VIDEO: Uganda’s land issues go beyond Mailo tenure - Mengo minister

David Mpanga, lawyer and Buganda  minister. PHOTO/ FILE

What you need to know:

President Museveni during last month’s Heroes Day celebrations described Mailo land tenure as “evil, not fair and very bad” and vowed to dismantle it. This attracted public condemnation, especially from central region where the land holding is implemented. Mr David FK Mpanga, the minister for special assignments in Buganda Kingdom, last Thursday appeared on NTV’s talkshow, On the Spot, hosted by Raymond Mujuni for a  discussion about Mailo land and entire land administration system in the country. Nobert Atukunda transcribed the first segment of the abridged version of the discussion.

Does Buganda Kingdom consider this Mailo land reform debate a hot political issue?

Buganda has been made aware of the fact that subsequent to appointment of the new Cabinet, there have been discussions around the issue of land tenure. There hasn’t been a formal policy that we understand to be government policy; we have heard matters said about land tenure.
Buganda Kingdom in no mystery is a large institutional land owner in this part of the country. As a stakeholder, we have a lot to say, a lot to gain and a lot to lose from matters relating to land tenure.  The view of the kingdom is very simple; matters relating to land tenure must be approached in an informed, rational and calm way. There should be little blame-gaming and backbiting, there should be consensual search for solutions; we all live here and we have no more land being produced. Land is not like animal husbandry yet the population is growing.
You heard on Heroes Day the manner in which the President described the Mailo land tenure system. What do you make of President’s statements?

I wouldn’t want to get into debate around what the President said and what language he might have used to characterise the debate.  I think it’s an important thing if you are talking about mediation and dispute resolution that you pick the positive. He does not say its evil and, therefore, he is sending it to hell. He ends his statement by saying; ‘let’s see’ and here I want to insert the following things.
There isn’t a system of Mailo in Amuru District (northern Uganda), we have seen land disputes in Amuru, there isn’t a mailo tenure in the Elgon mountain area but there are land wrangles there.

The President also spoke about the Bamugemereire (Justice Catherine) commission, which visited many parts of the Uganda;  let’s see whether they recorded the cause  of land disputes  and land wrangles today to be entirely a function  of a particular system or whether in fact  we are being asked to look at a particular tenure system;  whereas in fact there were other dysfunctional issues.
 It’s the misuse of force and the absence of proper dispute resolution; if two of us contend over Mailo land or freehold land or lease, we need an impartial, fast and conclusive mechanism.

We don’t have proper courts; the district land tribunals, which were set to help move dispute resolution closer to the ground, collapsed; we have police and army who are brought in by corrupt land landlords….
We know from the Bamugemereire report, at least from  the inquiry stage, that there are certain names that kept coming up; they have been using or misusing state power and state security many times, acquiring their wealth, which they put into land corruptly; those are the people causing insecurity to many people.

 If the Kabaka of Buganda as  big Mailo land owner in this part of the country was evicting people, that would be huge displacement of populations  but on the contrary, the kingdom has been saying; ‘let’s sit down and talk about this so we find a win-win solution and one of the examples is Kyapa Mungalo.

READ: Kibanja holders won’t compensate mailo land owners – minister
One of the criticisms of the Mailo land tenure system is that it encourages perpetual surf dorm; people who are Bibanja holders are unable to own that land even 100 years later. 

Lease holding is a recognised land tenure system in the Constitution and under the land registration of titles Act, its registerable; we could and should  encourage people to move away from the informal system of pure settlement, which is unrecorded and  insecure,  and get into win-win arrangements that enable people  to have registered and renewable  tenure. There is protection in lease hold; there is possibility and capacity to give people the ability to buy.

You said majority of Mailo land owners bought it from the European government…, Majority land owners under Mailo got it under the 1900 agreement and the argument is that these are Buganda chiefs who collaborated with British colonial government and got land.

Let’s also get history correct; our King Mwanga was at that time exiled; you could say the 1900 Buganda agreement was signed with people who were usurpers, they had overthrown the Kabaka of Buganda. The biggest loser in that whole arrangement was the kingdom of Buganda; it lost land it owned on behalf of the people of Buganda.
But if you selectively start saying you are going to resolve a matter in 2021 basing on what happened in 1900, you are running a country like a home.
So the land ownership issue is much broader than the chiefs. I am a Mailo land owner, and so are many other people. How did I become a mailo owner? I bought that land, I  went to school, made some money and I bought that land. 

So you can’t wake up in the morning and say mailo is evil and, therefore, should be abolished.
This is matter of public law it’s not even matter of just morality…. The minister must act lawfully, rationally but they must also act without bias. 

Three years ago, the Justice Catherine Bamugemirire commission recommended the fusion of different land tenure systems. Do you believe that what the commission said should be applied?

The report to my knowledge did not demonise particular land owners or particular land tenure; the report made findings based on research that they had done and to that, the commission treated the kingdom very fairly, they invited us to make submissions and we made recommendations of reforms.
It’s a very important thing to underline that the kingdom doesn’t sit in some cloud or ivory tower and say there isn’t a problem.

There is a problem; the population is growing, the population is not growing  proportionately  across all the land  in Uganda; the population is growing at different rates in terms of density , different geographical areas. Development by virtue of history and many factors is largely here and that means that in the kingdom of Buganda, there is high pressure on land.
It’s splitting families; let’s talk about land wrangles in the fullness of them. For instance, let’s not only look at landlords and tenants, there are brothers and sisters who are fighting  metaphorically in court, battling before various land protection units of police, before RDCs, etc; there are people disputing over land inheritance; nearly every family has this problem.

There is problem that relates to land boundaries where they are not properly surveyed. Again people beat each other up over these things. The people who got two certificates of title over the same piece of land  there were many ysfunctions in administration of land, in dispute resolution and in security systems.  There are overlaps, you have a judgment but then you have to take it to the police to reassess; the RDC is also going to reassess and the  LC5 chairman may reassess and reassess.

 What we are saying is that do not demonise a land tenure system without thinking through the primary and secondary   tertiary consequences, don’t demonise people because the kingdom is people. Institutional land owners are ultimately people; if you talk about  the Catholic Church, Church of Uganda, the Uganda Muslim Supreme Council; these are land owners. Have you heard of bishops in the archdiocese of Kampala chasing anybody? No; they are not but they have bibanja holders  on their land. So we also need to look at this question of good faith and bad faith occupancy,

Let’s also look at social unity and cohesion. Buganda is the only part of Uganda where  all ethnic groups of Uganda can own land, can own bibanja inform of settlement by way of ownership. It’s generally not the case in many other parts of the country.  We need to be encouraging the rest of the country to become like Buganda; let’s talk to the principal land owners and find out how they have managed to foster that arrangement and not be misguided  about the behaviour of some new land owning class and blame it on the old and say everything must be thrown out….

I  want us to take a broader look in terms of the economy. The World Bank in 2018 said the overlap of ownership and user rights of Mailo land has been identified as a key impediment to investment and improved productive efficiency in Uganda.

Very interesting; just before we come on air, The first advert was for Mirembe Villas.  Mirembe Villas is very successfully joint venture between the kingdom of Buganda and a Chinese investor, and it’s not the only joint venture between Buganda and foreign investors. I am not going to say I know much more than the World Bank but I think the World Bank should also be humble enough to learn some things from natives. We are not adverse to investment; on the contrary, Buganda Kingdom runs on five tenets, and tenet number three is hard work and productivity. We want people to be hardworking and productive; everybody grows; it’s a tide that lifts all boats,  if people are rallied  to development and  production.  
As I said earlier, demonisation of particular people doesn’t help economic development. These people came all the way from China and found a way of talking  to people that they found here. They have built budding houses, which are being bought and occupied not exclusively but by anybody who can afford them. 
They help in resolving housing shortage and the same can be done not just for kingdom of Buganda but landowners.

 Bahati Issa seated on household property ponders his next move after being evicted from railway land in Kampala on July 28, 2014. Mr Mpanga says there are land wrangles across the country, and not only in central Uganda.   PHOTO/FILE

You said Buganda kingdom is open to discussions of reform. What kind of reform would guarantee security of tenure for people who are not Mailo land owners but would like to develop on Mailo land?

The easiest way of dealing with this is leasehold, and free holders are given security of tenure, which is registered under a title for a fixed period. All foreign direct investment will not qualify for free holding in Uganda; so if we are talking about looking for leases, we can’t talk to free holders because the free hold happens to have some local attributes.
 It makes me suspicious may be that was not your problem in the first place ,may be you wanted free land and if you wanted free land how are you going to compensate the occupants or was it your intention to relocate them? 
So there are solutions that must be constitutionally recognised and guarantee its protection. If there must be acquisition, there must be compensation, it must be in public interest and that public interest we must abe ble to have arbitration around it as to whether one is in public interest and whether the compensation you are giving me is fair in the Constitution.

Would you support a forceful compensation for Mailo land owners  who have undeveloped land?

Why would it have to be forceful? Mailo land owners are everywhere; nobody wants to keep land undeveloped. The deadlock which has been caused by politicisation  of the land debate has made development difficult. You cannot survey your land without about five, six or seven permissions because of the heightened disputes. We need to calm these temperatures down; we need to bring people into arrangements that enable them understand that if there is development on tenure land, that development is going to be mutually beneficial. And there are many levers that can be used, but you will not get those solutions shouting at each other, calling each other names, demonising one person. 
You do not need to force people to sell land, show the value that you are giving them. Most people only own land because it is perceived to be a safe asset class. If you have a thriving stock exchange, if you have a lucrative bond market, people will sell land and buy bonds. 
But you cannot have a thriving stock exchange, a thriving bond markets or securities markets if you attack us on ideological and perceived historical injustices. 
What will happen, therefore, is that I will keep my money there (land), and go because I am not going to keep it under my floor. 

The government says a lot of the landless people need to find land to develop themselves, and so Buganda must make concessions. Is that an argument you are willing to listen to? 

If there is a concern that some people have come to Buganda and they need land in Buganda, let us also a question; where did they come from? What happened to the land that they came from? Certain people are sitting in Kampala holding power and have access to lots of cash; these are buying lots of land in rural areas where they come from, fencing it off, chasing people away and forcing them into Buganda to create a landless crisis. I am afraid again we need to talk about these things properly. No region is getting more land, so it should not be that Buganda’s accommodation of others will lead to an unnecessary social conflict .  We mustn’t have such those kinds of solutions and those kinds of arguments are very dangerous.  

I remember being in a radio discussion about land with a prominent politician from Northern Uganda. He was talking about, ‘oh we will not have investors; we are going to spear them in Acholi.’ When we went for a commercial break, I said to him that as he said that, did ever pause for a minute and ask himself what Baganda feel about the land issue. That is very dangerous to say that the relocation of people must be accommodated by one group with others not having to bear the burden.  
On the contrary, let’s look at the drivers of rural urban migration; I think it is the government plan to look at ways of developing regional centres; there is no reason why a person has to walk all the way from Mbale to Kampala to get a job as a pusher of a cart.  There should be economic development that enables them to achieve their aspirations  in Mbale, Kabale, Arua, and Gulu; there has to be regional centres.

 You know, we could have a discussion around federalism, maybe that is a topic  for another day but  the basic point I make is, why can’t we have development  that  enables people to develop themselves where they are and not have to migrate to the urban centres?  
The people that we are talking about in urban centres are suffering and  I am afraid dispossessing the people of Buganda is not going to solve their problems any more. But you are dispossessing people of their land purportedly to resolve a landless situation, which is being driven by other factors. Let’s look at education, let’s look at regional development, let’s look at all these drivers of rural urban migration and try to find constructive ways to reverse them. 

Nobody wants to live a landless life, nobody thrives on being urban poor. It is not that they are bad people they that they are meant to be sitting and working in toilets. 
Why can’t that guy have a good job that enables them to   buy a small house? What’s the partnership that enables him to afford a small decent house? Why can’t national housing sit down with the Kingdom of Buganda and talk about building housing units? Why can’t the local government sit with the kingdom of Buganda and talk about finding ways of transforming large slums into organised, affordable housing units. These are constructive discussions that we need to have. 

Watch full interview below