Makerere University has digitised more than 10,000 land records to preserve fragile documents and ease resolution of land conflicts in the country.
The hard copies of land records from 1830 to 1995 were digitised by four researchers, Ms Rhoda Nalubega, Ms Racheal Nabbosa, Ms Monica Naluwooza, and Ms Sara Maka, who are staff of Makerere University Library.
The development comes at a time when land conflict is worsening in the country due to rampant evictions by politically well-connected individuals, investors and those whose land titles are questionable.
Ms Naluwooza said the records include the construction of the Uganda Railway, the building of churches such as Namasole in Mpererwe; Kabaka’s land, Buganda counties and the lost counties.
She said the specific documents handled were land titles, land treaties, land payments, correspondences and minutes. The work was done between 2019 and this year.
Ms Nalubega, the lead researcher, said the digitised documents were in the university library, which also serves as one of the national reference library where important documents for the country are kept.
“We carried out the project because we wanted to get a solution to the contentious issues on land in Uganda. We have enough information about land with us but most people majorly rely on hearsay,” Ms Nalubega said.
“The project was aimed at preserving and promoting access to land archival records of Makerere University, which are at a risk of deterioration. Dangers such as last year’s fire outbreak at the university main building caused the loss of important documents,” she added.
“Leaving our documents in print form will limit access to the information, especially for our international clientele. We have digitised 10,000 documents,” Ms Nalubega said.
She said the information can be accessed by visiting the University library website (https://mulib.mak.ac.ug), but that an individual is charged Shs15,000 monthly fees to access the records.
Mr Bashir Kizito Juma, the head of operations and cooperate affairs at Buganda Land Board (BLB), said most of the existing contentions on land, especially involving Buganda Kingdom and the government are worsened by lack of credible information.
Among the conflicts are the claims by the Buganda Kingdom to the Kyambogo University land and the piece of land where State House Entebbe is situated.
In the Kyambogo land issue, the kingdom had argued that the Kabaka of Buganda owns part of the 137.5 hectares of land, having acquired it from his grandfather Christopher Kisosonkole.
Uganda Land Commission chairperson Beatrice Byenkya was quoted by the Uganda Radio Network news agency on March 31 to have confirmed to Parliament that they found evidence that the land belonged to the kingdom and that it was an error for the commission to issue a freehold title.
Commenting on the move by Makerere University to digitise land records, Mr Kizito said digitisation of the information will be a game-changer.
“Land documents are under great threat from forgeries, wear and tear and people who may choose to distort them. Digitising is the best way to conserve the documents,” Mr Kizito said.
“The Kyambogo University land conflict couldn’t have been resolved if we didn’t get the archived land documents. The issue was dating back to 1920. So we all had to depend on the documents that were available,” he added.
Mr Kizito also revealed that they had land wrangles even within the kingdom.
“We had land conflicts between the grandchildren of Kabaka Daudi Chwa, claiming that the present estate belonging to the King [Kabaka Ronald Mutebi] should not be the official estate of the kingdom,’’ he said.
The BLB official said the political history and legal regimes of the country are the leading causes of endless land conflicts.
“From the 1900 Buganda agreement [with the British colonialists] to 1966 crisis [where kingdoms were abolished by Dr Milton Obote government and the King of Buganda Kingdom exiled], information gaps were created and we need to rely on archived documents,” he said.
Some of the land conflicts between the government and the Buganda Kingdom have been solved overtime with more than 200 land titles handed over to Buganda in 2014.
But some of the land that was returned to the kingdom continues to be used by the government, according to Mr Noah Kiyimba, the Buganda Kingdom spokesperson. Dr Helen Byamugisha, the university librarian, applauded the project team.
“This is an innovation that will conserve and preserve more than 10,000 land documents. The digitised materials are hosted by the Makerere University Institutional Repository. I commend the library staff for the hard work and commitment. I also thank the government through the Makerere University Research and Innovations Fund for the support,” she said.
Digitised land records
1. Buganda land issues. This file contains correspondence on Buganda land issues from 1936 to 1939 and land tax collection 1927 to 1928.
2. Selling of Nsenene clan land. The file has correspondences for 1928 to 1940. 3. Land laws Buganda government, 1937 to 1939.
4 Draft law of Butaka land, 1925.
5. Education lease of Kabaka’s land at Kasawo, 1928.
6. Land tax law, 1925 to 1934. This file contains the Land tax law of Buganda Kingdom. 7. Survey, land and mines department. This file includes correspondence, some of which are written by the land officer while others are addressed to the inspector of mines.
8. Mailo land. This file contains; maps and estates plans, 1903 to 1927, distribution of mailo land 1907-1926, correspondence 1907 to 1923, minutes 1920 to 1922, land agreements 1908 to 1915 and land laws. 9. Court testimony on Butaka Land and clan cases. The file contains court testimony on Bataka land and clan cases. 10. Land transactions, 1904 to 1928. This file includes; agreements of 1906 to 1928, Memoranda, 1904 to 1914, chiefs to whom mailo land was allocated (Undated)