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Lecture notes by Mr.

Chemonges Mongea Sabilla @2017


LLB II: SEMESTER I: 2017/2018




Land law is a body of law that governs and regulates all issues in the field of land
ownership, administration, management, transfer and resolution of disputes. It deals with
the regimes of land ownership commonly known as the land tenure systems which
address ownership and actual land use questions in society.

Land is an immovable and indestructible three-dimensional area consisting of a portion
of the earth’s surface, the space above and below the surface, and everything growing
on or permanently affixed. Land includes messages, tenements and here determents’
corporeal or incorporeal and every certificate of title

Land tenure refers to the manner in which land is owned, occupied, used and disposed
of within a community or a society. The land tenure system determines how land will be
managed, that’s why the land tenure system matters a lot in determining how land should
best be managed.
This topic highlights the reforms through which the land law in Uganda has undergone
over time. Land reform often involves changing the law relating to how individuals
interact with each other in respect to land matters. The law is reform or changed for a
number of reasons which include;

a. To give the ruling administration powers to control land matters so as to cause
development in society
b. To protect the vulnerable groups in society against being victimized by the
powerful landlords; women and children, land squatters and people with
disabilities from loss of access to land for their subsistence production.
c. To guide on how people relate and interact with each other in matters relating to
d. To recognize and legitimize the reality of what people are already doing in
relation to land which has been accepted by the society.
e. To give land value so as to stimulate agricultural and economic development in
f. To ensure that there is protection of sensitive land for the enjoyment of the public
and the protection of the environment.
The evolution of land law in Uganda has rotated around the changes in political and
administrative regimes that have controlled governance affairs in the Country. The
changes in the land law can therefore be traced from the pre-colonial, colonial, post-
independence, Idi Amin era and Under the Republic Constitution of Uganda of 1995.

LLBII Semester I Land Law Notes on Historical evolution of land law in Uganda @2017
Lecture notes by Mr. Chemonges Mongea Sabilla @2017

Land management in the Pre-Colonial era
It is not possible to identify a single land tenure system for the whole of Uganda in the
pre-colonial era. This is because of the varying practices of customary tenure that
differed from one ethnic group to another. In Buganda for example there were at least
four categories of rights of control over land:
a. Rights of clans over land which was comprised of ancestral grounds and was not
alienable to strangers.
b. Rights of Kabaka1 who held paramount title to all land in Buganda and who
could grant Land to his chiefs.
c. Individual hereditary rights stemming from long undisputed occupation and/or
original grant from the Kabaka.
d. Peasants rights of occupation which entailed the peasants in Buganda choosing
a chief under whom to live

In the rest of the country, customary practice varied from place to place. However,
scholarly researches have indicated that whatever the differences, none of the
communities in Uganda recognised individual ownership of land. There was however,
recognition of various individual rights to posses and use land subject to sanction by his
family, clan, or community.

The individual had the right to utilise his land as he thought best, to rent out his piece of
land, pledge crops on the land but not the land itself, sell land subject to the approval of
the family, dispose of the land according to the customary laws of inheritance, dispose
of trees growing on his land, prohibit grazing near his homestead and fence his

The clan or family had the power and right to settle land disputes, exercise the right or
option to buy any land offered by its members, prohibit the sale of clan land to an
undesirable person and declare void any land transaction which had not received its
approval. The general community had the right to graze communally but damage to
crops had to be made good. The community also had access to salt licks, watering of
cattle and access to water from springs and other common rights. It can therefore be note
that customary tenure in pre-colonial Uganda recognised both individual and communal
holding of land.

Land legal systems in Uganda during the colonial era

When the British colonised Uganda and made it part of its Protectorate between1894-
1962 and introduced several British laws to the Protectorate including in the field of land
management. The British introduced indirect rule as opposed to direct rule since Uganda
was a Protectorate under the British East African Company.

The colonial state in Uganda was built on the official philosophy of protectorate and
indirect rule rather than colony, territory or direct rule. The Colonial state didn’t
introduce radical changes in the system of customary tenure in Uganda. The dominant
economic structure chosen for Uganda was one of small peasant agriculture under the
prevailing customary tenure. However, other land policies which could accommodate
customary tenure were introduced to appease the local chiefs and get local political allies
in the effective administration of the country. The colonial administration thus
introduced policies which could accommodate customary tenure but still introduced new

LLBII Semester I Land Law Notes on Historical evolution of land law in Uganda @2017
Lecture notes by Mr. Chemonges Mongea Sabilla @2017
land systems in Uganda under the various colonial legal instruments which included;
Mailo Tenure, freehold tenure, lease tenure and the protection of settlers and land
occupants who were using the land without owning the same.

a. Mailo Tenure
This system is not a traditional system of land holding in Uganda and is founded on
English feudal systems. It was established under the 1900 Buganda Agreement. It was
born out of the settlement between the protectorate administration represented by Sir
Harry Johnstone on the one hand, and the existing leadership in Buganda (at the time)
represented by elders and chiefs – on the other hand.

In 1900, Sir Harry Johnston, as Her Majesty’s Special Commissioner in Uganda, entered
into a historic agreement with the Kabaka’s regents (Stanislus Mugwanya, Zakaria
Kisingiri and Apollo Kaggwa, and Chiefs of Buganda. This agreement was to establish
clearly the powers of the Kabaka’s government vis-à-vis the protectorate power and the
limits of those powers and, paramount of all, to effect a land settlement which, by giving
security of tenure, would lay the foundation for the economic growth of the Kingdom.

This was the Uganda Agreement of 1900. It was later changed to read: ‘Buganda
Agreement’ by legal notice of 1908. The agreement granted square miles of land to
Chiefs and private land owners hence the term ‘mailo’ deriving from the English length-
unit (mile) which was the basis of measurement in land allocations. The agreement
divided the land among the crown (Queen’s government), the Uganda Protectorate
Administration, the Kabaka, his Chiefs and missionary societies. The total land under
the Protectorate Government was 10,550 sq. Miles and came to be known as ‘Crown

Partly owing to the fact that more land was found to be available than was originally
assessed, considerably more land was, after negotiation, allotted as private estates than
the agreement provided for. Furthermore, owing to an interpretation by the Baganda that
“1000 Chiefs and private land owners” meant “1000 chiefs and, in addition, land
owners”, thus the number of allottees under this section was, in fact, nearly 4000.

There were two categories of Mailo which were divided thus:

i. Official Mailo
These were grants of land attached to specific offices in the Buganda Local Government.
They could neither be sub-divided or sold and instead passed intact from the original
land holder to his successor. This official mailo was defined in sec. 6 (a)&(c) of the
Buganda Possession of Land law 1908:
Section 6 “Every man who has land for his chieftainship shall hold it as follows –
(a)For all the time that he holds his chieftainship he will be allowed to take all the profits
from the land which he has, except as written in the words below. . . .
(c)To hold land in this manner will be called to hold “official Mailo” and shall be
governed as directed above . . .”

The holder of an official estate could not sell that estate but he was capable of leasing
the same in accordance with the Official Estates Ordinance/Act of 1918 (Cap. 203 of the
1964 ed. Laws of Uganda). This applied also to the grounds of official estates of Toro
and Ankole Agreements. So here, one held land by virtue of his chieftainship (office),
thus it was not private property. Under the agreement, it was clear that the 350 square

LLBII Semester I Land Law Notes on Historical evolution of land law in Uganda @2017
Lecture notes by Mr. Chemonges Mongea Sabilla @2017
miles given to the Kabaka was to be Kabaka-ship mailo, i.e it was not private property.
Official Mailo was abolished in 1967 and these estates became public land.

ii. Private Mailo
In such estates, some 1000 chiefs and private land owners were allocated 8,000 square
miles of land under the 1900 Buganda Agreement. The Mailo land owner held rights in
his land akin to those of free hold. He was free to sell all or part of his holding and to
pass it to his successors either under customary inheritance procedures or through a will.
Approximately half of Buganda (more than 8,000 square miles) became formally
privatized, despite the fact that these mailo estates were already settled by small holders
under customary tenure, whose usufruct (land use) rights were not legally recognized.

Under sub sec. (a) of section 2 (Buganda Possession of Land law) 1908, there was a
prohibition from owning more than 30 square miles of mailo land, whether by one self
directly or by others for someone, except with the approval in writing of the Governor
and the Lukiiko (Buganda Parliament). Therefore individual holdings of mailo were not
to exceed 30 square miles. The Buganda Possession of Land law 1908 prohibited a mailo
owner from transferring land to a person who was not of Ugandan origin without prior
consent of the Governor and the Lukiiko.

Clauses 15 to 18 of the 1900 Buganda Agreement dealt with the issue of land. The
essence of this settlement was that approximately one half of Buganda became crown
land and was vested in the Protectorate government. This is what was referred to as
Public Land. The other half was widely distributed in the form of freehold estates
(‘mailo’) to the Kabaka, his relatives, Senior chiefs, one thousand other chiefs and
private land owners. These people got square miles of land among themselves. Historical
records show that the first mailo title was issued on the 2nd of January 1909 though by
1964, the total number of titles issued was 48,519 (forty eight thousand five hundred
nineteen). These grants under the Buganda Possession of land law, 1908, were in the
nature of freehold. The new system thus cemented individual title ownership.

The 1900 Agreement, however, did not define the nature of the estate (tenure) that had
been granted to the Kabaka, Chiefs, etc. It was not mentioned in the agreement as to
what was the character of the grant. The agreement was pre-occupied with the question
of acreage. It was not until 1908 that Mailo tenure was actually defined in the Buganda
Possession of Land law, 1908. Under Section 2 thereof, for the first time the word
‘mailo’ which is derived from the English word ‘mile’ was coined (out of a corruption
of the English word) to refer to land which the government had surveyed and recognised
as belonging to someone.

In further criticism, allocation of the original mailo holdings in the early part of the
century was made without regard to pre-existing rights of occupancy and ignored the
presence of peasant cultivators whose tenancy rights were recognised under customary
system of land tenure. These people, who had been occupying the land in different
capacities, i.e as bibanja holders at the King’s pleasure; as Chiefs (Butongole); as part
of Butaka (clan) land, now had to adapt to a new system where they had a land
lord directly over them and possessing title to the land. They therefore could no longer
hold their land as they traditionally did but under the dictates of the new Mailo system.

Other persons who wanted to settle on mailo land had to approach the mailo owner and
get permission to occupy a specific piece of land on terms agreed with the land lord.
Initially, most tenants paid little or no rent and labour services, particularly on large

LLBII Semester I Land Law Notes on Historical evolution of land law in Uganda @2017
Lecture notes by Mr. Chemonges Mongea Sabilla @2017
estates. Mailo owners were considered lords of their area and their tenants were their
servants. Even though mailo owners permitted peasants to retain possession of the land
(called kibanja) they were occupying, this effectively converted them from customary
land users into legal tenants on private property. This fact alone laid the ground for the
genesis of multiple rights on the same piece of land, which is a defining characteristic of
land disputes and relations as evidenced by evictions and a land use impasse between
land lords and tenants in contemporary Uganda.

The first sign of discontent in the relationship between mailo owners and tenants which
brought about conflicts in the mailo system led to the enactment of the Busuulu and
Envujjo law of 1928 which provided the tenant cultivators with security on land and set
a limit on the fees which they were required to pay to the mailo owner. This law was
instrumental in preventing the development of a landless peasant class. It was enacted
as a result of complaints from tenants over the land lord’s increase in the rate of busuulu
and envujjo (rent) payable. Under this law, the rates were standardized and restricted
and the peasants could not be forced off their bibanja without an order of Court. [For
further information on this interesting piece of legislation, refer to notes on Busuulu and
Envujjo law].

The new system with its change in ownership was particularly profound for those who
held land as bibanja holdings. They remained as such on mailo but on top of being
subjected to customary obligations, also had to conform to the Busuulu and Envujjo law
of 1928.

The Toro Agreement of 1900 and the Ankole Agreement of 1901
These introduced an almost similar scenario in Ankole and Toro. Here the agreements
merely granted estates (in the form of native freeholds) to a limited number of chiefs and
vested in the crown all land at the time which was waste and un cultivated. Part of the
grants covered land which was customarily occupied. The existing occupants had to
adjust their customary occupations in face of the new system of land holding. The
relationship ceased to be entirely based on customary rules but became entirely based on
British law, particularly the Toro Land Lord and Tenant Law, 1937 and the Ankole Land
Lord and Tenant Law, 1937.

Crown Lands Ordinance 1903
In the Toro and Ankole Agreements (1900 & 1901 respectively), no mention was made
of land which was cultivated but was not included in the freehold estates. The estates
allocated were treated, unlike the mailo estates in Buganda, as grants from the Crown
under the Crown Lands Ordinance of 1903.

In the rest of the Country (inclusive of Buganda, Ankole and Toro), two new systems
were introduced under the Crown Lands Ordinance, 1903. Under this Ordinance, the
Governor was empowered to make grants in leasehold and in freehold over what was
called crown land.

It was not until the Crown Lands (Declaration) Ordinance, Cap. 118, was passed in 1922
that the Crown’s rights over land, other than unoccupied land, land acquired for public
purposes and that covered by the Agreements, was clarified. The Ordinance stated that
– “all land and any rights therein in the Protectorate, shall be presumed to be the property
of a person or until the contrary thereof be proved”, which promote freeholds and
b. Freehold Tenure

LLBII Semester I Land Law Notes on Historical evolution of land law in Uganda @2017
Lecture notes by Mr. Chemonges Mongea Sabilla @2017
This is a form of land ownership that grants the grantee perpetual ownership of land
unconditionally with powers to sale and transfer. This form of land tenure creates
inheritable land ownership interests.
This tenure was peculiar to the then Kingdoms of Toro and Ankole in Western Uganda
and was set up by agreement between the Kingdoms and the British as native freehold.
By these agreements the Kingdoms committed themselves to British protection and
became part of the Uganda Protectorate. The terms of the tenancy between the tenants
on this land and the titleholders were not negotiable and were fixed by law in 1937.
Under the Crown Ordinance of 1903, the British also issued adjudicated freehold to a
small number of people and churches or religious institutions.

i. Ordinary freehold
The colonial administration created the first freehold tenure under the Crown
Lands Ordinance of 1903 with the intention of ensuring that the European
settlers acquired land for development in the protectorate.
The Uganda Order in Council of 1902 and the Crown Lands Ordinance of
1903 gave the Governor extensive powers to dispose of crown land in
freehold with the intention of paving way for European settlers in Uganda. It
was until the 1915, when the British administration policy changed to the
effect that no non-African natives were to be granted freeholds and instead
they would only be granted leaseholds which had time lines of expiry with
conditions of payment of ground rates.

The Colonial office in London therefore instructed the Governor of the
protectorate to suspend all freeholds and convert them into leaseholds
accordingly. This ban was made a permanent feature of the colonial
administration land policy in Uganda and this has continued upto the present
day Uganda where foreigners only own land inform of leaseholds.

ii. Native freehold
The term ‘native’ freehold referred to the freehold tenure which was peculiar
to the Kingdoms of Toro and Ankole under the protectorate administration
in Uganda. These freeholds were granted by the British colonial
administration pursuant to the 1900 Toro Agreement and the 1901 Ankole
Agreement with the British. Under the agreements, approximately 255
squares miles in each Kingdom were allocated to the King and a few of the
most senior chiefs for their private ownership and about 122 square miles
were allocated to them as official estates.
All the freehold grants were made from the crown land and were subject to
the Crown Lands Ordinance of 1903.
It is important to note that native freehold just like mailo was subject to the
rights of the customary tenants as per the Landlord and Tenant Law of 1937,
which entitled tenants to inheritable permanent rights of occupancy,
transferable and non eviction except with an order of court. The tenant were
however required to pay busuulu on nominal fixed rates.

iii. Adjudicated freehold
The adjudicated freeholds were created under the Kigezi, Bugisu and Ankole
land registration pilot schemes. In 1955 the protectorate government
announced proposal to encourage individual ownership of land amongst the
indigenous people in areas which were predominantly owned customarily.
These proposals were overwhelming rejected in most Districts, as the

LLBII Semester I Land Law Notes on Historical evolution of land law in Uganda @2017
Lecture notes by Mr. Chemonges Mongea Sabilla @2017
indigenous people were suspicious of the administration’s motives.

The proposals for adjudicated freehold were eventually accepted in the
District of Kigezi and subsequently Ankole and Busgisu mainly because of
the population pressure in these areas that forced people to have individual
land holdings.

c. Leasehold
Leasehold is an interest in land as a result of an agreement between a lessor and lessee
that the lessee will enjoy exclusive possession of the land of the lessor for a specific and
certain duration in consideration of a payment it can be either private or statutory. The
British introduced the system in Uganda in 1915 when the colonial administration
abolished the granting of freehold to non-natives. The leasehold was to apply to the
European settlers in the protectorate all the land they freeholds they had acquired were
suspended and leaseholds issued. This tenure system became entrenched into the
Uganda’s system during the colonial time and continued even after under the various
legal regimes.
The granting in Leasehold and Free hold by the Governor brought about two influences
on the customary system of land holding:
i) A person customarily using land together with others, or holding land
customarily, could opt out of the customary arrangement and instead apply for a
leasehold or freehold title.
ii) It became increasingly possible for people to be bought out from their
customarily held pieces of land.

d. Customary tenure
Customary tenure also achieved some recognition during the colonial period. While
technically all land except mailo and native freehold was said to belong to the Crown,
the Crown Lands Ordinance of 1903 granted indigenous Ugandans the ‘right’ to occupy
un-alienated’ land (i.e. land that had not been granted to someone else through freehold
or leasehold) in accordance with their customary law. Customary tenants had few rights
and if the British Governor chose to sell or lease their land to someone else and this
precarious status was confirmed by the Public Lands Act 1962, which came into effect
in the same year that Uganda achieved its independence from Britain.
The primary point here is to note that the colonial administration recognised customary
tenure of land ownership despite of its weak nature.

The other key aspect of the land law during the colonial era was the protection of
occupants and settlers on Mailo and freehold lands. Refer to the discussion above on the
Busulu and Envujjo law of 1928 and the land lord and tenant law of 1937.

Land legal systems upon independence

Upon independence, the 1962 constitution of Uganda and the Public Land Act of the
same year retained the land systems established by the colonial government. The land
systems maintained the Mailo tenure, freehold tenure, the leasehold and the customary
tenure with confirmation of certain rights and provision on restrictions. The
independence land system also recognised the rights of occupants and settlers and
protected them against eviction by the landlords with due process.

The Customary tenants for example had few rights if the British Governor chose to sell
or lease their land to someone else and this precarious status was confirmed by the Public

LLBII Semester I Land Law Notes on Historical evolution of land law in Uganda @2017
Lecture notes by Mr. Chemonges Mongea Sabilla @2017
Lands Act 1962, which came into effect in the same year that Uganda achieved its
independence from Britain.

Thus, land held customarily became subject to market forces and individualized
dealings. Sec. 24 (2) of the Public Lands Act, 1969 sanctioned the practice of people
selling their customary land to those ready to get title. It states as follows:
“A controlling authority shall not make a grant in freehold or leasehold of public land
which, or part of which is occupied by persons holding by customary tenure, without the
consent of such persons.”

One important legal development after independence was the Public Lands Act 1969,
which extended the rights of those holding lands under customary tenure. Under this
Act, land lawfully occupied by customary tenants could no longer be alienated without
the consent of its occupants. Any person applying for grant of public land was required
to state in the application whether or not the land was occupied by customary tenants
and, if so, whether these had freely consented to the proposed alienation. The Act also
gave customary tenants the right to apply for a lease over the lands that they occupied.

The Idi Amin era and the aftermath until 1995
In 1971 Idi Amin overthrew Milton Obote in a coup to establish a military
government. This Government passed the Land Reform Decree 1975, which declared all
land in Uganda to be publicly owned and centrally vested with the Ugandan Land
Commission. The Ugandan Land Commission was granted the sole power to manageand
allocate land on behalf of the State. All previous forms of freehold were abolished and
converted into leaseholds. The decree imposed development conditions against these
leaseholds and failure to comply with them, within a specified time period, could result
in forfeiture of the land to the Government. Sale or sub-lease of the converted leaseholds
was forbidden without the express written permission of the Commission.
Customary tenants also lost the limited protections given to them by the Public Lands
Act 1969.
The Ugandan Land Commission was empowered to lease land occupied by customary
tenants without their consent. The right of Ugandans to occupy unalienated public land
by customary tenure, without the Government’s express permission, was also prohibited
and became an offence punishable by up to one year’s imprisonment. Customary tenants
retained their right to sell or give away their tenure, provided that this did not vest any
title in the transferee. Any transfer of customary land rights that did purport to grant such
title became a criminal offence punishable by two years imprisonment.

The Land Reform Decree 1975 was intended to give the Government of Uganda greater
control over the use and management of land. By making security of land tenure
dependent on land use it was hoped that this would boost agricultural development and
production. This reflected a general hostility towards both the concept of private
ownership and the social and economic position of rural small-holder producers, which
was shared by many post-colonial governments of the time. Although sometimes
expressed in leftist language, it masked a deep-seated prejudice against the
‘backwardness’ of the countryside by the new ruling elites who wished to develop their
countries through rapid, centrally-planned economic growth.

Three years previously, in 1972, Amin’s Government had expropriated the properties of
thousands of Ugandans of Asian extraction and expelled them from the country. The law
for the management of these expropriated properties was consolidated into the Assets of

LLBII Semester I Land Law Notes on Historical evolution of land law in Uganda @2017
Lecture notes by Mr. Chemonges Mongea Sabilla @2017
Asians Decree 1973. Although the Government did commit itself to paying some
compensation to the previous owners, at a value to be determined by a Board of Valuers,
very little money was actually paid.
The final years of Amin’s regime were marked by rapid economic decline and growing
lawlessness and corruption. Most of the provisions of the Land Reform Decree 1975
were never implemented, although it remained formally on the statute books until it was
repealed by the Land Act 1998. This period coincided with Uganda’s descent into a
series of bloody conflicts, which greatly weakened the authority of its central
government and led to a virtual collapse of the rule of law in parts of the country.

After the fall of Amin’s regime, in 1979, the new Government, under pressure from
foreign donors such as Britain, passed the Expropriated Properties Act 1982, which
aimed to restore the businesses, land and other properties to those who had lost them
under the previous Government. Attempts to enforce the provisions of this Act have led
to numerous legal challenges, particularly where the property in question was held by
non-Ugandan citizens.
A more general proposal to reform Uganda’s system of land tenure was contained in a
study on agricultural policy carried out by the Makerere Institute of Social Research,
together with the Land Center of the University of Wisconsin in the mid-1980s.
The main proposals from the studies were:
a. Abolition of the Land Reform Decree 1975, which vested all land in the State.
b. The conversion of all mailo land to freehold
c. A requirement that customary tenants on former public land should apply for
d. Leases on public land to be converted to freehold.
e. The update and decentralization of the Land Registry.
The recommendations of this study and other various research informed the reforms that
were to be adopted by the Government of Uganda in 1995 during the promulgation of
the Constitution and the subsequent land Act of 1998.

ACT 1998

Uganda enacted a new land law in 1998 whose primary objective was to operationalize
the land reforms in the 1995 Constitution. It should be noted that the 1995 Constitution
brought about fundamental reforms in ownership, tenure management and control of
land in Uganda. The country has now embarked on the gigantic exercise of implementing
this new land law. The land law of 1998 has had many contentious issues and it should
be observed that the Land Act was from day one was received with suspicion, apathy,
fear and outright rejection from some quarters of society.

In Uganda, the Land reform process leading to the enactment of the Land Act 1998 was
based on three principles:
a. A good Land tenure system should support agricultural development through the
function of land market which permits those who have rights in land to
voluntarily sell their land and for progressive framers to gain access to land
b. A good land tenure system should not force people off the land, particularly those
who have no other way to earn a reasonable living or to survive. Land tenure
system should protect people’s rights in land so they are not forced off the land
before there are jobs available in the non-agricultural sector of the economy.
c. A good land tenure system should be uniform throughout the country

LLBII Semester I Land Law Notes on Historical evolution of land law in Uganda @2017
Lecture notes by Mr. Chemonges Mongea Sabilla @2017
In the absence of a Land Policy in Uganda, it was envisaged that those three principles
would guide Uganda in its land reform process during the enactment of the Land Act of

Objectives of the Land Act 1998
The main objectives of the Land Act can be summarised as follows:
a. To provide security of tenure to all land users (the case of the Uganda they are
mainly customary land holders- referred to as customary tenants on public land)
and the lawful or bonafide occupants on registered land.
b. To resolve the land use impasse between the registered owners (mailo, freehold
and leasehold) and the lawful and bonafide occupants of this land.
Prior to the passing of the new land law, substantial areas of potentially productive rural
land had remained idle or under-utilised due to lack of incentives to invest on the part of
either registered owners or tenants.
Registered owners had difficulty in evicting tenants in order to develop the land although
the old law permitted it under certain conditions while the tenants lacked sufficient
security. This inhibited land markets in urban areas where purchasers experienced
difficulties in purchasing secure property holdings.
c. To recognise customary tenure as legal tenure equal to other tenures
d. To provide an institutional framework for the control and management of land
under a decentralised system. This is for the purposes of effecting the devolution
of authority over land management/ administration as provided for in the 1995
e. To ensure proper planning and well-co-ordinated development of urban areas
f. To ensure sustainable land use and development throughout the country to
conserve the environment
g. To redress historical imbalances and injustices in the ownership and control of
h. To provide for government and local government to acquire land compulsorily
in the public interest and public use, public safety, public order, public morality
or public health.

Security of Tenure
1. Land Ownership
Article 237 of the constitution provides that land in Uganda shall belong to the citizens
of Uganda and shall vest in them in accordance with four tenure systems: Customary,
Freehold, Mailo and Leasehold. This provision is re-enacted in section 3 of the Land
Act. This clause totally reverses the old system where land was vested in the public land.
Now, individuals’ rights to land have been secured by virtue of occupation. The state no
longer controls ownership of land in Uganda.

2. Customary Ownership
Article 237 (4) (a) of the constitution recognises customary tenure as one of the forms
of holding land in Uganda. The majority of Ugandans hold land under customary tenure;
this provision therefore guarantees them security of land ownership. These tenants on
customary land can now acquire a certificate of customary ownership on the land they
occupy and they can convert this certificate to a freehold title. This certificate of
customary ownership has been accorded value under the Land Act enabling it to be
transferred, mortgaged, or otherwise pledged. This will enable holders of a certificate of
customary ownership to have access to credit.

LLBII Semester I Land Law Notes on Historical evolution of land law in Uganda @2017
Lecture notes by Mr. Chemonges Mongea Sabilla @2017

3. Tenants on Registered Land
The constitution guarantees security of tenure to tenants on registered land commonly
referred to as lawful or bonafide occupants. These tenants can acquire a certificate of
occupancy on the land they occupy and if they so wish, they can negotiate with the
registered owner to be able to acquire a freehold title. These tenants on registered land
are to pay the registered owner of land a ground rent of not more than 1,000/=. Failure
to do this for two (2) consecutive years may lead the tenant to lose his security if he/she
does not have sufficient reason for not paying. The registered owner cannot ask the
tenants for anything else (including things in kind) except that 1,000/= provided for the
certificate of occupancy can also be mortgaged, pledged or transferred. The tenant by
occupancy also has the right to pass on his tenancy in a will.

4. Communal land Ownership
The Land Act recognises the right of people to hold communal land. The people may if
they so wish form themselves into a communal land association and this association may
be incorporated. The communal land Association may also form a common land
management scheme by which the members agree to manage the communal land and to
set out their rights and duties.

Women and other vulnerable groups
The Land Act in S.40 requires that before any transaction can be carried out on land on
which a family resides or from which it derives a sustenance, the spouse, dependent
children of majority age and the Land Committee in case of children under the age of
majority should be consulted. The Land Act also provides in accordance with
constitutional provisions, that any customary provisions, that any customary practices
which deny women, children or use of any land shall be null and void. The Land
Committees have the duty of ensuring that the rights of vulnerable groups are protected.

Land Management Institutions
The Land Act in pursuance of the overall government policy of decentralisation has
decentralised land management and dispute settlement mechanism. The legislation
requires the creation of a very large number of new institutions for land
management/administration and land dispute resolution. These have been designed to
shift the focus of land management to the local level, and provide for effective
community involvement in land management decisions.

The Land Management hierarchy starts with the Uganda Land Commission, which shall
be responsible for any government land and related issues. The District land boards
independent from the Uganda Land Commission and from any other government organ
or person are in charge of all land in the district. The land committees set up in each
parish gazetted urban area or a division in the case of Kampala as advisory role to the
District Land Board.

Cases for reading:
- Paulo Kisekka Saku v Seventh Day Adventist Church SCCA No. 8 of 1993
- Yazamu Ssemakula v L.K. Ssali, H.C.C.S No. 1608 of 1977; (1981) H.C.B 28
- Christopher Katongole v Yusuf Ssewanyana, H.C.C.S No. 50 of 1989; [1990-91] Kalr 41;
(1986-89) H.C.B 159
- Kampala City Council v Odindo [1971] H.C.B 32
-Garuga Properties Ltd v K.C.C H.C.C.S No. 576 of 1990; [1989-91] Kalr 129

LLBII Semester I Land Law Notes on Historical evolution of land law in Uganda @2017
Lecture notes by Mr. Chemonges Mongea Sabilla @2017

References for further reading:
 The East African Royal Commission Report, 1995.
 The Report of the Uganda Constitution Commission: Analysis and
Recommendations, UPPC, Entebbe, 1993, chap.25.
 Peter Mukidi Walubiri: Land and Property Rights6 in Richard Okumu Wengi
(ed) Founding the Constitution of Uganda; Essays and Materials, Uganda Law
Watch, Kampala, 1994.
 John T. Mugambwa: Principles of Land Law in Uganda, Kampala, Fountain
Publishers, 2002.
 John T. Mugambwa: Source Book of Uganda’s Land Law, Kampala, Fountain
Publishers, 2002.

LLBII Semester I Land Law Notes on Historical evolution of land law in Uganda @2017