Stop titling land under customary tenure

The push for registration and titling of land, especially so that which is under customary tenure, is contributing to the problem – absentee landlords are beginning to emerge in areas in Uganda whose lands are traditionally under customary tenure, where the concept of absentee landlords was alien.

This is because the customary tenure systems of the first nations of Uganda – such as the Iteso – confer land ownership through access – use rights. As in if you are not on the land and you are not using it, you cannot have ownership of it. You have to be present on the land and using it, you cannot be absent.

Uganda is considered a country with a rapid population growth, it would make sense therefore for Uganda to look towards countries with high population densities, such as China, in order to learn about the land tenure systems of such countries – how are such densely populated countries ensuring access to land for food production in a manner that large sections of their populations are not driven off the land, but rather derive livelihoods from the land?

Despite the changes in food production strategy introduced after Mao, land in China continues to be collectively owned and is only distributed to households to use. (Johan Pottier (1999) in his book Anthropology of Food – The Social Dynamics of Food Security)

So, why is the Government of Uganda (GoU) seemingly looking to the countries and cultures of the global-west for wisdom on matters land tenure? Countries moreover with low population densities and in which the citizens were largely disenfranchised of their land centuries ago – countries of the European Union and the United Kingdom, for example.

The citizens of the global-west are largely disempowered of the decision to choose what they grow and how they grow the food that they eat. They are largely subjugated to the mercies of the big transnational food companies which determine what food to grow for them and how the food is grown.

Why is the GoU pushing for the disempowerment of a large section of its citizens? Sadly, some of the so-called civil society organisations (CSOs) are doing the same as well. Why? In some cases, moreover, the CSOs are in fact being used as the tool through which the big transnational food companies are gaining deeper penetration onto our land and onto our plates in Uganda. Why?

Converting active farming and empowered citizens into landless labourers, as was achieved in the global-west, is an irresponsible move and moreover such a move comes with extreme negative consequences.

One advocates for such processes to be stopped. One suggests that a good starting point would be to repeal the provision in the Constitution of the Republic of Uganda that allows for conversion of land held under customary tenure to other kinds of tenure – especially those that allow for land to be traded as an ordinary commodity.

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8 comments

  1. There is general consensus from both the Northern Uganda Land Platform and the Multi Stakeholder Meeting on Land Conflicts and Land Dispute Management in Teso that customary land rights need to evolve into documentation. This is because a lot of attempts are being made in a disjointed manner to keep a form of document on all land transactions in customary tenure which never used to be the case. It can safely be argued that society has initiated the need to documentation of land rights even under customary tenure. What now needs to be discussed is how will this documentation be effected? There was the provision of a Certificate of Customary Tenure (CCO) under the Land Act which government has failed to implement. So a majority of people went to the Registration of Titles Act (RTA) for CONVERSION into freehold. That was not a very sustainable and empowering solution especially considering the cost the eventual depletion of ‘Customary Land’ from Uganda. With aggressive advocacy led by CSOs whose role you seem to question; there is now a green light at the end of the tunnel offered by the National Land Policy (NLP). What the Northern and Teso regions have agreed on as a position to resolve the documentation dilemma is to support the NLP in creating a separate registry for customary land rights which will be informed by the Principles Practices Rights and Responsibilities (PPRR) which has come to be known as an accepted minimum standard on how to define and interpret incidences of customary tenure which the Land Act simply glossed over. The position espouses that a Customary Land Registry better sustains customary tenure as it ensures its continuity and progressive evolution to become a formidable tenure in Uganda as opposed to the abrupt ‘conversion’ logic under the RTA. In the end; customary tenure will really be placed in equal standing with other tenures in Uganda such as the Mailo which currently is not the case hence the abrasive ‘conversion’ procedures. Needless to say there will be need to amend the constitution, Land Act and RTA to allow for this position espoused by the NLP to thrive. On the basis of that Customary Tenure NEEDS to be registered just that we need to be clear of how and where!

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    1. The Constitution of the Republic of Uganda recognises customary tenure and it clearly stipulates which authority is responsible for it. Customary tenure is already constitutionally on equal standing with other forms of tenure. Those who argue otherwise are therefore violating the Constitution. And those actively advocating for the violation of the Constitution what legitimacy do they have on matters Uganda’s land? Read more http://www.cparuganda.com/index.php/blogs/185-stakeholders-in-uganda-s-land

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    2. “All Uganda citizens owning land under customary tenure MAY (NOT MUST) acquire certificates of ownership in a manner prescribed by Parliament.” Constitution of Republic of Uganda. So for those who are calling for forced and compulsory titling of land you are blatantly violating the Constitution.

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  2. Lokiru · · Reply

    It is a big mistake to identify lands that oppose communal land tenure with the West. There are plenty of examples of communally-managed land both in the EU (some documented along more than a thousand years) and in the US (where most of land in the western states is public and communally managed). CSOs in Africa should first have a look at the interests behind pursuing policies that are pervasive for local populations, before attributing it to a phantom neo-colonialistic copypaste.

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    1. Lokiru thank you for engaging. Please re-read the post. This post is specific in its reference in the context of Uganda – as defined by the constitution of Uganda – customary tenure is spefically defined. It is also very specific about the particular dominant discourse in Uganda about titling and registration of land. It does not as you do – balkanise Africa or Africans. The discourse on titling and registration of Uganda’s lands is that which is particularly being pushed by the World Bank and IMF and is closely associated with neoliberal economics which view land as commodity for trade – and this is the dominant view and practice in the global west. The post is very specific. Please have another read – it does not fit in the generic purposeless lamentations against neo-colonialism, as you seem to suggest.

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  3. Loupa Pius · · Reply

    Dear Norah,
    For that seek surely their is no need to title land under customary system, looking at the growing population of Uganda, which is also unstoppable, the population is growing while the land size is reducing. what does it mean to Uganda as a country is it i don’t care language or i care language.

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    1. Loupa, please clarify your comments here as well as you did on face book.

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  4. Richard Mugisha · · Reply

    Good point, Nora. Long overdue. r

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