What you need to know:
Locals are advised to form village land committees to guard against a number of LCs who are behind land grabbers. Committee members will then act as whistleblowers.
Government officials, lawyers and experts have revealed key bases that land buyers, owners and lawful occupants need to cover to avoid falling victims to growing fraud in that sector of the economy.
The number of land fraud cases reported to the police rose from 332 in 2021 to 562 in 2022, according to last year’s annual police crime report although many more are believed to go unreported across the country. Of those reported, 64 involved criminal trespass, 47 were of malicious damage, 35 were cases of fraud in land transactions, while six involved unlawful evictions.
Officials interviewed by this newspaper have shared insights that land buyers and those who already own land need to heed to protect their interests and investments.
The primary responsibility of the State is to protect the lives and properties of its citizens, including land but Mr Yusuf Nsibambi, a lawyer and former chairperson of Kampala District Land Board, says this is not always possible.
“Landowners have no capacity to protect themselves but it should be the state, unfortunately the people behind land grabbing are very powerful and highly connected to the state,” said Mr Nsibambi, who now represents Mawokota South constituency in Parliament.
He said collective action, especially at the grassroots, is the first step in warding off encroachers and land grabbers.
“I would advise people to form village land committees for protection because a number of Local Council leaders are behind the land grabbers. I advise them not to be violent but the committees must be used for whistle-blowing.”
Mr Nsibambi added: “People should also avoid signing on documents they do not understand. Many people have been blindfolded to signs consents that they have surrendered their Bibanja [land use rights] in disguise of processing land titles for them.”
The acting Commissioner in charge of Land Registration at the Ministry of Lands, Mr Baker Mugaino, says due diligence before buying land is a key first step.
“When you are making a search on land, people must go beyond a title register and also make a search on the survey register. They must make sure that the cadastre (owner) and the title are interlinked and they corroborate with the information at the ministry,” Mr Mugaino said.
Secondly, land or bibanja owners are encouraged to register a caveat to protect their interests on a given piece of land, he said.
“A caveat will mean that anybody who makes a search or wants to purchase the property must be aware that there is a registered interest of other people.”
The land registration czar explained that a caveat prevents registration of any further dealings with a particular piece of land except with the consent of the caveator, or if the caveat is cancelled or rejected by the registrar.
Analysis of many of the disputes over land shows that many arise out of land grabbers who take advantage of ignorance of land laws and regulations, absentee landlords and landowners, corrupt local council officials, as well as irregularities in the land offices.
Mr Caleb Alaka, a Kampala lawyer, says the first step to ending land conflicts and land grabbing in the country should involve sensitising and educating citizens about their rights.
“Land issues in Uganda are becoming more complex because many people have stayed on it for decades without knowing their rights,” he said.
He said genuine landowners should also not leave their holdings unattended as this makes it more attractive to grabbers.
“People should physically possess their land because the best protection is to have physical activities taking place on the land. Land should not be left idle; it should be cultivated, plant trees or build physical infrastructures on it,” Mr Alaka said.
Unused land is particularly attractive to grabbers, says Mariam Natasha, a spokesperson for the Statehouse Anti-corruption Unit one of many official and unofficial investigative units in the country. “We have people who own without utilising it, this is very dangerous, we have received a number of cases where such idle lands are grabbed. It is important that people make use of their lands or at least lease it,” she said in a telephone interview.
Like Mr Mugaino, lawyer Alaka said due diligence is important to avoid losing money in fraudulent transactions. “Before buying land, there must be due diligence, by speaking to neighbours, area land committees and local councils, among others. This will enable the buyer to gather enough information about land [before buying].”
He added that prospective land buyers should always seek legal assistance before engaging in any land-related transactions to avoid mistakes resulting from ignorance regarding their constitutional and legal rights.
All of this might still be insufficient, says Elias Nalukoola, also a lawyer, who warns that land grabbing is facilitated by wider breakdowns in the rule of law.
“Unless security organs like police and UPDF refrain from backing the land grabber, locals may not be able to curb the vice of land grabbing,” he said.
“Unfortunately, corruption has ravaged our country that is why we are seeing our men in uniform guarding land grabbers to the detriment of the community. But people should make use of courts, although there are delays in litigation, justice can be served at last,” he added.
A growing number of people in the central part of the country live on land legally owned by the Kabaka of Buganda or the Kingdom of Buganda. It is commonly referred to as ‘Kabaka’s land.’
Mr Joseph Kimbowa, the communications team leader at Buganda Land Board (BLB) advises tenants on Kabaka’s land to protect themselves against land grabbing through securing their tenure by registering their land ownership interests, either through kibanja registration or leasing.
“Protection against land grabbing can also be through meeting the tenant’s legal obligation such as payment of annual ground rent, locally known as Busuulu,” he said.
The official said BLB is responsible for protecting all registered tenants on Kabaka’s land from any potential land grabbers.
He cites an example of residents of Kigaya-Golomolo in Buikwe District who found themselves facing eviction from former youth minister Ronald Kibuule who claimed ownership of the land.
“But because these people were registered with us, we helped them reclaim the land by petitioning the Lands ministry to cancel Kibuule’s title which he had acquired illegally,” Mr Kimbowa said.
The BLB spokesperson also urged bibanja holders on Mailo land to recognise their landlords and build a harmonious tenant-landlord relationship as one of protecting their land interests.
“People should first seek the consent of the landlord before they buy a kibanja and land offices should avoid issuing freehold land titles without consulting BLB,” he said.
Equally, the deputy police spokesperson for Kampala Metropolitan Area, Mr Luke Owoyesigyire noted that the majority of land grabbing victims are bibanja holders (tenants) whose land is often sold by the landlords, opening them up to eviction by the new landowners.
“The most important measure to curb land grabbing is ensuring that landlords and tenants have a mutual understanding because tenants are the most vulnerable to land grabbing,” the police officer said.
He added: “People should also ensure that there is family consensus before selling or making any land agreements. Some people have taken advantage of others’ death to claim ownership of the deceased’s property. We further urge people to seek advice from the Administrator General’s office on all matters related to land management and administration.”
What the law says on land evictions
The 1995 Constitution vests the land in the citizens of Uganda to hold under four tenure systems namely; Mailo, Freehold, Leasehold and Customary.
The registered person or customary owner of that land which they hold is known as the Landlord.
On registered land, there may be other people occupying and utilizing the land other than the Landlord. These people are known as tenants. They too, are protected by the law fromNbeing illegally evicted.
WHAT OTHERS SAY...
Ms Mariam Sseguya, RDC Kiboga
“Kiboga is one of the districts with high cases of land grabbing, but we are educating the tenants to understand their rights on land. Land offices should also avoid issuing overlapping land titles on the same land, and urge land buyers to ensure that their land agreements have clear demarcations of the piece of land being purchased because many grabbers take advantage of the unclear sales agreement to encroach on the land.”
Mr Robert Wamala, LC1 Kibisi village, Kiboga District
“People should always work with local leaders during all land transactions. Some citizens side line LC offices because they are not willing to give a small fee for land transactions, such deals at times lead to unfair agreements which may lead to land grabbing.”
Inside Justice Bamugemereire report
Lady Justice Catherine Bamugemereire delivered its final report to President Museveni at Statehouse Entebbe on July 29, 2019. A Cabinet sub-committee chaired by Gen Moses Ali is still studying the commission recommendations.
The Bamugemereire report recommended that all land in Uganda to be registered in order to minimise land disputes, enhance tenure security, create avenues for optimal land usage and ultimately result in economic growth.
The commission also recommended the introduction of a customary freehold, by which a certificate of customary title shall be registered.
Other recommendations that have been put forward by this report are the establishment of the Uganda Land Services Bureau (ULSB), this institution will be established as a result of the merging of the land administration institutions.
The Commission also proposed the introduction of a tax on idle land to be levied on privately owned large tracts of land of half a square mile (320 acres) and this would be designed to drive the landowner to better utilise the land.
The Commission recommended that land and environmental courts are established while district land tribunals (DLT’s) are reinstated and would be presided over by an individual fit to be a magistrate.
The Commission also recommended formulation of lands ombudsman in charge of civil and criminal investigative, prosecutorial, injustice institutions to address land matters, it mentioned that this platform should be given special powers to prosecute and would be the forum of the first instance for eviction complaints and relief.
The Commission further advised the creation of a national land bank to operate under the Uganda Lands Services Bureau (ULSB) and it will acquire land on behalf of government prior to and in accordance to the development agenda submitted to the National Planning Authority (NPA).
In regards to mineral discovery and extractives, the Commission recommended that a strong legal framework is established to check the pervasive corruption and to protect the rights of he local communities that are impacted by these investments while safeguarding their livelihoods against land grabbing by powerful individuals in the sector.