Uganda, has in the last decade, been bedeviled with unprecedented mass land evictions. From the 2011 Naguru-Nakawa evictions to Mubende, Kiryandongo, Bukedea, and Hoima among others; the plot has had the same script but different casts. A wealthy individual or corporation brandishes a recently obtained certificate of title, demanding that the numerous inhabitants, often customary, bonafide, or lawful occupants leave the land immediately.
The victims, comprising the elderly, disabled, children, and widowed are often left bewildered at the thought of no longer having the security of tenure over land on which they were either born or derived a livelihood.
The Torrens system, introduced in Uganda by the British colonialists, extols the notion of a certificate of title as conclusive evidence of ownership and regards non-registrable interests as inferior. Most unregistered land is undocumented customary land which is vulnerable to grabbing by powerful political and economic elites.
In spite of the supposed benefits of the Torrens system, the Baseline Survey for Land Sector Investment Plan, 2005 found that only 20% of Ugandans who owned land possessed certificates of title, leaving 80% with unregistered land.
Many ordinary citizens find navigating the application processes under the Registration of Titles Act, not only expensive, bureaucratic but also cumbersome. The intricacies from documentation, surveying, valuing, assessment, and stamp duty fees in order to obtain a land title leave out the poor due to the lack of knowledge, capacity, and resources.
Consequently, the wealthy and powerful, who also have access to the best services that money can buy, are the biggest beneficiaries of the protection of this system.
To worsen the situation, even the legal requirement for adequate, prompt, and fair compensation before evictions are carried out, is not usually followed.
Reports are rife of evictees being given as little as UGX. 200,000 to UGX. 500,000 shillings, to relocate and begin life elsewhere. This is not only demeaning but also inhumane. Some of the victims have loved ones buried on such land yet such money cannot even relocate the bodies. Stories of human bones scattered on the surfaces of government ranches in Kiryandongo, hitherto occupied by locals but now occupied by investors, are not new.
In Mubende, some of the victims have somberly testified to pleading with yet to be affected neighbors, for space to bury loved ones or at times, have even had to hire land to temporarily rest their departed ones as they no longer have burial grounds.
In the notable case of James Muhindo and others versus the Attorney General (2019), Justice Musa Ssekaana directed the government to develop a comprehensive legal framework on evictions, which is yet to be done.
Progressively, countries like South Africa have enacted strong legislation protecting citizens against forced evictions such as The Prevention of Illegal Eviction from and Unlawful Occupation of Land Act, 1998, which provides for Court proceedings in all cases of evictions and the adjudicators must consider all relevant factors including access to alternative accommodation.
Uganda ought to borrow a leaf and also begin to reconsider a land system that accommodates and prioritizes the land culture that defines the majority of its citizens; otherwise, a certificate of title, as it is today, will continue to be regarded as a curse to the poor.
The writer , Achak Carol Kay is a Ugandan Human rights Lawyer
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