Friday, January 18, 2008


Leaders shouldn’t tribalise the land debate
The dispute between President Yoweri Museveni and the Kabaka of Buganda Ronald Mutebi has reached acrimonious levels with the former accusing the latter among other things, seditious intentions.

Sedition is a very serious offence. According to our penal law, sedition means hatred or contempt or to exercise disaffection against the person of the president or government as by law established or the constitution.

Sedition can also refer to the promotion of subversion of the government or the administration of the government or, the administration of a district. I’m not sure whether the Kabaka is headed in that direction but not too long ago, in this column , a point was made that our leaders shouldn’t politicise or tribalise the land issue in Uganda.

Take for instance, the case of Buganda which now our leaders want to employ to pit landlords against their tenants; even when the country’s history clearly demonstrates that the two categories of people have until recently lived happily together.

It’s not true, as some people have expressed in this wanton excitement about land ownership, that the Baganda are selfish and inward looking. Many will agree that contrary to the objectives of those who are funning tribal sentiments for political or other interests, the Baganda are strikingly open and very accommodative. This is why from the onset, this legitimate debate about land ownership not only in Buganda but elsewhere in the country, should be devoid of tribal hatred and politics.

There are fresh lessons to learn from the turmoil in Kenya - once a stable country in this part of the world, that’s now torn apart because of the selfish interests of a few political and tribal leaders.

There is no elaborate difference in the wording and meaning or legal efficacy (effect) of the revised land amendments viz the Land Act. The only departure between the proposed amendments and the Act which can be said to be fundamental is the emphasis that before selling land, landlords should give their tenants the first choice to buy themselves out.

Apart from being put on paper, this proposal is not any different from the fundamental principles of the land law that recognise the equitable interests of people who dwell on land whether registered or not. In any case, the constitution of Uganda recognises these equitable interests in its provisions when it states that all persons in lawful or bonafide occupation of mailo, freehold or leasehold land shall enjoy security of tenure.

The land Act, defines lawful occupant to mean a person occupying land by virtue of the Busuulu and Envujjo law of 1928 or that person(s) who entered the land with the consent of the registered owner (squatter/tenant).

And before we look at the other categories of people whose land rights are protected by not only the Land Act but the constitution, we need to understand who a registered owner of land (Land Lord ) is.

A registered land owner is that person who holds a certificate of title of land ( or what is commonly known as ‘land title’), which is issued upon an application to bring such land under the protection of the law – read (the Registration of Titles Act or RTA).

Further, the RTA specifically provides that except so far as is expressly enacted to the contrary, no Act or rule so far as inconsistent with this law (RTA) shall apply or be deemed to apply to land whether freehold or leasehold which is under the operation of the RTA.

What this simply means is that once a person legally acquires a certificate of title to any given piece of land anywhere in the country, that persons is the lawful registered owner of such land and his/her title can’t be impeached ( violated ) unless with a court order. That person is the landlord and at law, any other interest (equitable) is only secondary to his title deed.

The second legal effect of the provisions discussed above is that its only that person, (registered owner) who can pass a good title ( sell land). That’s why the land Act amendments, presumably taking into consideration that straight point of law, is now suggesting that when this registered owner takes a decision to sell his land, he/she should consider to sell to the tenants on that land first, and can do this by putting such tenant(s) on notice that he wants to sell the land.

Next WEEK: we shall look at the other categories of land rights protected by the Constitution and the legal effects of the proposed amendments.

The Writer is a journalist and advocate of the High Court of Uganda

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