General analysis of the land problems in Uganda


I would like to clarify a few points:

1.       Though I mentioned on UAH forum that some UPDF guys had bought land and could even manage to evict bibanja holders using their muscle, I did NOT say this is a rampant phenomenon!  I did NOT by any means imply that it is only the army guys benefiting from this land business.  In fact only a few army guys have been involved in these land wrangles to my knowledge.

2.       I also said cowardly landlords are selling their land which is practically useless to them because of the strange phenomenon of permanent dual ownership.  The muscle men are not necessarily Army men.  In Uganda, muscle comes in many different forms – money, political power, influence peddling, corruption, etc.  As a matter of fact, many of the prominent cases of evictions of bibanja holders that have appeared in the papers have been carried out by businessmen (one of them a prominent female businesswoman!)  It is completely misleading to assume that evictions are only carried by the army or NRM bigwigs!  When it comes to all these deals, political inclinations are not a factor – it is just the level of the profit from the deal and the capacity to carry it out – and I assure you, anyone with enough money to splash around has the capacity.

3.       This dual ownership of land in the recently passed land bill is not a recent reality – it has been here since 1900!   The 1998 Land Act and other amendments have only entrenched it because – let us face it – many lives are affected by this problem.  It cannot be wished away.  The New Vision conducted a survey of the land ownership problem and published its findings.  The findings show that most of the people (about 70%) in Buganda are bibanja holders!  This basically means they are living on other people’s property!  Is this believable?  Yes!  I will give you an example from Mbale – where I originate.  Although there is NO dual ownership of land in most of Mbale, very few people have land titles.  They own the land by customary tenure and can only lay claim using relatives and neighbors as witnesses.  This basically means that if one was able to bribe all these relatives and neighbors, one could actually take over another person’s land.  Why?  There is no record of it anywhere.  But why haven’t the Bagisu surveyed their land and got land titles to it?  This is the same problem with many peasants in the villages of Buganda.  They have been using their land holdings from time immemorial with just a cursory acknowledgment of the landlord.  It is only now when land has become such a hot cake in central Uganda that bibanja holders, all of a sudden, are faced with the specter of eviction.  It is only now that bibanja holders (those with means) are scrambling to regularize their occupancy by trying to acquire titles to their bibanja.  Given that all the land in Buganda was parceled out to only 3,000 out of a million people (perhaps) in 1900, and many of these have not bothered to buy titles, it is conceivable that the majority of Baganda are still in that state as revealed by New Vision.

4.       Willing buyer – willing seller, is it true?  Yes!  As it is now, the government cannot simply tell bibanja holders to vacate the land of land owners (given the history).  The 1998 Land Act sought to make it difficult for landlords to evict bibanja holders but there were many loopholes in it that were used by the landlords to evict the bibanja holders.  So for those landlords who do not have the “muscle”, the land titles are equal to almost ZERO value.  Now, under such a circumstance, any price that a landlord gets for the land is a profit because in the Books of Accounts, such an Asset is valueless.  So a landlord who manages to get even 0.5million per acre, makes a very big profit.  That is economics.  Although some banks have been accepting collateral of such land titles, many have been shying away from them.  So it is a willing buyer, willing seller alright!

5.       The land policy can never say that now foreigners can own land in Uganda.  No!  The land policy can only specify how land should be used by those who already own it.  Ownership issues have already been dealt with in the constitution.  Foreigners have the permission to LEASE (not own) land for commercial purposes.  They do not need the land policy to get this green light.  But the land policy for example can state:

a.       that everyone in Uganda who possesses land, must develop it within a certain period of time, otherwise it can be forfeited or the government can force such a person to sell it the land.  Large tracts of land in Buganda and the north are not developed for decades.

b.      That towns and cities should as much as possible not be built over arable land but should be located in arid or rocky places.

c.       That roads should as much as possible be constructed over land that cannot be used for agriculture.  The same goes for infrastructure like schools, hospitals, offices, etc.

d.      That all land that has no crops must have trees.  It can make statements on forest reserves, game reserves and parks, wetlands, etc.

e.      That henceforth, land must not be fragmented below one acre (this is a real problem in Mbale and Kigezi).  Outlawing land fragmentation is very important.  Although landlords claim bibanja holders fragment land, that is not fragmentation we are talking about.

f.        Etc.

6.       Point (5) above means that there is no insider dealing by anybody and the UPDF in particular.  There cannot be anything in the land policy that makes it imperative for someone to buy up large chunks of land now!

7.       Yes, the Land Amendment Bill, makes the land assets more useless to the land owners by constraining their actions on the land!  But that is precisely what it is intended to do.  Is this a good thing?  Economically and financially, NO.  But socially and politically it is.

8.       Can 20 people lay claim (100%) to the same kibanja?  No.  This is not possible because at any one time, there are only two people who own a particular kibanja – the title holder and the kibanja holder!  Either the title moves to another entity or the kibanja holder bequeaths the kibanja to an heir or sells to another holder.  Does the kibanja holder have 100% claim on the kibanja?  Only when he/she regularly pays the nominal ground rent!  When he defaults, the landlord has procedures to follow to evict him from the land.

9.       As to whether the UPDF is worse than the previous armies or the NRMO is a den of thieves!  Well that is political and you are entitled to your opinion.  It is not the topic for today so I will skip.

Rogers Mataka

UAH forumist



About ekitibwakyabuganda

Ba Ssebo ne ba Nyabo, Twebaza Abaganda bonna abulumulirwa Obuganda . Era twebaza ne mikwano gya Buganda gyonna wonna wegiri munsi yonna. Omukutu guno gwatandikibwawo nga e’kigendererwa kwe kuyigiriza abantu ebintu ebikwatagana no’Buganda era nokuwanyisiganya ebilowozo nebanaffe abatali Baganda. Abaganda ne mikwano gya Buganda mukozese omukisa guno muwereze ebirowozo byamwe no’bubaka bwona obunaagasa Abaganda na’baana Buganda berizala mu maaso eyo. Obumu ku bubaka obuwerezebwa ku mukutu guno bugyibwa mukuwanyisiganya ebirowozo okubera kumukutu gwa Ugandan’s at Heart (UAH) Forum ogwatandikibwawo Mwami Abbey Kibirige Semuwemba. Era twebaza muzukulu wa Kintu ne Nnambi ono olw’omulimu gwakoledde bana Uganda bonna abali e’bunayira mungeri yo kubagatta mu byempuliziganya no’kutumbula okukolaganira awamu.

9 responses »

  1. Mr Mataka:

    You and I agree on many things: there is a problem in the land sector that needs to be addressed. We may even agree that the current land laws are inadequate or miss the point. But we disagree on the way forward or about the efficacy of the land Amendment.

    I get the feelings those involved in Uganda are not engaged in the exchange you and I are having. And that is why they came up shot again.

    My real interest is unleashing wealth now destroyed in the land sector in parts of Buganda. The govt is timid because -true dat-UPDF soldiers and NRMO insiders are the major beneficiary of the crisis in the land sector.

    Ironically, the biggest losers are bibanja holders especially those who are evicted by ‘muscle’. Here is where I want you to help move the debate.

    On duality, the land Act of 1998 made things worse. Why? Before that bibanja holders had conveyance interests in land. That was swept away by the land Act to contract terms. I do not want to make the exchange too technical but this is where the problem lies. That is why evictions are up since the Land Act was enacted. We can argue whether evictions are due to demand for land or land speculation, but they are up. What kind of legislation creates only losers?

    As you articulate clearly, some mailo land owners are opting for 0.5 million because it is better than nothing. He or she pockets 0.5 millions and the buyer with the capacity for muscular power moves in to evict 20 or even more bibanja holders who lose their property worthy millions. The owner is minimally better off with 0.5 while the bibanja holders lose far more. You see how values and wealth is being destroyed? Is it any wonder poverty is rising? Is that a good thing?

    There is also what I call patient mailo owners who will buy time rather than sell for 0.5 today. But that will not solve the problem. You should also know that the mailo land holders are not necessarily the offspring’s of the favored few we keep hearing about. This is the mistake NRMO is making. Some of the holders bought their land ages ago, but are now being told that to undo historical injustices, they have no voice. Is that how you handle property rights?

    I understand your concerns, but today the largest land holders are members of the 1986 class. The chaps who came from the bush with nothing and the women who married them are today the richest. What is it they possess? Are they more frugal? Are they more gifted than the rest of Ugandans? NO. They have muscle of the gun and influence peddling. I am positive some grabbed the land they control now and used the Land act to legalize their actions.

    The willing buyer-willing seller is debatable. The buyer is one with the muscle to evict bibanja holders and get away with it. So they must be senior UPDF or NRMO big shots. Does that sound like willing buyer -willing seller you have in mind?

    You wrote ” That henceforth, land must not be fragmented below one acre (this is a real problem in Mbale and Kigezi). Outlawing land fragmentation is very important. Although landlords claim bibanja holders fragment land that is not fragmentation we are talking about”.

    But this is what the Land reforms are actually doing or encouraging. That is why the land Act should have waited for the national land Policy to report. BTW, do you know the terms of reference of the National Land Policy? We would appreciate if you posted here in UAH. I hear ministries in Uganda have spokespeople and are online. My foot.

    I have visited Mbale many times including Sironko and seen the land holdings. Their land is small, but the people are secure and have used their plots for coffee, banana/bogoya and beans quite well.

    Does it strike you as it does to me that there is very little, if any consultations among stakeholders in the land sector in Uganda? That is the problem

    UAH forumist

  2. You should be reminded that the so-called balalo have been part of the Ugandan landscape for eons.  They are part and parcel of Uganda and are Ugandan.  The mere fact that they have been ignorant not to lay a stake in the ground and hold on to territory is something we should pity them for but not hate them.
    Uganda’s population has been growing in leaps and bounds.  Uganda has not matched this with equal rates of growth in the manufacturing and service sectors.  Because of this, the land has been increasingly feeling the pressure and we are fast approaching the stage where it will not manage to support the huge Ugandan population.  THIS IS THE REAL ISSUE!!!  Forget the symptoms like the hatred towards balalo and their herds.
    When there were abundant unused lands and wild marshes no one cared much about a mulalo and his gun.  It is now when land is fast becoming a scarce resource that people are becoming more and more selfish about it.  It is now when people in Teso and Lango can chase away balalo from their marshes because they need them for their own herds.  In Mbale people are now sharing 1 acre of land between 5 sons with families!  In almost all areas of Uganda except the north where there has been insecurity, people cannot easily access this essential commodity called Land.  And yet the bulk of the people are still agrarian and must survive on the land.  It is because of this that clashes have started between the people and government over reserved areas like forests and parks.  Clashes between the balalo and the settle people are inevitable because when things get tough, the first groups to be victimized are the weak disorganized ones.  The balalo in their lone meanderings form such a weak disorganized group that any community can easily target for persecution.
    Mr. Pacu-Otto, the solution to the problems of the balalo is not to increase their persecution but to solve the root causes of this problem and that is industrialization and provision of jobs in urban centers.  As long as we continue in our subsistence farming culture and high population growth rates, all the machinery in government will not protect the forests, parks and wetlands in the country.  There is trouble between the settled communities and the nomadic ones now because the latter are weak.  When these have been dealt with, the trouble will spread among the settled communities themselves.  Evidence of this is already in Kibaale between the Banyoro and Bakiga.  It has been seething under the surface with occasional eruptions between the Bagisu and the Sabiny in Kapchorwa.
    There is no problem at all with the figures.  It all depends on the base or the beginning numbers.  Mozambique is billed as the fastest growing economy sometimes with double-digit figures.  But this country has huge levels of poverty.  Why?  The answer lies in where the country was before it started climbing.  For example if a country’s GDP is almost zero while its unemployment rate is almost 100%, then even if it takes off with growth rates of 20%, you have to admit that it may take as many 50 years just to reach the break-even point i.e. the point where all its service and goods production sectors absorb all the labor potential it has.  At this point the unemployment rate would be around zero.  If it continues growing, then it starts making a profit – i.e. it has a surplus of jobs that it can give to outside kyeyo seekers.

    Uganda has been growing economically at an impressive rate but it is far from reaching the break-even point.  There are very few jobs in the urban centers even for the urbanites let alone attracting more people from the rural areas.  Those courageous enough to venture into urban areas have ended up in terrible slums and poverty.

    It is imperative that the rate of growth of the economy in terms of jobs created be accelerated.  It is absolutely necessary to attract 40% of the people currently on the land to urban areas where they can be employed in other sectors and not depend directly on the land!  If Uganda can achieve a ratio of only 40% who directly depend on land, it would have moved a long way to solving all the land conflicts that are likely to ensue.

    Mataka Rogers
    UAH forumist

  3. Mataka,
    I am curious about the 40% rate you cite above. If there are no jobs today and you concede as much that those brave souls who have ditched rural life for the urban ‘lights’ live on the margins of society, where will the 40% go?  

    This is the same old discredited modernization theory.  You are basically saying that Ugandans who cling to their small plots of land should give them up and move to urban areas to get paid work. The debate on land in Uganda is muddled. What is driving it? Is it modernization theory as you hint below or what?
    If that is the case why then is the govt bent of land fragmentation? It is further proof  that the folks have no clue and are hoping that Uganda will natural emerge out of it or grow in spite out of its chaos. May be.

    There is no country in the world even with strong laws (read respect for property rights and thus attractive to foreign investment) which can create enough jobs to absorb the 40% or anything close to what Ugandan families are producing. The population is a killer. It is a net burden on society and that includes land. The consumption power is very low. And is not about to rise.  As far as I know no one is seriously talking about population because I was reminded in UAH  Uganda is very far from its carrying capacity. May be.

    Oil will not solve the problem. Go to Saudi Arabia and see beggars on the streets. No health care either. It is shocking but true.

    Here is the truth: Uganda’s best hope to fight poverty and unemployment lies in the agricultural sector not industrialization. It goes without saying that a country that cannot feed itself can never dream of anything.  You recall in Mbale to be exact North Mbale/Sironko the days when BCU was well run to buy coffee from farmers.
    Those farmers were not poor. They spent some money on education for their kids, built better homes, got connected to the electricity grid, purchased consumer good, additional land and saved some money in Mbale or made investments.  That is not true today especially in Buganda and Busoga. The situation in Mbale (really Sironko) is different in that even after BCU had survived the idiots who run it today almost killed it.
    I recall BCU in the days of Mr. Mafabi and Mr. Magona ‘Kabindi’ was very successful and the pride of the town. Not anymore, but it at least survived unlike the other big cooperative unions in Buganda and Busoga.

    It is also true contrary to your argument is it not that a farmer in Bugusege is far better off than an unemployed or mukokoteni pusher from Namatala. But you want those farmers to quit rural life in Bugusege and join urban life in Namatala. Do you agree with me that the quality of life in Bugusege is way higher than the urban life in Namatala? Okay Namatala is a slum but you could pick Malukhu or Namakwekwe and the same is true. For sure the folks in Bugusege are guaranteed two decent meals. That cannot be said of the folks in Namatala.

    I use Bugusuge in Sironko to illustrate another point.  Poverty in Busoga and Buganda and Bunyoro is rooted in the insecurity in the land sector. The people in Bugusege have small plots, but they are secure. There is no uncertainty as to what will happen to their land or agricultural produce toady or tomorrow.  Therefore they have an incentive to work harder. In Buganda and parts of Bunyoro where the folks are not sure of what tomorrow will bring on the land, they cannot take chances with crops like coffee anymore. Yes I am making the link between land insecurity in Buganda with rising poverty there.

    Many have written in UAH with glee how parts of Buganda cannot feed themselves and how the food comes from Ankole and even Mbale. But have they ever wondered why?  Is Ankole affected by rampant land wrangles? Is Ankole best with land uncertainty?  No. You agree with me, do you not that uncertainty is not good for farmers. I am sure Kibaale despite its great soil is not a basket case. Why? Because of uncertainty about land

    And some have talked of Teso. But Teso is prone to uncertainly from the marauding Karamojong warriors. If the uncertainty can be mitigated or controlled, Teso will rise and shine again in agricultural produce.  Therefore it is time to factor in the various linkages and land is at the centre of everything in Uganda.

    Let me be clear: regions where there is land certainty are doing better. Poverty is contained. Regions with land uncertainty are reeling. Is it deliberate govt policy? Perhaps. But people are hurting.  The farmer in Kibale is not going to plant coffee or plants that take long to mature. She will go for something she can harvest before the uncertainty sets in. 
    Farmers in regions with land uncertainty are like foreign investor who came to Uganda for a quick buck. They are not interested in long term or brick and mortar business to create jobs, no, they are after speculative investments which they can dispose of quickly in case of any signs of uncertainty.
    Uncertainty in the land sector is harming our people and needs real solutions not gimmicks.

    And finally, and I hope you agree with me that the most efficient solution to the land question is actually a land tax. You mentioned the other day how land should be taxed. But why is a land tax not being talked about?  You know the answer hint: today’s largest land holders are not the off springs of the favored few in Buganda but members of the 1986 rags to riches class.  Because they own most land, they are not prepared to consider the most efficient tools to the land problem. 
    Suppose the regime was to walk the talk and came up with a policy that anyone with 20 acres of land must pay a land tax on 75 or even 50 percent of that land.  If you own 20 acres you pay taxes on 15 or 10 acres and so on. How much money do you think the regime would mint from land tax? It may even dedicate the tax revenue from land to the land fund to fund land purchases at reasonable rates. 
    I understand the land fund is empty. But they can find 5 billions here for Sudhir or 10 billions here for the crook from Bushenyi.  With a dedicated land tax, the land question would fund itself towards an equitable and efficient solution.  I old you that they are playing gimmicks with people’s  welfare that the land reform is good. No.

    Have you wondered why the land tax not being talked about?  You sure know why. One of these days, I will share with UAH the 300 or so largest land holders in Uganda. The data is being compiled on the ground.  But this much is clear: personal interests are harming policy making in Uganda. They do not talk about a land tax because it would affect them personally so they prefer to create uncertainty rather than deal with real issues.
    UAH forumist

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