It was 36 years ago that the NRA fighters overran Kampala. The NRA soldiers were younger, disciplined and friendly. The signs of the hard life they had endured in the bush were visible from their thin bodies and torn clothes.
All these reflected the costs of the just won they had just worn. Unlike past changes of Government, they was no looting was permitted this time. The absence of looting was a result of the NRA’s internal discipline and control.
As a sign of hard days laying ahead for the new government, the swearing in of President Museveni was delayed because nothing in Kampala was operational not even Radio Uganda, and the NRM leaders had to use their own bush transmitter!
The NRM on taking power was aware that Agriculture was the backbone of Uganda’s economy and for Agriculture to strive, the laws governing land use and management had to take centre stage in the strategic plan to revive the economy.
The land question in Uganda is rooted in the colonial control of Uganda dating back to the 1900 Buganda Agreement when a few chiefs in Buganda were given land as a reward for collaborating with colonial rulers.
The bakopi were not given any and remain tenants at the pleasure of their landlords. The NRM in power knew that this situation must be reversed.
The ownership of land as imposed under colonial rule was formalised in the agreements the British colonialists signed with the various Uganda Kingdoms the most famous being the 1900 Buganda Agreement.
These agreements brought about two types of Land holding, Mailo land and Crown land. Mailo land was doled out to the Kingship, the chiefs and other notables.
Crown land on the other hand was held for government purposes and title was nominally vested in the Queen of England as “Custodian”.
These agreements especially led to the first major displacement of Ugandans from the land they had occupied since time immemorial-long before the British set foot and found their way into Uganda.
Following the mailo tenure introduced by the British, the traditional communal use of land changed and became exposed to market forces, of supply and demand.
Land became a commodity on the market. Plantations and estates were developed by non-Ugandans to supply export markets for tea, coffee, and cotton.
When Uganda became independent in 1962, there was no attempt by succeeding Governments to change the tenure system left behind by the colonialists.
An attempt was made through the 1975 Land Reform Decree, to reform the tenure system. All land in Uganda was declared public land and title was vested in the Uganda Land Commission (ULC).
All freehold land, including Mailo, were converted to leaseholds. Customary occupants (bibanja holders) were deemed to hold the parcels of land at sufferance who could be evicted at any time.
The task of the NRM when it came into power 1986 was therefore daunting.
President Museveni, was full aware of the land problems confronting the nation and embarked on streamlining the land tenure and its management system.
The 1995 constitution and the 1998 Land Act have been the most outstanding Land reforms the NRM government has brought about.
For the first time the constitution provided that land belonged to the citizens of Uganda to whom it vests in accordance with the land tenure system provided for in the Constitution: Customary, Freehold, Mailo and Leasehold.
The Constitution further established the Uganda Land Commission, the District Land Boards and Regional Land Boards as custodians and administrators of public land.
The Constitution also provided for government to put in place from time to time, legislation regulating the use of land.
Pursuant to article 237 (9) of the Constitution the NRM enacted the 1998 Land Act, which put in place parameters for the management of land in Uganda.
It provided for a certificate of occupancy to be issued to the occupant (bibanja holder) on application to the registered owner.
This made a bibanja holder a statutory tenant of the registered propitiator to whom he is required to pay ground rent on an annual basis. The law accordingly maintained original owner but also provides for the rights of the kibanja occupant.
While the 1995 constitution and the 1998 Land Act provide for the security of occupancy of bibanja holders, there have been rampant evictions of bibanja holders.
To stop this mischief the government put in place the 2010 Land Amendment Act. The amendment provided for the enhancement of the security of occupancy of bibanja holders, by putting in place penalties for those who take part in illegal evictions of bibanja occupants.
It also gave the tenants the first option of buying their bibanja in case the landlord opted to sell. Eviction without a court order became a criminal offence, attracting a prison sentence of up to seven years.
In addition, the amendment prohibited a kibanja holder from selling his kibanja without the consent of the registered owner.
Otherwise he would risk a court imposed fine of up to one million nine hundred Uganda shillings or four years in jail, in addition to having the transaction annulled.
On the other hand a transaction for the sale of the land by the owner without giving the first option to the kibanja holder is also stated by law to be nullified and the landlord on conviction could face a seven year jail sentence.
In 2013 the NRM developed a land policy in relation to Compulsory land acquisition which the state, as a trustee for the citizens of Uganda could exercise responsibly.
Public interest was enjoined to prescribe guidelines and procedures for the payment of prompt, adequate and fair compensation to those affected in the course of compulsory land acquisition.
In the same year, the government put up the land Sector Strategic Plan (LSSP) for 2013 – 2022, which provided for government to review, update and clarify procedures for Land Acquisition by Government.
Still in the same year, the NRM government championed the development of the National Development Plan II, which enjoined the Ministry of Lands Housing and Urban Development to facilitate faster acquisition of land for planed urbanisation and infrastructure development.
President Museveni in 2016, instituted a commission of inquiry headed by a Court of Appeal Judge, Justice Catherine Bamugemereire, to review the legal, administrative and structural issues affecting the management and governance of land in Uganda.
The issue of Compulsory land acquisition was one of the questions that the commission was expected to address and make policy recommendations on its handling.
The commission in addition had to prescribe and propose remedial measures to address the problems afflicting the systems of land administration, management, acquisition, and registration and land dispute resolution in Uganda.
According to Justice Catherine Bamugemereire, the commission received complaints totalling to 8528 from 123 districts out of 135 between 2017-2019 which constitutes 91% of the total districts. This has been a milestone achievement by the NRM as regards to Land dispute resolution.
The commission also recommended the establishment of a Land and Environment Court, reinstatement of District land Tribunals and establishment of a land Ombudsman to help cub the prevailing Land disputes in Uganda.
In 2017 the NRM established Land Acquisition and Resettlement Framework (LARF), which is a framework specific to the oil and gas sector. The LARF aims at addressing the social economic impacts that result from land acquisition and involuntary resettlement in the process of development of upstream oil and gas facilities.
Accordingly, the Ministry of Lands, Housing and Urban Development is currently in advanced stages of developing the Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Policy (LARRP). This policy will provide for an overarching framework for acquisition of land by government and the process through which the affected people shall be compensated and resettled.
The above framework has reduced land wangles and evictions in the country. The NRM government has ensured that landless people have been given land where to live.
In the 1990s, government established the Ranch Restructuring Scheme where some people who owned huge chunks of land were asked to give a big part of it to resettle the squatters in those areas.
Those land owners were compensated for the land taken away by government. Recently, the Government intervened and helped the people of Lusanja who had been evicted. Government intervened and compensate the owner to ensure that Ugandans remained on the bibanja. It is such achievements that aren’t given due recognition but all this goes back to the 10 points program of the NRA.
The challenge currently facing the NRM is with regard to bibanja owners occupying Mailo land. Though the 2010 amendment gave them protection, bibanja occupants continue to be evicted. The Lusanja episode is a case in point.
The journey has been long and much has been achieved. The NRM government however shall not rest until the wrongs of evictions against the bibanja holders on the Mailo land tenure system are eliminated altogether.
Mailo system had never been a Kiganda custom. It was introduced by the British who gave away land to only a few henchmen of the Kabaka and rendered the people of Buganda landless.
This historical injustice is also suffered by the inhabitants of Bunyoro in the counties of Buyaga and Bugangizi.
The Constitution accords bibanja holders security of occupancy. According to article 237 (8) and (9) (b) of the constitution within two years after the first sitting of Parliament elected under the 1995 Constitution, a law would have been passed providing for the registrable interest of bibanja holders.
This registrable interest would be a tenancy in conformity with article 237 (1) and 237 (3) of the constitution.
Sadly the storm of opposition to any reform in the mailo by the bankrupt forces in some sections of the traditional and religious institutions ensured that the Land Act 1998 and amendment that had been made thereto are restricted to security of occupancy which under the Constitution article 237 (8) and 237 (9) was supposed to be only in the interim.
Granting bibanja holder’s security of occupancy instead of security of tenure, has increased land evictions and impunity and this situation cannot be tolerated by the NRM.
It is in this scheme of things that President Museveni has proposed that legislation be enacted reforming the mailo tenure. The reform is proposed to explore the possibility of converting mailo into freehold. Government buys off the parcel under occupation by bibanja holders and offer them, the freehold titles for the parcel they occupy.
In light of the fact that the tenancies stated in article 237 (3) all lead to freehold, the reform of mailo would mean that Uganda would have only freehold as the only tenure system.
The customary tenancy would only remain in the constitution only as step towards freehold in the terms provided in article 237 (4) (b) only awaiting to be converted to freehold.
Leasehold like customary tenure in article 237 (3) would under article 237 (5) be abolished and remain convertible to freehold.
In providing all Ugandans with freehold titles and within a digitalised Land Information System (LIS), President Museveni and his NRM are in fulfilment of the policy it has pushed since coming to power in 1986, that of providing security of tenure for all Ugandans in perpetuity.
Ugandans should therefore join hands to thank and Congratulate His Excellence Yoweri Kaguta Museveni, the NRM, the UPDF and all stakeholders who have ensured that not only do Ugandans have land vested in them but they indeed own and should continue to own and use their land with proper security of tenure and no threat of any kind of eviction. Happy liberation day.
The author is the minister of state for Lands