tenure debate sparks storm

The State Minister for Lands (Housing), Ms Persis Namuganza (in green) with former State Minister for Primary Education Rosemary Seninde and other Jinja Officials tour Spire Road Primary School land, which was allegedly grabbed. PHOTO/FILE

What you need to know:

  • Some landlords accuse  government of trying to cushion the unresolved and unfair sections of the Land Act that deny them the right to benefit from their land.

Ugandans have expressed mixed reaction over a proposed government Bill seeking reforms in the Mailo land tenure system as Buganda opposes any move aimed at tampering with it.
Recently, the government announced that it is coming up with new land reforms, including scrapping Mailo land, which they say will protect interests of both landlords and bibanja holders (tenants) and also save them from arbitrary evictions. The system is common in Buganda.
Nakaseke, Luweero and Nakasongola districts continue to register a high number of cases involving mass land evictions over failure by the different parties to honour the land transaction guidelines under the amended Land Act 2010.
In Nakasongola, where more than 80 per cent of the land is under the mailo system, a section of the landlords claim that the government’s planned interventions seem to be bent on trying to cushion the unresolved and unfair sections of the land act that deny them the right to benefit from their land.
Mr Solomon Mpagi, who owns about 1.5 square miles of land in Nabisweera Sub-county, said the government is to blame for the continued wrangles between the landlords and tenants since efforts to have the land fund rolled out in the district have failed.
Disappointed with compensation
“Some of the landlords, including myself, are willing to enter into negotiations with the government, but many  that were approached by the Uganda Land Commission for compensation have never been cleared. They have spent more than seven years waiting for compensation. Many have decided to abandon the deal and have repossessed their land,” he said.
During Heroes’ Day celebrations at Kololo Independence Grounds on June 9, President Museveni described Mailo land as “an evil land system.”
The Uganda Land Commission also recommended that the system be scrapped.
A source at the Ministry of Lands, Housing and Urban Development last month said the law will guarantee safety of bibanja holders and tenants and shield them from incessant evictions.
Mr Samuel Ssebalamu, a landlord at Kakooge Sub-county in Nakasongola, claims not all landlords are extremists and are against their respective tenants enjoying their rights.
Mr Moses Ssendagire, a tenant on land at Mayirikiti Village in Nakasongola Sub-county, blames the landlords for attempting to undermine the amended Land Act (2010) without seeking a review of its sections through the right channels.
“Our landlords believe that the tenants have no rights on their respective bibanja (plots),” he said.
Recently, Lands Minister Judith Nabakooba discovered that in some parts of Nakasongola, more than 100 households are on the verge of being evicted after their respective landlords allegedly fenced off large chunks of land, denying them the right to use their respective bibanja.
The district leaders, including the minister, noted that some landlords were not fully compensated under the land fund and have decided to repossess their respective land after years of waiting for the land fund balances from the government.
Section 32 (a) introduced into the Land Act in 2010 states: “Lawful or bona fide occupants to be evicted only for non-payment of ground rent”.
Also, Section 32(1a) reads that: “A tenant by occupancy who purports to assign the tenancy by occupancy without giving the first option of taking the assignment of the tenancy to the owner of the land commits an offence and is liable on conviction to a fine not exceeding ninety six currency points or imprisonment not exceeding four years or both, and the transaction shall be invalid and the tenant shall forfeit the right over the land and the land shall revert to the registered owner.” Accordingly, the government will start with the amendment of the Land Act.
In Mbale City, Mr Majid Hussein, a resident of Moni, said the system applies better in Buganda, adding that in Mbale, as long as one has paid the property owner and made an agreement, they take over the land.
Mr Moses Muyanja, a resident of Senior Quarters, described the reforms as ‘robbery’  of their land since it vests more powers in the hands of landlords.
Ms Resty Namutosi, a resident of Nkokonjeru,  said the law will leave many people homeless if landlords have  more powers. However, Mr Jimmy Mubiru, also a resident of Nkokonjeru, is optimistic that if people had money for the land titles, they would be safe; but unfortunately, few people can afford them.
In Namutumba District, Mr Paul Mwamike, a landlord in Bugobi Town Council, urged government to revise the law, especially in regards to landlords who evict tenants at their wish.
 “If we go on like that, it means landlords will be making losses because tenants will not pay [rent],” he said.
Mr Richard Waiswa, another landlord in Budongo Village, Central Ward Namutumba Town Council,  advised government to come up with a fixed amount that tenants should pay countrywide to save landlords from making losses.
Mr Paul Mikel, a tenant in Kangulumo ‘A’ Village, Namutumba Town Council, said the law will save them from inconsiderate landlords. Mr Ben Waigolo, a resident of Itoko Village, North Ward, also in Namutumba Town Council, said the law has come at a time when landlords have allegedly been charging “unfair” rent fees, and should address [especially] landlords who charge in dollars.
In Soroti City, Ms Anna Grace Alia, a landlord in Soroti Town, said before tenants take occupancy, she has a tenancy agreement which is binding between her and them [customers].
Ms Alia added that by the time she evicts a tenant, she will have exhausted all other avenues within the law.
“It is not [my intention] to treat people badly, besides most landlords were once tenants,” she said.
Why wrangles wont leave
Ms Alia said issues surrounding mailo land and other related occurrences exist because some people want to grab property.
“We can implement as many land laws as we may wish, but if we don’t have honest people, all that will go to waste,” she said.
In western Uganda, the Tooro Kingdom prime minister, Mr Banard Tungwako, warned government against tampering with mailo land, but ensure all Ugandans get their titles to reduce evictions.
“Many people have no land title or certificate of ownership, that is why there are many conflicts. Some of the land titles we demand from government are under mailo system,” he said.
Mr Vincent Mugisha, a landlord in Kyenjojo District, advised government to implement the existing law before making amendments.
“The law should clearly define who landlords are and ensure they live harmoniously with bibanja holders. What is not clear is what percentage of ownership the landlord has over his land, the landlord should have more power than the kibanja owner,” he said.
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. It is a replica of the freehold land tenure system where each of the two systems permit the separation of ownership of land from the acquisition of land developments by bona-fide occupants as guaranteed by Article 237(9)  and (8) of the Constitution. Under the system, the land owner is registered on the certificate of the title, the tenant by occupancy, while bibanja holders have interests on the said land. The system was introduced in the 1900 agreement between Buganda and the colonial administration where land ownership was given to a few chiefs, leaving out other tenants or bibanja holders.
By Philip Wafula, Ronald Seebe, Olivier Mukaaya, Dan Wandera,Alex Ashaba & Simon Peter Emwamu