“This plot is not for sale” are the six words you will find, marked on a lot of properties and plots of land in Uganda. The words are meant to ward off quack land or property brokers and conmen. Most of the cases handled in courts in Uganda, and Kampala in particular, are fraud-related cases (like selling land while the true owners are away using counterfeit titles) and land transaction fraud (when fake land titles are obtained and sadly some officers in the land registry are involved).
Land-related disputes are not only the most common disputes in court: they are also among the most prevalent types of disputes occurring with and among communities in Uganda, both in the rural and urban areas. These land disputes exist in varying from land grabbing, border disputes, encroachment on protected areas, disputes relating to compensation and family-related disputes like succession. Causes of these disputes also vary: from population pressure to corruption, infrastructural development and changing land use patters. (Landnet, 2017a).
Land registration in Uganda is characterized by poor record keeping and outdated systems, processes and records. In addition, there is a lack of transparency and accountability in the land sector as well as appropriate mechanisms to resolve land disputes. Over the years, this has resulted in the proliferation of land disputes in the country and the situation has been exploited by fraudsters who impersonate landowners, declare living persons dead or vice versa, forge certificates and illegally sell land to unsuspecting buyers.
As a result, many households face tenure insecurity, which influences the way households invest in their land. These households may be hesitant to construct permanent houses or to plant permanent income-generating crops. But even among groups whose tenure is believed to be relatively secure (e.g. customary landowners and freehold) the prevalence of land-related disputes is clear evidence of insecurity. It will be no surprise that most Ugandans lack faith in the judiciary and other land administration institutions., especially young people with no social support, widows, pastoralist and elders, who are most affected by land disputes (Uganda Human Rights Commission, 2017).
Land-related disputes existed prior to and during colonialism as well as in the immediate post-colonial administrations. The allocation of huge land areas to absentee landlords by the British in 1900 under mailo tenure (permanent ownership of a large plot of land by landlords, subdivided among tenants that have the right to live on and utilize the land) and the co-existence of a number of customary tenure systems created considerable scope for overlapping rights to the same plot that has led to land conflicts. In 1975, Idi Amin nationalised all land in the country, converting the tenure system into leasehold. This caused land tenure insecurities to landowners, customary landholders, bibanja holders (a person that settles or settled on land with the consent of the landlord and pays or paid busulu, a fee to allow them use the land) and those who by the enactment of the 1995 constitution of the Republic of Uganda had settled on land for a minimum of 12 years and above without any objection from the land lord. This situation was overturned by the 1995 Constitution by restating all the land tenures as they existed at independence and set up a new system of land administration consisting of land boards at every district. (Deininger & Castagnini, 2004).
More recently, the government of Uganda has put in place various legal, policy and institutional measures, such as the National Land Policy and the Land Act, for the administration of land in Uganda. However, reports of land disputes still continue to surface and for many households, tenure insecurity remains a daily struggle. Why do these disputes persist, despite the availability of legislative and institutional measures to address them? Are there still gaps in the existing legal framework or are there weaknesses with the implementation of land administration policies and legislation?
It is evident that conflicts over land are increasing and have dire consequences for the affected communities. Perhaps we first need to better understand the nature of land disputes, the role of key actors in land disputes and the factors that contribute to the increase in land disputes to inform better policy agenda’s. But until then, most Ugandans take their own measures to secure their land rights and put up a simple sign: “This plot is not for sale!”
- Deininger, K., & Castagnini, R. (2004). Incidence and impact of land conflict in Uganda.
- Landnet. (2017a). DISPUTE RESOLUTION. Kampala.
- Uganda Human Rights Commission. (2017). Land Disputes and Human Rights in Selected Regions of Uganda.
This blog is part of the LANDac Professional Learning Programme Blog Series.