Daily Monitor | Hurry up and lease your own land! Mengo is onto something on this one — By Daniel K. Kalinaki

Posted May 11, 2017 by Ugandan Diaspora News Team in Opinion ~ 3,448 views


By Daniel K. Kalinaki — Plans by the Buganda Land Board to offer 49-year leases over land it manages on behalf of the kingdom have sparked widespread fury. In Bunyoro, the government plans to cancel a land title given to the king for land he administers on behalf of his subjects because part of it is a forest reserve.

Elsewhere, government has drafted amendments to the Land Act to allow it take over land required for public projects without delays from compensation disputes. Cue protests.

Whether today or in pre- and colonial times, the story of land is one of power. The kings of Bunyoro and Buganda, the two dominant pre-colonial kingdoms, used allocations of land to reward loyalists and maintain favour – but they did not own the land and instead managed it on behalf of their people.

The colonialists broke this power structure by imposing private land ownership including, in Buganda, private ownership by the Kabaka and his chiefs. It is a long and complicated story but there were at least three outcomes: The overnight creation of a class of landowners; the creation of a class of tenants who now had to pay either their new landlords, or the colonial government, or both, for the privilege of using their land; and a State that now owned land in its own name while exercising control over how private land could be used, say through zoning regulations.

The result, which subsequent governments have failed to resolve, is a dilemma: Some people own land they cannot use because it is occupied; those occupants use land they do not own. It is a bit of a poor man’s Hotel California; the occupants can never show proof of ownership because they don’t have any, but they can never leave because they have lived on the land for all their lives, and because the law protects them from eviction as long as they pay annual rent, which is a pittance.

The move by the Buganda Land Board (BLB) is a cunning attempt to address this dilemma. Occupants who apply for the lease get a document they can use as security for mortgages or loans but in doing so they acknowledge the ownership rights of the lessor.

BLB can choose to give away the leases at a cost today well aware that it can then charge a princely annual premium on renewal in 49 or 99 years. Occupants can choose to keep paying the $0.25 a year in ground rent and use the land ‘for free’ but they can never sell it or borrow against any assets they put up on it. On this one it is advantage BLB.

Which brings us to the planned amendment of the Land Act. Many public works are delayed by compensation claims. Landowners, many of them speculators, reject the compensation offered and stall the project while the matter crawls through the courts. They hold the country hostage. Government wants to put its offer of compensation in escrow and plod on with the project while the legal battles rage.

While I do not share the widely held cynical view that this is a land-grabbing ploy, the government has not covered itself in glory in its past efforts to provide land for ‘investors’, be it in targeting tropical rainforests in Kalangala and Mabira, or in urban reallocations in Naguru, Nsambya and elsewhere.

To prevent the abuse of eminent domain, we can find middle ground by accelerating the process of land acquisition, compensation and dispute resolution. When a project route is announced a freeze on land transfers on affected land should kick in automatically, and compensation rates are based on pre-announcement values, and fair market-value offers made.

Where these are disputed, the commercial courts should clear their decks for a month, or set up special courts, to hear and dispose of all related suits. Determining whether a rock costs Shs4bn or Shs31 billion shouldn’t take more than a fortnight – and it shouldn’t force us to violate the constitutional safeguards over private ownership of property, or adequate and quick compensation.
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Stella Nyanzi should be a free woman, on bail, by the time you read this column. She should never have gone to jail in the first place. Leaders who do not want to be insulted should not insult the intelligence of the citizens they claim to represent; they should retire to the peace and quiet of private life. I don’t agree with Stella’s language but I will defend to the death her right to a voice, including one that insults.

Mr Kalinaki is a Ugandan journalist based in Nairobi. &Twitter: @Kalinaki

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Ugandan Diaspora News Team

Ugandan Diaspora News Online is an independent, non political news portal primarily aimed at serving Ugandans who work and reside outside Uganda. Our aim is to be a one stop shop for everything Ugandan and the celebration of our Ugandan heritage.


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