A top official in the Ministry of Lands, Housing and Urban Development has declared illegal all leases where land is being used by bibanja holders.
Mr Sam Mayanja, the junior Lands minister, says evictions of lessees (tenants) by district land boards should stop forthwith.
The minister particularly called out the Buganda Land Board (BLB), accusing it of mixing up and managing all land in Buganda yet some of it is owned by individuals.
“I see them intruding and issuing leases on land which is not theirs. This is illegal and should be resisted,” Dr Mayanja said, adding that district land boards “can only allocate land under article 240 (1) and section 59 of the Constitution which is not owned by any person or authority.”
Dr Mayanja’s interpretation is consequently premised on the assumption that “land owned by bibanja holders of government is not available for the district land board to allocate.”
The minister says vast bulk of district land boards are illegally offering leases on land already occupied by tenants.
The 1995 Constitution introduced a new constitutional order regarding ownership of land and protection of property rights for Ugandans. It declares that “land in Uganda belongs to the citizens of Uganda and shall vest in them in accordance with the land tenure systems provided for in this Constitution.”
The tenure systems in question are essentially four—mailo, freehold, leasehold and customary. The registered person or customary owner of a piece of land is known as the landlord. On such registered land, other people occupying and utilising it other than the landlord are the bibanja holders or tenants.
Bibanja holders have often been forcibly and violently removed after leases were issued of private mailo land—usually by people in the upper crust.
President Museveni has often issued directives against evictions. On February 28, he barred any form of eviction. The President even went a step further by including eviction orders sanctioned by court without the “consent and direct observation of the district security committee chaired by the Resident District Commissioner (RDC) and direct consultation with the Minister of Lands.”
There are many cases where land boards have leased land occupied by tenants that include schools. Part of Kololo Senior Secondary School land was, for one, given away to Sudhir Ruparelia—a city tycoon—to develop a pitch for his school nearby.
Elsewhere, the BLB deprived Kigo Prisons Primary School of its playfield when it was offered to a private individual. The Uganda Land Commission (ULC) also gave a slice of the land on which Nakivubo Primary School sits in Kampala to a private individual.
In February, the chairman of the committee on Commissions, Statutory Authority and State Enterprises (Cosase), Mr Joel Ssenyonyi, recommended that leases issued on Uganda Railway Corporation (URC) land be cancelled. Mr Ssenyonyi also accused different district land boards in Kampala, Jinja, Mbale, Gulu, Nwoya, and ULC of being complicit in the creation of illegal leases on URC land.
‘Flouting the law’
Now Dr Mayanja has weighed in on the dicey matter, accusing district land boards of flouting the law by refusing to file annual reports. The junior Lands minister has also told this publication that in the coming weeks he will write to all districts asking local councils to dissolve all land boards that have failed to submit annual returns from the year 2019.
“In January I wrote to all land boards to submit annual reports and I gave them a reminder in July, but none of them has complied,” he said, adding, “We are in the dark. We don’t know what they are doing. The next thing is to sack them…”
Dr Mayanja said Section 60 (3) requires district land boards to publish an annual report. He said the purpose of this is to, inter alia, guide the Ministry insofar as monitoring land management issues and executing the valuation function is concerned.
“Non-accountability amounts to misbehaviour, misconduct or incompetence and is a ground to remove a member of the board from the office on the recommendation of the District Executive Committee,” Mayanja warned.
The junior Lands minister added that annual reports should contain a summary of all transactions in the year, a summary of board sittings, list of achievements and challenges and recommendations. Non-compliance has been the order of the day across the country. Kampala District Land Board, for one, last submitted an annual report in 2008.
Dr Mayanja further urged land boards as well as the ULC not to be in the habit of issuing titles in protected areas such as wetlands and forests, water bodies, national parks or any other land reserved for ecological purposes for the common good of citizens.
“Should the board enter into or conclude any transactions or allocate land in contravention of article 237 of the Land Act, such a transaction should be void,” he warned.
Not business as usual
Land boards and the ULC, however, continue to allocate with reckless abandon ecologically important reserves such as wetlands in Wakiso and Mpigi as well as forests countrywide.
Dr Mayanja, however, told this publication that it won’t be business as usual. As regards lease renewals, he guided that the lessee applies for renewal of the lease when its full term expires. The district land board, he added, should charge at least 10 percent of the unimproved land.
“I receive so many people complaining about the exorbitant fees levied by BLB from people who seek to renew leases,” he said, adding, “Recently, a lady came crying from Luzira when BLB asked for Shs200m to have her lease renewed. This is illegal. Lessees should resist it. The law provides for only 10 percent on undeveloped land and a proportionate premium will be paid.”
He added that in cases of leases that were granted by the ULC out of former official estates, which were returned to the Traditional Rulers Under the Restitution of Assets and properties Statute, of 1993, the traditional rulers have taken over the role of the lessor.
“However, traditional rulers should uphold and honour all terms and conditions of the existing leases,” the minister guided.
In 2013 President Museveni held an agreement signing ceremony with Kabaka Mutebi and returned—through article 2 (5 and 6) of the Traditional Rulers Restitution of Assets and Properties—assets that had been seized for years by the central government.
Stephen Lwetutte, a UK-based lawyer, told this publication that one of the “lasting legacies” of the National Resistance Movement (NRM) regime revolves around “widespread illegal evictions.” These, he adds, are “often violently carried out with the acquiescence of security services.”
Mr Lwetutte says Dr Mayanja’s recent proclamation is akin to inciting “vigilantism instead of playing constitutional role of implementing the law.”
“You would expect the lawyer that Dr Sam Mayanja is, to understand that no-one is above the law and that all it would take to stop the illegal evictions is to call to order the mighty and powerful, the untouchables, of his government to obey and follow the law,” he opined.
“The law sufficiently protects the bona-fide and lawful occupants (bibanja holders) and makes a clear distinction between them and the squatters, and everyone is expected to follow the law without a whole minister having to resort to vigilantism,” he added.
Who owns what
A research paper by the Minister for Special Duties in Buganda Kingdom, Mr Daudi Mpanga, presented early this year to Lukiiko (Buganda parliament) cites how land in Buganda is being managed. It reveals that district land boards lead the way with 6,188 square miles (35.748 percent). This is followed by the ULC and National Forestry Authority with 1,550 square miles (8.954 percent), Buganda Land Board with 950 square miles (5.488 percent), the Catholic and Protestant church with 92 square miles (0.531 percent), the Muslim community with 24 square miles (0.138 percent) and private mailo with 8,506 square miles (49.1339 percent).
By the end of 2021, as many as 21,000 land titles had been issued. A further 71,000 other plots had been surveyed and cleared for leases in Buganda. By the time the central government returned titles to Buganda, much of the land in question was occupied by bibanja holders.
“Much of Kabaka’s land is occupied by individuals, corporate companies or government agencies. Some corporate agencies remit loyalties but some government agencies question how the Kabaka acquired land. By 2021, the government owed us Shs215 billion,” Mr Mpanga wrote in his paper.
Land remains a contentious issue in Buganda, with Katikkiro (premier) Charles Peter Mayiga holding that people heap the blame for the crisis on exhausted land, political peddling, population explosion, police’s failure to carry out effective investigations and delayed administration of land-related judicial matters.