Opinion: Historical perspective of the inevitable Bibanja revolution


Mailo land reforms are inevitable. It was a tenure which as an instrument of colonial rule completely emasculated the Kabaka of all power over disposal of land. He ceased being a Sabataka.

The agreement itself was thumb printed, confirming the illiteracy of the Baganda leaders of the day. The contents remained secrete of the chiefs (to the extent as translated to them), missionaries and officials of the colonial Government until the mailo land allottees went on the land grabbing rampage.

This land grabbing spree led to a state of restless movement in the countryside leading to, an unprecedented huge movement of large populations of people from one part of the Country to another.

In the words of Bishop Alfred Tucker “the man in occupation had to be turned out and he in his turn sought his portion of land in another area …. The occupant of that other area had to be turned out, and so on and so on. Thus the game of general post went on merrily until the whole population was in movements. Streams of men, women and children going east with all their household goods, cattle, sheep, goats and fowl, met similar streams going west”. 

Apollo Kaggwa, the most powerful of the land grabbers in 1906 grabbed Butaka estates in Busujju and Gomba, exhumed bodies and expelled the attendants of these ancient graves.

Kaggwa’s ally, Ham Mukasa, the powerful county chief of Kyaggwe, was also busy exhuming bodies in Ndejje (Kyaddondo) including the body of a King who had been interred there centuries earlier. Apollo Kaggwa also grabbed Bulingugwe Island which was traditionally a special preserve of Kings.

The land spree so weakened the Buganda Cultural Institution that even Kabaka Daudi Chwa lost his Kingship authority and retreated to working under the shadow of the almighty Apollo Kaggwa, who would even insult the Kabaka in the Lukiiko.

This mistreatment of the King by Kaggwa was to lead to Chwa’s Munyonyo exile and to his loss of interest in governance.

The bibanja holders were forced to grow cotton and compelled to donate a part of their time-one month per year-as luwaro towards cotton growing.

Envujjo was also imposed on the kibanja holder who in addition had to pay a hut tax to the colonial Government.

Eventually opposition began to be manifested and came to be formalized through the formation of the National Federation of Bataka in 1920. In their written statement, the movement listed their grievances among other things to include being left without even an acre of land in their ownership thus being reduced to a position of veritable bondsmen and economic slaves.

Other grievances included the actions of mailo landlords to sell all the land no matter how sacred they were for purposes of meeting their own selfish private expenses.

That in this way, many people had been removed from their ancestral homes and forced to remove the bones of their dead relatives from positions they lay for generations. This was coupled with bibanja holders living on unsecured land at the mercy of chiefs/ mailo landlords.

This agitation led to the enactment of the Busuulu and Envujjo Law in 1928 in which the security of tenure of the peasants on their bibanja was assured, and for the first time, rent and tribute were regulated by law.

The protectorate Government actually forced the Lukiiko to pass the Busuulu and Envujjo law and this law has been widely hailed as a peasant’s charter had been tamed but not destroyed.

The 1967 Republican Constitution transferred the official mailo to Public Land Commission, and the 1975 Land Reform Decree completely reversed the bibanja holders’ gains turning them into tenants at sufferance (emombooze).

Feudalism as once again resurfaced and bibanja holders have once again been reduced to serfs in their own Country without a place to call home guaranteed by a permanent tenancy with ownership in perpetuity.

Despite the reforms of 1998 and 2010 bibanja holders continue to be evicted. They are once again emombooze in their own Country.

Peasants are generally not organised in their resistance to the landlords but they are beginning to form Bibanja Owners’ Associations and when these are a going concern in every village parish, county and district they will become a formidable force, in the confidence that God is on their side and that with time they will reach a point when they will dictate land reforms.

But this dictation could take the form of open revolution with consequences too dire to contemplate as the evictees become the evictors.

It is only the land reforms currently under consideration by President Yoweri Museveni under his National Resistance Movement Government, seeking to accommodate both the mailo landlords and bibanja holders to the satisfaction of both parties, that this bibanja revolution shall be nipped in the bud.

It is in this scheme of things that His Excellency President Yoweri Museveni’s move towards the reform of the mailo tenure must be appreciated, understood and supported.


The author is state minister for Lands







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