Tuesday, August 5, 2008


Museveni’s govt must rethink the Land Bill
There is no denying that the controversial Land Bill, which partly led to the arrest of Buganda officials more than a week ago, has triggered off panic among the landlords and their impoverished tenants.

Considering the acrimony caused by the proposed law, members of Parliament cutting across party lines are now supportive of a proposal to suspend debate on the Land (Amendment) Bill 2007 given the current politically charged environment over the touchy issue.

The Uganda Human Rights Commission (which is a state institution) has also in its recently released annual report rightly highlighted the numerous problematic areas in the Bill.

They include allowing a Minister for Land to set the rates for the tenants’ rent payable to the landlord, failure to criminalise transactions by a tenant without the consent of the landlord, failure to deal with bad tenants who degrade land and lack of a definition of ‘customary interests’ in land since customary law is not codified or defined.

From all the above, it’s clear that the Bill in its present form is dangerously pitting landlords against tenants in a political confrontation that will register no winners. This is because land is a tradable commodity and a precious factor of production that if you cease to have a legally recognisable owner, no one can pass what in law is called good title. In simple terms, you cannot sell what you don’t own .

This kind of scenario should be avoided for many reasons, but the major one being that it will retard development. Developers will not invest in land as a commodity and factor of production due to the many competing legal rights over land ownership.

This is not to say that citizens should be evicted from their land illegally. The law is very specific about the rights that accrue to individuals who occupy land for a given period of time.

These include the registered land owners (landlords) and those with equitable or secondary interests in land, like the tenants, by occupancy or bibanja holders, the bona fide occupants (people who have lived on any given piece of land for more than 12 years before the coming into effect of the 1995 constitution) and lawful occupants ( those who entered the land with the consent of the registered owner by virtue of the Busuulu and Nvujjo law of 1928).

This column has stated in the past and repeats now that there is no serious lacuna (gap) in our land legal regime. The major problem is the poor implementation of the law and the politicisation of the land conflicts across the country.

Take, for instance, the much talked about evictions of peasants; who is responsible for these said ‘illegal’ evictions? It’s the powerful– politically connected tycoons who are enjoying state patronage and in some cases military generals that are carrying out forcible evictions of people from land without court orders.

In fact the Uganda Human Rights Commission, in its report, states that government has not even attempted to prosecute the perpetrators of the alleged illegal evictions under the current laws which are sufficient.

The evictions are not the work of your traditional landlord who has sat on land with his/her tenants for years! The land problems in this country therefore, will not be solved by political considerations but rather by economically empowering the peasantry to secure their land rights on the open market.

Thus far, there must be social and economic rules that stimulate the freedom and initiative for the masses to secure their land rights and have the legal capacity to put land to productive use. The government should operationalise the much touted Land Fund to help the landless acquire land.

On the same note, President Museveni and his government should accept that throughout the country, there is a convergence of views that the Land Bill is not socially, legally and economically correct.

The writer is a journalist and advocate

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