Uganda, has in the last decade, been bedeviled with unprecedentedmass land evictions. From the 2011 Naguru-Nakawa evictions, to Mubende, Kiryandongo, Bukedea and Hoima districts, among others, the plot has had the same script but different casts. A wealthy individual or corporation brandishes a recently obtained certificate of title, demanding that the numerous inhabitants, often customary, bona fide or lawful occupants leave the land immediately.
The victims, comprising the elderly, disabled, children and the widowed are often left bewildered at the thought of no longer having security of tenure over land on which they were either born or derived a livelihood.
The Torrens system, introduced in Uganda by the British colonialists, extols the notion of a certificate of title as conclusive evidence of ownership and regards non- registrable interests as inferior. Most unregistered land is undocumented customary land, which is vulnerable to grabbing by powerful political and economic elites.
In spite of the supposed benefits of the Torrens system, the Baseline Survey for Land Sector Investment Plan, 2005 found that only 20 per cent ofUgandans who owned land possessed certificates of title, leaving 80 per cent with unregistered land.
Many ordinary citizens find navigating the application processes under the Registration of Titles Act, expensive, bureaucratic but also cumbersome. The intricacies from documentation, surveying, valuing, assessment and stamp duty fees in order to obtain a land title leave out the poor due to the lack of knowledge, capacity and resources.
Consequently, the wealthy and powerful, who also have access to the best services that money can buy, are the biggest beneficiaries of the protection of this system.
To worsen the situation, even the legal requirement for adequate, prompt and fair compensation before evictions are carried out, is not usually followed.
Reports are rife of evictees being given as little as Shs200,000 to Shs500,000, to relocate and begin life elsewhere. This is not only demeaning but also inhumane. Some of the victims have loved ones buried on such land yet such money cannot even relocate the bodies. Stories of human bones scattered on the surfaces of government ranches in Kiryandongo, hitherto occupied by locals but now occupied by investors, are not new.
In Mubende, some of the victims have sombrely testified to pleading with yet to be affected neighbours, for space to bury loved ones or at times, have even had to hire land to temporarily rest their departed ones as they no longer have burial grounds.
In the notable case of James Muhindo and others versus Attorney General (2019), Justice Musa Ssekaana directed government to develop a comprehensive legal framework on evictions, which is yet to be done.
Progressively, countries like South Africa have enacted strong legislation protecting citizens against forced evictions such as The Prevention of Illegal Eviction from and Unlawful Occupation of Land Act, 1998, provides for court proceedings in all cases of evictions and the adjudicators must consider all relevant factors including access to alternative accommodation.
Uganda ought to borrow a leaf and also begin to reconsider a land system that accommodates and prioritises the land culture that defines the majority of its citizens; otherwise a certificate of title, as it is today, will continue to be regarded as a curse to the poor.
Carol Kay Achak, Human Rights Lawyer