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Uganda’s Land Bill : Let the People Decide!

For many years now, numerous land wrangles and disputes have left parties dead or at least vowing to kill each other. My grandfather owned land which he lent to many of his friends and the local subcounty. He however did not document the transactions.

When the time came for his children to reclaim their fathers land, hell broke loose! The squatters stormed the old man’s home wielding machetes, spears, knives, bows and arrows and accused my grandfather of ‘stealing’ their land. For this reason, I’m not surprised when I see Ugandans crying foul and desperately opposing the recent Land bill.

Uganda's land problems stem from the colonial era, when British masters abused the natives' rights to own land by giving away their land to collaborating chiefs in Buganda. The Buganda agreement sealed it all and has resulted into the unprecedented land conflicts which are manifesting strongly today. The colonial masters facilitated land grabbing by allocating land owned by people to the local leaders. The 1900 agreement made a segment of people in Buganda tenants on their own land. For that reason, it must be clearly registered by everyone that our land problems today were not our making.Having read the land bill, I don’t see how the state will grab people’s land. However, the way the government is pulling and pushing ropes on this raises suspicion.

There are reports of bribery going on in parliament, directed at buying out some of the members of parliament, who are opposed to the land bill. Hon Otto Odonga, Member of Parliament for Aruu County was recently prevented by the speaker of parliament Edward Sekandi from naming some of the legislators involved.

In a recent NRM parliamentary Caucus meeting, the National Resistance Movement Leader (NRM), President Yoweri Museveni threatened to fight and fail NRM members of parliament, who do not support the land ammendment bill and yet aspire to make a comeback to parliament on an NRM ticket come 2011, saying the bill is only meant to halt the rampany land evictions in the country. Museveni reportedly said that any MP who doesn't support the Bill is a party to detractors who argue that the bill was crafted to aid land grabbing, but are also working to frustrate the will of tenants in the country, who are facing the brunt of illegal evictions.

There are particluar issues that the governement should address to score accepetance and understanding in this issue. First, it’s unrealistic as well as rude for the governemnt to make major decisions on contentious issues like land without consulting the electorate whom it represents. The land in question belongs to people and it’s only they that are affected and can make realistic decisions on how such matters can be adressed.

In addition, the bill gives the Land’s Minister too much power. Being a political appointee, many people may not be confortable with him being an impartial arbiter when it comes to land disputes. With the rampant corruption in the politics of Uganda today, a lands minister should be the last person to take part in solving land disputes. The kind of person to occupy this position should have be of strong character and integrity.

The government should develop a comprehensive land use policy based on the principles of public policy formulation. This policy should consider public participation critically if it’s to be acceptable to all Ugandans. The government wasn’t right in enacting the Land Act before formulating the land use policy.  This is why this country has never run short of briefcase investors running to president Museveni to ask for free land and yet, if we had a land policy, it would be near impossible for the president to continuously allocate land to them. We must also note that Landlords in Uganda legally own their land and as a nation, we should follow legal procedures to correct any anomaly.

As a way of helping tenants, the government should consider putting in place a land credit body geared towards helping tenants to get themselves out of rental problems. The government can also buy land from landlords and lease it to its citizens at a nominal fee that is fair and affordable. Once a land use policy in put in place, the government should also consider amending the land act (1998) as a way of ensuring successful implementation of the land use policy.

For many years now, numerous land wrangles and disputes have left parties dead or at least vowing to kill each other. My grandfather owned land which he lent to many of his friends and the local subcounty. He however did not document the transactions.

When the time came for his children to reclaim their fathers land, hell broke loose! The squatters stormed the old man’s home wielding machetes, spears, knives, bows and arrows and accused my grandfather of ‘stealing’ their land. For this reason, I’m not surprised when I see Ugandans crying foul and desperately opposing the recent Land bill.

Uganda's land problems stem from the colonial era, when British masters abused the natives' rights to own land by giving away their land to collaborating chiefs in Buganda. The Buganda agreement sealed it all and has resulted into the unprecedented land conflicts which are manifesting strongly today. The colonial masters facilitated land grabbing by allocating land owned by people to the local leaders. The 1900 agreement made a segment of people in Buganda tenants on their own land. For that reason, it must be clearly registered by everyone that our land problems today were not our making.Having read the land bill, I don’t see how the state will grab people’s land. However, the way the government is pulling and pushing ropes on this raises suspicion.

There are reports of bribery going on in parliament, directed at buying out some of the members of parliament, who are opposed to the land bill. Hon Otto Odonga, Member of Parliament for Aruu County was recently prevented by the speaker of parliament Edward Sekandi from naming some of the legislators involved.

In a recent NRM parliamentary Caucus meeting, the National Resistance Movement Leader (NRM), President Yoweri Museveni threatened to fight and fail NRM members of parliament, who do not support the land ammendment bill and yet aspire to make a comeback to parliament on an NRM ticket come 2011, saying the bill is only meant to halt the rampant land evictions in the country. Museveni reportedly said that any MP who doesn't support the Bill is a party to detractors who argue that the bill was crafted to aid land grabbing, but are also working to frustrate the will of tenants in the country, who are facing the brunt of illegal evictions.

There are particluar issues that the governement should address to score accepetance and understanding in this issue. First, it’s unrealistic as well as rude for the governemnt to make major decisions on contentious issues like land without consulting the electorate whom it represents. The land in question belongs to people and it’s only they that are affected and can make realistic decisions on how such matters can be adressed.

In addition, the bill gives the Land’s Minister too much power. Being a political appointee, many people may not be confortable with him being an impartial arbiter when it comes to land disputes. With the rampant corruption in the politics of Uganda today, a lands minister should be the last person to take part in solving land disputes. The kind of person to occupy this position should have be of strong character and integrity.

The government should develop a comprehensive land use policy based on the principles of public policy formulation. This policy should consider public participation critically if it’s to be acceptable to all Ugandans. The government wasn’t right in enacting the Land Act before formulating the land use policy.  This is why this country has never run short of briefcase investors running to president Museveni to ask for free land and yet, if we had a land policy, it would be near impossible for the president to continuously allocate land to them. We must also note that Landlords in Uganda legally own their land and as a nation, we should follow legal procedures to correct any anomaly.

As a way of helping tenants, the government should consider putting in place a land credit body geared towards helping tenants to get themselves out of rental problems. The government can also buy land from landlords and lease it to its citizens at a nominal fee that is fair and affordable. Once a land use policy in put in place, the government should also consider amending the land act (1998) as a way of ensuring successful implementation of the land use policy.



By Judy Auma
Miss Auma is an African Executive Staff Writer based in Uganda


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