One of the things that have totally eluded the NRM government since 1986 has been finding a solution to illegal eviction of bibanja holders. This has intensified the more land has become commercialized.
In the process, the government has pushed through different pieces of legislation from the 1995 Constitution, the 1998 Land Act, to the 2004 and 2010 amendments.
But all these have failed to curb the rampant problem. Why? Is it because of a bloated bureaucracy or it is a clear case of mis-diagnosis leading to a wrong prescription? I am bent on believing the latter.
Government needs to go back to the basics. You cannot legislate away such a problem.You need to first create an inventory of all people you need to protect by registering all tenants and then confer upon them the rights and the documentation the law prescribes for them.
In 2014, Buganda kingdom, through Buganda Land Board, launched what would later turn out a successful exercise to register tenants on Buganda kingdom land.
The exercise was voluntary and it has attracted an estimated 300,000 bibanja holdings at a fee of Shs 100,000 per kibanja registered and a fee of Shs 600,000 per survey done.
This exercise attracted applause from various social quarters and scorn from other parties, who have personally denied ever criticizing the idea. Buganda kingdom holds an estimated 700 square miles out of the total kingdom area of 23,708 square miles.
This means the kingdom owns only three per cent of its total land area. It thus implies that streamlining bibanja holding will sort the problem only to the extent of land held by the kingdom.
When the government enacted the 1998 Land Act, Cap 227, it provided for registration of occupants by the registered owner. While it provided for the mechanisms such as land committees and tribunals, these bodies largely remain unfounded. This has left most bibanja holders at a risk of both legal and illegal eviction.
Buganda’s intention of registration of tenants was: to have tenants documented and to secure their occupancy; to encourage them to pay their busuulu/ground rent as stipulated by the law; to encourage them obtain land titles in the long run; to draw up partnerships with financial institutions so that lending to these bibanja holders is made easy and less exploitative.
Buganda Land Board is also exploring a future exercise of systematic demarcation where we envisage a time when everybody on Kabaka’s land shall be surveyed and will have a plot number so that we can minimize land wrangles between bibanja holders.
The biggest argument of the anti-registration proponents has been that the fees are high. But none of those has gone ahead to compare, for example, the survey fee of Shs 600,000 with what is actually charged for a survey on the open market.
Anyone who has surveyed land around Wakiso and Kampala can tell you that an average complete survey ranges between Shs 2m and Shs 5m. The fees actually set by Buganda are for the operational expenses such as hiring the surveyors to do the work and the fuel and the incidental cost thereto.
In the areas of western Uganda and some parts of greater north, government, through the department of survey and mapping, has launched the programme of systematic demarcation. This involves surveying and titling.
It is, however, a donor-funded project. Unfortunately, this project leaves out the tenants on private mailo, which tenure is prevalent in Buganda region. The complication with implementing such a programme in Buganda is that most of the land is privately-owned; so, government will need to strike a delicate balance between individual rights to property of the mailo owner and the tenants.
This, too, can be circumvented by drawing up tripartite agreements with individual landowners for such a programme.
Definitely, it is an expensive venture. But until we wake up to the reality that legislation is not a silver bullet, and we do a systematic documentation of all tenants, the problem of evictions will outlive even the current government. Buganda kingdom has started on it; government can support and perfect it.
The author is the legal manager and public relations officer of Buganda land Board.