Land ownership in Buganda has entered a dangerous phase

Before the 1900 Uganda Agreement land in Buganda was owned by the people under the supervision of their clan heads (Bataka). The Agreement changed all that. Half of the land that was uncultivated, covered under forests and swamps was taken over by the colonial administration as Crown Land. The other half that was occupied by indigenous peasants was taken over by the Kabaka and his family members, regents, chiefs and a few notables as mailo land. The owners were neither consulted nor compensated for the transformation.

The allocation of land among the new owners was done by the Lukiiko comprising the regents and chiefs. The allocation was not only done so fast, it also resulted in massive resettlement as chiefs moved with their followers to their new land. For example, a Protestant chief evicted from his areas Catholics, Muslims and pagans. A Catholic chief evicted Protestants, Muslims and pagans and a Muslim chief evicted Protestants, Catholics and pagans. The pagans were not represented in the Lukiiko.

This was truly a social revolution that created many problems in the countryside. People lost their ancestral areas including burial sites. Bataka complained all the way to the colonial office but the transformation had gone too far to be reversed and so they lost the case. It was agreed, however, that tenants on mailo land would not be evicted provided they paid a fixed fee. The colonial office also decided that this model of land distribution was so bad that it should not be applied to other regions.

Baganda have suffered another massive human reorganization since 1981. During the guerrilla war residents of the Luwero Triangle were moved to forested areas apparently for security reasons. At the end of the war it was difficult to determine who lived where and land allocation was done by resistance council members, with all implications.

NRM has also turned land into a commodity for sale like chicken to the highest bidder under the so-called notion of willing seller and willing buyer. Consequently, many Baganda (and to a certain extent other Ugandans outside of Buganda) have lost their land. Unlike under the Uganda Agreement, there is no provision for keeping tenants on the land. Consequently there has been massive rural-urban migration that has resulted in sprawling slums especially in Kampala and the mushrooming of economic, social, political and cultural problems.

This situation must be addressed without delay if Uganda is to avoid a revolution. Land has always been a major issue in revolutions including in France, Mexico, Russia and Ethiopia. The post-NRM government should place the land issue on the list of priority areas for immediate attention.

The purpose of writing this article is to begin discussing how land tenure and land use should be addressed in a politically, economically and socially acceptable manner for all concerned.