Land Amendment Bill 2007: Populist Move by NRM to Win Votes?
Buganda's Kabaka Mutebi and Katikiro Ssendaula are opposed to the land bill.

Land Amendment Bill 2007: Populist Move by NRM to Win Votes?

Buganda Kingdom has fervently opposed the bill saying the bill is intended to grab land in Buganda by giving tenants rights that a landlord can not overturn.

By Solomon Akugizibwe
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First published: May 1, 2008

Some bills like the Domestic relations Bill have failed to be made law after being before Parliament for so many years. The government (read executive arm of the government) doesn't seem to care much and shelves some bill that receives minimal criticism.

But the momentum with which the government is pushing for the enactment of the Land Amendment Bill 2007 despite the enormous opposition from traditional institutions, Banks, Christians, Lawyers and the opposition politicians among others is making many people ask what special interests the executive has in amending the land law.

The executive presented the Land Amendment Bill 2007 to parliament on February 10th, to among others provide legal security to tenants on registered land. President Yoweri Museveni, the chief architect of the bill says it is aimed at stopping the rampant evictions of tenants which is common these days. Museveni is currently traversing the country to among others ask Ugandans to support the land amendment bill. The President recently issued a warning to all NRM leaning MPs against opposing the land amendments.

A ministerial committee made up of five groups headed by the Minister of Lands, Housing and Urban development, Daniel Omar Atubo was recently dispatched to traverse the country to convince Ugandans to support the land amendment bill.

What really could explain the insistence by the government and Museveni in particular to this land bill that is obviously unpopular in many circles? Some people are arguing that with the declining popularity as shown by the last two presidential elections and as the 2011 presidential elections nears, President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni and his ruling National Resistance Movement Party (NRM) are desperately looking for ways to boost their popularity and consolidate their support base, especially among the rural people.

During the 2006 elections NRM was humiliated by the opposition in Teso region which it had won with over 80% during the 2001 elections. The ruling party therefore can't take anything for granted now because; the Teso lesson shows that the opposition can even win traditional NRM strongholds.

It has now come to light that increasingly scared of the opposition which gaining ground everyday, the government has now resorted to using populist policies to gain popular support of ordinary Ugandans. What other better way to gain popular support than through giving extra assurance to the majority of people on land, the leading factor of production (especially in Uganda's agriculture based economy).

The Land Amendment bill 2007, is intended to amend the Land Act 1998 (as amended in 1998) to enhance the security of occupancy of lawful and bona fide occupants on registered land in accordance with Article 237 of the Constitution.

In other words the bill will ensure that tenants (these are poor peasants in the rural areas who have been Museveni's core supporters) are assured of land tenure security. However, other than look at the political undertones of the arguments, Museveni argues that the people opposing the bill are the landlords who got land courtesy of British colonialists at the expense of the majority during the 1900 land allocation agreement.

Museveni has been telling whoever cares to listen that his government wants to correct the historical wrongs committed by colonialists who gave land to a few nobles and royals by distributing to them large chunks of land while turning the majority of the people into squatters on their own land. Museveni says the local people who were cheated of their land are now being evicted, and this bill is aimed at protecting their land rights.

But the Buganda kingdom argues that most of these people the bill wants to give protection are not Baganda and therefore not descendants of the land they occupy.

The bill has been widely opposed by the opposition politicians, bankers, Christian bodies, lawyers, landlords and cultural leaders among others because of their different interests.

For instance, Buganda Kingdom has fervently opposed the bill saying the bill is intended to grab land in Buganda by giving tenants rights that a landlord can not overturn. The Kabaka of Buganda is the biggest landlord in Buganda, apart from being the chief landlord "Sabataka" of all land in Buganda. The kingdom claims some of its land (the disputed 9,000 square miles) have been given out to individuals and the government wants to use this bill to legalize the occupancy on the land the kingdom wants back.

In fact, some members of the opposition and Buganda Kingdom loyalists, say the land bill is an attempt by the government to weaken Buganda Kingdom financially because of the long standing feuds between the central government and officials at Mengo, many of whom belong to opposition political parties.

The President of the Forum for Democratic Change, Dr. Kizza Besigye told journalists recently that the Bill aims at weakening and undermining the Buganda kingdom and its economy. "The real aim of the Land Bill cannot be to protect lawful or bona fide occupants of land as claimed but to weaken Buganda Kingdom and its economy," Besigye said.

However, the government insists that the Land (Amendment) Bill 2007 is designed to protect lawful and bonafide tenants from unlawful evictions by landlords, according to Minister of Lands, Housing and Urban Development Daniel Omara Atubo.

But the Uganda law Society has also declared that the bill is unconstitutional as it infringes on the rights to private property by limiting the rights of landlords on their land. The Uganda Bankers Association have also presented a memorandum criticizing the bill, saying the bill will reduce the value of land because landlords who own the titles that are used as security in accessing loans will not have superior powers over their land. This means land will no longer be used as security for loans.

An independent research that has reviewed the Land Amendment Bill has also supported this view, emphasizing that if the bill is passed in its current form, it will negatively affect economic growth.

The research concluded that the bill is not necessary because it does not provide any new solutions against evictions, while at the same time complicating the relationship between tenants and land lords.

The research done by Julia Schwartz, an international researcher found that the bill currently before Parliament does not offer any new protection to tenants on registered land against eviction. The bill is providing that the tenants can only be evicted with a court order, which court order can only be issued after the tenants fails or refuses to pay land/ ground rent or Busuulu to the landlord or titled land owner.

The bill also provides for the minister of lands to approve the ground rent set by the respective district land boards, and set ground rent for districts that fail to set the land rent within a given period of time. This particular provision of giving a minister power to determine ground has been decried by many as unconstitutional.

But other areas especially northern and eastern Uganda where land is owned mainly under customary tenure, the opposition to the land bill results from introducing a clause that requires land matters to be solved in courts of law. Schwartz says the bill wrongly reverts all powers on land to courts of law, yet under customary tenure; all land is managed and owned according to customs. The research is calling for the recognition of the cultural leaders in land matters concerning land owned under customer tenure.

According to the research, there are adequate provisions in the land laws giving protection to tenants, but the laws need to be adequately implemented. This is the same argument Mengo government led by their Attorney general, Apollo Makubuya have been advancing. But Museveni and his government are so determined to pass the bill into law. But past legal maneuvers on land issues have shown no one can easily claim a victory when it comes to determining land rights and ownership, other than compromise. Yet compromise seems largely lacking in this bill currently before Parliament.

Also read Land Amendment Bill 2007

By Solomon Akugizibwe
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First published: May 1, 2008
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Solomon Akugizibwe is a senior journalist with Ultimate Media Consult in Kampala . He has since 2006 worked as a reporter, information officer for an NGO before embarking on fulltime journalism practice at Ultimate Media Consult.