Uganda’s Land Justice Practices Out of Sync with its Laws

“The Acholi-Madhavani Group case illustrated the complexities of the duality of Uganda’s land tenure: multilayered authority over land, disputes over ownership and the nature of user interests (Deininger and Castagnini, 2006; Fitzpatrick, 2005; Ministry of Lands, Housing and Urban Development, 2011; Mabikke, 2011). In essence, chaos is built within Uganda’s current land tenure systems: the modernists preferring consolidation in the hands of the few for commercial crop production while the traditionalists prefer more equitable distribution within collective land ownership.”

I surmised in 2011 in a backgrounder – policy review brief of Uganda’s land tenure that I authored for the Centre for International Governance Innovation (CIGI), who published it in 2012 on their Africa Portal. Read more

Dr. Rose Nakayi, a Lecturer at the Faculty of Law at Makerere University Kampala on Thursday, 6th November 2013, validated my conclusions in a presentation that she made during the launch of a Kigo Thinkers paper: “The Land Question”. What follows is a transcription of the second part of what Dr. Nakayi said during the Kigo Thinkers event:

There is also this problem of having a relatively good law on paper but is not necessarily implemented. What I find today to some extent is that the practice has overtaken the law. Where is it written that when you are buying land in Uganda you have to go to the chairman local council one? Where is it written in the laws of Uganda? Does anyone know? But that is the practice. Where is it written in the laws of Uganda that before I buy land I should go and snoop on that land find out who lives on it, are they there representing the vendor who claims to be the owner? Go to the neighbours ask them whose land is that? Do you know the owner? Where is it written? Nowhere.

So we have very diligent practices which are not necessarily reflected in the law. But law amendment has not been far reaching to capture the practices that have evolved over time. So, this makes me think that a mere look at the law, conceptualising this question (the land question) with a legal lens is not comprehensive in our context of Uganda with high informality and not involving good practices.

I mentioned about the overlapping interests, but I would also mention that one of the issues that has been highlighted regarding our judiciary is the problem of backlogs – so many cases, slow processes of outcomes. And that makes me wonder, can we really talk about a slow justice as good justice? Especially, if we don’t have proof that the slowness is as a result of much time needed to disentangle a complicated question?

I will move to the next part of what I want to talk about and I will echo what I mentioned earlier that the judiciary is not representative of where majority of Ugandans go for their land justice. And indeed, when I talk about going to the judiciary for land justice, I think a look at who goes there and what they go there for somehow portrays socialised class identities in this country. Or maybe I can put it differently and say that it signifies social identities – classified, in the sense that a very old man Wasula from a corner of this world might not be in the position to think about going to those formal institutions, but he might think about going to an elder in his community or to the lowest local council in his area.

So, this therefore makes me wonder whether we should still talk much about the judiciary or we should talk about it and at the same time increase our debates to other institutions that offer a semblance of justice. It might not be the justice as we understand it in our ‘white-collar’ terms, but a sense of justice to those who go to those institutions.

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