This article was first published by the Daily Monitor on Tuesday June 28, 2017. We reproduce it here.
By Charles Peter Mayiga
Land is the most important asset in most parts of the world that people can own, including in Uganda. In Buganda, land is the way of life as the Kingdom’s cultural aspirations are based on land hence titles like “Ssaabataka” for the Kabaka. Clan heads and elders in Buganda are known as “Abataka”. However, this scenario isn’t only prevalent in Buganda. Land is a major asset across the country. It is the biggest means of production since our economy is agricultural based.
This has led to incessant conflicts over it in most parts of Uganda today. The most recent being skirmishes that led to the loss of lives in Apaa in northern Uganda.
Besides land being the most important means of production, what else is causing these conflicts? In my view, there are six reasons, which I am going to elaborate.
The first one is the weaknesses in the police force to investigate and gather evidence over land conflicts in a timely manner. The police are not equipped with the skills necessary for this job. There might be a Land Squad in the police force, however, in most cases they don’t adequately investigate cases. In some other instances, some elements in the police force side with land grabbers leaving the public frustrated.
The second issue, and related to the police, is our court system. Courts depend on investigations by the police to try cases. If the investigations are inadequate, there is only so much that the courts can do. However, this doesn’t absolve the judiciary of any wrongdoing. Courts take too long to dispose of cases. Many lawyers have land cases that stretch to more than five years, and others over a decade. There is a High Court Division responsible for land but it doesn’t solve these cases on time. More often than not judges and magistrates don’t turn up or simply adjourn sessions. Judicial officers are transferred without finalizing cases and then those newly posted have to study files all over again thereby frustrating the litigants
The third issue is that of population growth. Uganda has the fastest growing population in the world. Forty or fifty years ago, there was a lot of empty spaces across the country. Today, there isn’t much land that isn’t occupied by people. The need for land has increased its value making it a very important resource than it was many years ago. This inevitably leads to conflicts over it, as the growing numbers fight over the same quantity of land.
The fourth issue is the fact that these population pressures have increased activities on the same land. In the past, our grand parents would leave some portions of land to fallow in order to regain its fertility. That is hardly the case today. A family that could survive on one acre 50 years ago today needs two to grow the same amount of food. The solution here could be the promotion of animal husbandry in each household so that we use animal waste to fertilize our land.
The fifth issue is the inefficiency and confusion in all the country’s land registries. There are cases of double certificates of title over the same piece of land. Conveyance takes too long. It can be very frustrating to verify land ownership and transfer land from one entity to another. There is need to streamline operations in the Ministry of Lands to ensure that land registration and general processing takes the shortest time possible.
The last issue is political interference. Court orders are often times not respected by politicians. Instead of strengthening courts of law, politicians spend the best part of their time chiding them. Everyone with a land problem thinks it should be solved by politicians who give contradictory directives to court rulings much of the time.
There is also the issue of compensations for land meant for public projects such as roads. The government intends to amend the Land Acquisition Act (and possibly the Constitution) so that it takes away people’s land prior to adequate and timely compensation. Government officials cite delays and, interestingly, bureaucracy. This bureaucracy is created by the same government officials in the first place.
Delays in land compensation processes are essentially caused by corruption. Public officials who design these infrastructure projects rush to the same areas and purchase tracts of land well aware that a project is going to be implemented there. Land prices go up and when the time for compensation comes, they demand much more because they created artificial demand in the first place. In some other cases, they leak government plans about the establishment of given infrastructures thereby causing artificial escalation of land values.
Uganda experienced a lot of its infrastructural growth between 1950 and 1970 and land owners were compensated adequately. No project failed to be delivered on time because of ‘bureaucracy.’ If this happened then, why isn’t it happening now? Taking away people’s land without adequate and timely compensation is an infringement on the rights of the citizens. The government should therefore be protecting the rights of these people, not violating them in the name of “development”.
Finally, there is a tendency to quickly blame Uganda’s land problems on the Mailo land tenure system. Mailo land isn’t the problem as we have seen in Apaa, Teso and other parts of the country. Mailo land is actually one of the solutions to land ownership. And therefore to solve land conflicts, we should look at the six reasons above and find corresponding solutions to them. Any tinkering with the law that is politically motivated will never solve land conflicts nor enhance infrastructural development.
The author is the Katikkiro of Buganda Kingdom.