My cousin Musoke inherited a kibanja from his father, who had inherited it from his grandfather.
The kibanja has been in the family line for more than 100 years and some of the relatives are buried on this kibanja. During the construction of one of the by-pass he was informed that the road was going to take quite a big portion of the land.
He was informed that he needed to present proof that indeed he was the rightful owner of the said kibanja or he risked losing out on compensation. Musoke had none.
Many Ugandans find themselves in similar situations due to the many ongoing government projects. One thing most Ugandans don’t realise is that one’s right to property is not absolute; it is subject to eminent domain.
Eminent domain can be defined as the right of a government or its agent to expropriate private property for public use, with payment of prior and adequate compensation.
Recently, I attended a consultative workshop on land acquisition, resettlement and rehabilitation policy organised by PELLUM Uganda, ActionAid Uganda, Ministry of Lands and Oxfam, among others. Compulsory land acquisition is a very thorny issue for most Ugandans and the debate was indeed hot.
Most discussants in the workshop agreed that sometimes it is necessary for government to acquire land compulsorily; however, this should be done in good spirit, especially since it’s done in public interest.
Ugandan laws already provide for compulsory acquisition of land. However, the key principals to be considered include adequate compensation, prompt and fair payment which should be done prior to possession, all other factors remaining constant.
The laws also emphasise one issue, proof that compensation is being given to the right person. A rightful owner is one who is able to present documents that prove ownership.
Many Ugandans have aggressively and rightly defended Article 26 of the Constitution which guarantees one’s right to property. This is good and noble but that right is only realised if you have proof of ownership. Majority Ugandans own undocumented land while others cannot even authoritatively explain how they acquired this land in the first place.
An interesting question was posed by one of the discussants: “how do you protect your property within the excesses of political power when you have no legal document that can back up your claim to that land?”
Much as the civil society and other land actors are aggressively trying to protect your rights to land, what are you doing as an individual, family, clan or community to protect your rights? Do you have legal documents that can stand the test of time to prove that indeed the land is yours?
Many landlords are willing to help tenants on their land acquire titles or register their interests; however, most tenants are not interested and view the process as mere wastage of money or a ploy to evict them.
We are living in a rapidly changing world where everyone is interested in land for investment, many people are getting wealthy, European and Asian investors are heavily investing in our country; they need land.
As a result, people are using all possible means to acquire land, including outright theft. Therefore, we need to protect our land as individuals by getting legal documents. For the case of Buganda land, Ebbaluwa Ekakakasa Obusenze is the minimum acceptable document, similar to the government’s Certificate of Occupancy given to people on public land.
You cannot start defending your land against compulsory acquisition or otherwise without any document proving it is yours. Gone are the days when a sale agreement or graveyard of your grandfather proved ownership of a given kibanja.
This is a modern world! Participants commended Buganda kingdom for its visionary management of land under its jurisdiction. They are currently using the Palm Vein System to issue electronic cards where land information can be stored.
They are also openly sensitising the masses to register their bibanja interests on kingdom land and those with ability to get land tittles. Such initiatives should be adopted by all land actors.
It is time for everyone, no matter the tenure system, to obtain documents for the land.
The writer is a market research and sensitization officer with Buganda Land Board.