Sam Mayanja, the recently appointed state minister for Lands, has in recent years built a reputation as a polarizing figure due to his strong views on the land issues in Buganda.
His appointment, therefore, has been viewed in some circles as a telling signal from President Museveni to do away with Buganda’s mailo land system.
DERRICK KIYONGA bases on Mayanja’s writings over the years to analyse what he brings to the fore as far as the central government's relations with the kingdom are concerned.
About a decade ago, Sam Mayanja was a highly place confidant in the top hierarchy of Buganda kingdom. With his repute as an astute lawyer, he was part of top-level negotiations between the kingdom and the central government regarding the return of Ebyaffe.
However, there are several conflicting narratives that led to his fallout with the kingdom and an official who was part of the negotiations but prefers anonymity blames greed as the central issue. It is not clear where the greed falls but one thing for sure is that the trait of Mayanja’s thought-provoking newspaper articles on land has been stinging the kingdom since.
To understand this well, one needs to go back to his views regarding the controversial 1900 agreement. Firstly, Mayanja believes Anglicans/Protestants Sir Apollo Kaggwa and Zakaria Kisingiri, two of the three Buganda regents that signed the agreement, represent the architects of now the Buganda land problem. The third regent was Stanislus Mugwanya, a catholic.
According to Mayanja, top positions in Buganda at the time were allotted along religious line. For instance, the unwritten rule was that the katikkiro and treasurer were Anglicans while the Mulamuzi (judge) was catholic. He blames the two for aiding British imperialists to get rid of Kabaka Mwanga and install a young Daudi Chwa as king yet the infant couldn’t make any decision.
Mayanja says that the two Protestants; Kaggwa and Kisingiri became Katikkiro and treasurer respectively while Mugwanya, a catholic became the omulamuzi. One protestant who missed out on top positions was Semei Kakungulu, Mayanja says. Kakungulu was instead told to go Bukedi region.
“He was duped that he would be the king of the Bukedi yet the real reason the British wanted him over there was for him to become a colonial agent. He died a disillusioned person..." Mayanja consistently writes.
At the time, Buganda was small nucleus comprising of Kyaddondo, Busiro, Busujju and Mawokota. The British wanted to make Buganda the center of its imperial agenda by taking advantage of its centralized structure and to qualify as such it had to be bigger in territory.
“They helped Buganda raid its neighbors, more so Bunyoro, and that’s how Buganda came to have 20 counties, including the two so-called lost counties [Buyaga and Bugangaizi] which were later given back to Bunyoro by [President] Obote,” he says.
In 1899, Mayanja says the British sent in administrator Sir Harry Johnston who clashed with Kaggwa on the how Buganda was to be called. On one hand, Jonhston, in line with imperial diction, wanted Buganda to be called a province while on the other; Kaggwa insisted that it was kingdom. Eventually, Mayanja says Johnston gave in to Kaggwa’s wish though with a punch line: “I don’t care what you call it. You can call it a kingdom.”
With that, Mayanja says the protestant oligarch in Buganda together with the British, whose interests were taken care of by Johnston, signed an agreement that has led to the ever present land crisis in Buganda - the 1900 Buganda agreement - which cemented British authority over Buganda and by extension Uganda.
“In the agreement, they came up with what they called Crown and Mailo land,” Mayanja explains, adding that signing of the 1900 Buganda agreement basically ended Kabaka’s control over Buganda land. Besides the protectorate government that got about 10,500 square miles, the rest of the land was given to the Protes- tant oligarchs led by Kaggwa and Ssaza [county] chiefs as well as the Kabaka.
While at it, Mayanja says peasant Baganda were left out. Eight years after the Buganda agreement was signed Mayanja says that there was no official demarcation of land in Buganda. That said, Kaggwa had moved to entrench his hold over power.
He moved to enforce one of the clauses of 1900 Buganda agreement by forming the Lukiiko in a move seen as copy and paste of the Westminster system.
“As per the 1900 Buganda agreement, the Lukiiko was given powers to curve out land. It was filled with supporters of the protestant oligarchs who distributed land among themselves,” Mayanja says, adding that Lukiiko wasn’t known in Buganda traditions and it started with Kaggwa who was in total control of the kingdom since Kabaka Chwa was too young to object to anything.
Mayanja says it was in 1908 when land was officially allotted with Kaggwa, who got over 100 square miles. In fact, Kaggwa got way to much land to the extent that it is said he started distributing land to his unborn children.
“If any of his wives was pregnant, he would simply say, this piece of land belongs to that child [fetus] of mine...” Mayanja explains.
Of all the land that was distributed, it is that 350 square miles of land that was given to Kabaka Chwa – not as an individual but in as Kabaka to hold in trusteeship on behalf of the Buganda – that has created much storm up to date.
Presently, lawyer Male Mabirizi is at the Supreme court challenging the obligatory process of registering people living on the official mile at a fee ranging from Shs 100,000 and Shs 600,000 depending on the size and location of the land.
The thrust of Mabirizi’s case is that the Kabaka doesn’t individually own this land to start charging people. Nevertheless, in the 1908 land bonanza, Mayanja says Chwa, as an individual, was given 101 square miles and this wasn’t part of the official Mailo.
“This is the only land that Chwa’s descendants have a claim over. If they want, they can sell it. But official Mailo is public land. It can’t be owned individually.”
To buttress his point, Mayanja says under colonial rule, Buganda Land Board, which was a public entity, was formed and its role was to take care of the official mile. This is a sharp contrast to what is happening today,” he claims.
“Buganda Land Board, which says that it is in charge of official mile, is a limited company. It is a private company owned by one person, Kabaka Ronald Muwenda Mutebi. A private company can’t take care of public land,” Mayanja explains.
According to Mayanja, the 1966 crisis and the subsequent abolition of kingdoms in 1967 also entrenched the concept of official Mailo being public land.
“Since the kingdoms weren’t legal, all the land was turned into public land by Obote’s regime,” Mayanja says, adding that even when Idi Amin took over power, he insisted that the land should be in the hands of Uganda Land Commission.
“In 1975, even private mailo became public land. People would go to the land commission to get land titles,” Mayanja says.
On that background of views, it remains to be seen how the kingdom will work with Mayanja for a concerted effort to prevent illegal land evictions and land grabbing. Going by President Museveni’s recent remarks that Mailo land is devious, the stage is set for a longstanding battle of wills and egos.