Candidates should prioritise land acquisition in manifestos

Author, Mr James Muhindo. PHOTO/COURTESY. 

What you need to know:

  • Mr James Muhindo says: Presidential candidates should make commitment to protecting the land rights of Ugandans. 

Since 2014 when President Museveni was quoted in the media to have mooted the idea of compulsorily acquiring land at the National Conference on Mineral Wealth, this debate has raged on and remains unsettled up-to-date.

Whereas the Presidents’ proposal is related to granting investors access to mineral-rich land, a position backed by Article 244 of the Constitution, the compulsory land acquisition conversation has since extended to other government projects and public works in general.  

According to the Lands ministry, this move is informed by numerous concerns from the Executive over the delay of infrastructure and extractives projects due to prolonged land acquisition processes.  Government is currently grappling with, among other issues, the rights granted by the 1995 Constitution, which provides that persons affected by development projects should not vacate the land until they are promptly and adequately compensated prior to relocation.

This is a very legitimate concern that was even flagged by the World Bank in its Ease of Doing Business report, as one of the challenges for doing business in Uganda.

However, the Land Acquisition Act of 1965, which government had previously been erroneously relying on to wrongfully evict persons prior to compensation, was successfully challenged in a protracted petition. The UNRA vs. Asumani Irumaba and Peter Magelah petition, which started in the Constitutional Court in 2012, ended up on appeal at the Supreme Court in 2015.

The Supreme Court declared unconstitutional the sections of the 1965 Land Acquisition Act and nullified the provisions which allowed government to take over private land prior to compensating the land owner, due to their inconsistency with Article 26 of the Constitution.

Article 26 of the 1995 Constitution, upon which court relied to nullify the sections of the Act, provides for stringent protection from deprivation of property.  Currently, government is developing the Land Acquisition, Resettlement and Rehabilitation Policy alongside amending the Land Acquisition Act.

The ongoing policy formulation and amendment of the Act is ideally intended to operationalise this provision of the Constitution by putting in place the procedural details on how government should acquire private land if it is needed for public use.

The decision to amend the Land Acquisition Act was preceded by attempts by government to remove from the Constitution of the human rights protection granted by Article 26 (2). These efforts by government included the controversial Constitutional (Amendment) Bill No. 13 of 2017.

Upon the attempt to amend the Constitution being rejected by Parliament, civil society and members of the general public, government then resorted to amending the Land Acquisition Act.

In view of the foregoing, it is important to note that the rationale for government amending the Land Acquisition Bill is to “claw back” the land and property rights granted by Article 26 (2) of the Constitution. The Constitution currently protects privately-owned land from being compulsorily acquired without free, prior and informed consent and upon prompt payment of a fair and adequate compensation prior to taking of possession or acquisition of the property.

This position is reiterated in a number of International Human Rights instruments to which Uganda is signatory, as well as the World Bank / IFC Performance Standard Five. I, therefore, call upon all presidential candidates to not only pronounce themselves on this issue, but also make commitment to protecting the land rights of Ugandans.

Mr Muhindo is the national coordinator, Civil Society Coalition on Oil and Gas at ACODE 

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