In an economy such as Uganda’s, where almost 80% of the population’s economic activity is in agriculture and land, policy and regulation on these two should not be burdensome: the system in regard to procedures and processes to acquire a land title and credit should be less costly, nearer to the people, rather transparent, efficient, and should be implemented in a simple, consistent way regardless of connections, political affiliation, one’s education, or whether man or woman.
Uganda’s legal system cannot be completely delineated from the British legal system from which it was adopted. Post-colonial efforts to amend and enact new laws did not yield much and hence to date many colonial-era laws are still on our books and form the bulk of the policies and practice guidelines in our legal system for transacting in land and property rights. In the formal courts, the system of administering justice as applied is dualistic in nature (formal law is applied side-by-side with customary law) and where there is no written law, the common law of England is cited as the law of general application.
Reforming property laws in Uganda has been on government agendas since the seventies. Uganda’s Land Act 1998 was the first new law which attempted to bring major reforms in the land sector. This law came into force almost three years after the passing of the new Constitution in 1995. But it was not backed by any policy framework, making its implementation complex; some of the major provisions have never been implemented while other provisions face many challenges as society has not accepted them.
Subsequent amendments to the Land Act 1998 (in 2001, 2004 and 2010) clearly demonstrated that the law was unacceptable in many ways, highlighting its internal weaknesses on one side, but also demonstrating that Uganda needed a National Land Policy to guide principles for the management, administration and use of Uganda’s land resources.
Uganda’s National Land Policy
Uganda’s National Land Policy was approved in February 2013 by Cabinet as the framework for development and use of Uganda’s land resources for the next decade. The Policy has two major objectives: (1) to re-orient the land sector in national development by articulating management co-ordination between the land sector and other productive sectors in the economy; and (2) enhancing the contribution of the land sector to the social and economic development of the country.
The key issues outlined in the policy include:
- The creation of a customary register to facilitate registration of customary rights;
- Strengthening women’s land rights through enactment of provisions promoting the regime of marital property law and joint ownership of land and property for married parties;
- The need to overhaul the existing institutional framework for land administration and land management through decentralisation of land services by bringing land services nearer to the populace to make them more efficient, cost-effective and accessible;
- The re-institution of administrative Land Tribunals to handle escalating land conflicts and land evictions; and
- The legal recognition of the dual operation of both customary system and statutory system in land rights administration, land dispute resolution and land management by empowering customary authorities to perform their functions.
Successful implementation of the national land policy will depend on continuing buy-in, support and confidence of all stakeholders. Stakeholders must participate and be constructively engaged at all levels of policy implementation. These include different government departments, development partners, the private sector, civil society organizations, professional bodies, cultural institutions, faith-based organizations and other non-state actors.
Among the key preliminary steps for implementing of the policy include:
- Putting in place a secretariat and a multi-sectoral and multi-disciplinary committee to lead the implementation of the National Land Policy;
- Preparation of an Action Implementation Plan as a program of land reform with activities sequenced to include short term, medium and long term;
- Costing the reforms and packaging them as programs for stakeholders to choose which programs they would prefer to implement;
- Developing a plan of action/strategy for fundraising for the programs;
- Setting a time frame for review of laws relating to land, as well drafting the proposed new laws;
- Developing indicators for monitoring and measuring program implementation;
- Designing and strengthening structures for coordination of implementation; and
- Defining roles of the different stakeholders, including development partners: CSOs, NGOs, Academia, Researchers, and other non-state actors.
Learning from Experience
Land reform in Africa is not like baking a cake where you follow the same recipe – we are all different and face different challenges in the proper management of land and natural resources. But we can take certain things from each other’s experiences, certain key lessons, and apply these lessons and see how they work in our own environment.
Uganda is the last country in the East African region to write its National Land Policy, after Kenya, Rwanda, and Tanzania. This will not only allow her to learn from best practices in the region, but also give the country the advantage of tapping into the rich resources around Africa for support and input from others who have experience with land rights reforms in other countries, to help strengthen implementation of the National Land Policy in Uganda.