Going by newspaper reports, most of the land which has been grabbed in the central region is either from former public land (the so-called 9,000 square miles) or from mailo land, which was leased to non-Africans through the governor prior to 1915. In one case, one person acquired one and a half square miles in Nakaseke. This land is being given away by the district land boards or by fraudulent officials at the land office.
Under the Land Regulations of 1897, the Commissioner (Governor), was empowered to grant certificates authorising any person to occupy portions of land described in their certificates for terms of years. The right to own land in this way by non-Africans was modified by the 1900 Buganda Agreement, which provided that “Europeans and non-natives who have acquired estates and whose claims thereto have been admitted by the Uganda administration (under the Regulations) will receive title deeds for such estates in such manner and with such limitations as may be formulated by Her Majesty’s representative.”
This provision was implemented by the Land Transfer Ordinance of 1906 whose section 2 stated that “No land in the occupation of or held by a native of the protectorate… shall be transferred either inter vivos or by will… to a person who is not a native of the protectorate without the consent of the Commissioner.” In order to go round the restriction where the land involved was mailo land, the governor would give non-Africans 99-year grants over the land at the end of which the land would return to the African owner.
To acquire mailo land, one had to make an application to the lukiiko (Buganda parliament) to be issued with a certificate in respect of land he owned under customary rules. Once proof of ownership was established, the applicant would be issued with a Provisional Certificate (PC), which he would then file in the department of lands and surveys. After the survey was done and necessary fees were paid as provided for under the Land in Buganda (Provisional Certificates) Ordinance, a Final Certificate (FC) would be issued.
Mailo land and freehold land were both interests in fee, simple. The only difference being that mailo could only be owned by Africans. Since all land was freehold until parcels of mailo were surveyed off, it meant that the so-called 9,000 square miles, which were vested in the Crown, were freehold not mailo. Under the Buganda 1961 Agreement, this land was vested in the Kabaka as a trustee for his subjects to be managed by the Buganda Land Board (not the current one).
Following the abolition of kingdoms in 1967, the 9,000 square miles became vested in the Uganda Land Commission as public land. However, the 1995 Constitution effectively abolished public land and limited the functions of the Uganda Land Commission to holding and managing “any land in Uganda vested in or acquired by the government of Uganda in accordance with this Constitution.”
The same Constitution set up district land boards to “hold and allocate land which is not owned by any person or authority.”
The district land boards are administering the 9,000 square miles and land previously leased to non-Africans through grants on the pretext that such land does not have owners.
However, as every Muganda knows, in Buganda, land is either owned individually or communally through the Kabaka and as such, there is no free land to be managed by district boards. Under Article 178 of the Constitution, such land would have been in the control of regional land boards. Buganda may live to regret its rejection of a regional government.
Mr Mulira is a lawyer,