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IdentifierCreatedClassificationOrigin
09KAMPALA1365 2009-12-07 14:16:00 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Kampala
Cable title:  

UGANDA: NEW LAND REFORMS TARGET BUGANDA KINGDOM

Tags:   PGOV KDEM EINV PINR UG 
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1. (C) Summary: Parliament ratified Uganda's controversial
Land Amendment Bill on November 26, after more than two years
of wrangling between the Ugandan government and the Buganda
Kingdom. The bill now awaits President Museveni's signature.
Museveni revived the legislation in September after the
deadly September 10-12 riots, claiming the bill protects
peasants from illegal evictions. The vast majority of the
land affected by the legislation - around 85 percent - falls
within Buganda, however, and provisions enabling the
government to fix rent controls will diminish the Kingdom's
primary source of revenue. Baganda leaders oppose the bill
and fear the government will use the reforms as a pretext for
ceding Baganda-owned lands in central Uganda and oil-rich
western Uganda to foreign investors. Opposition parties,
meanwhile, regard the land bill as a short-term ploy to
weaken the Kingdom and win back peasant voters. Whatever
one's political perspective, if signed the bill will
complicate Uganda's already Byzantine land ownership regime
and further worsen relations between the central government
and Buganda. End Summary.



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Buganda Loses Land Reform Debate


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2. (C) A main point of contention between the Government of
Uganda (GOU) and the Buganda Kingdom grew more contentious on
November 26 with Parliament's passage of the 2007 Land
Amendment Bill. Formally introduced to Parliament in
February 2008, the bill had been on hold due to Buganda's
active public campaign against it. Museveni revived the
amendment in his September 15 address to Parliament,
apparently in retaliation for the deadly September 10-12
pro-Buganda riots that left more than two dozen people dead
(reftel). The land bill emerged from committee on November
17 and was passed ten days later after a contentious debate
that included Buganda Kingdom appeals for ethnic Baganda MPs
to disregard party affiliations and support their King. In
the end, Parliamentarians voted largely along party lines
with only three Baganda National Resistance Movement (NRM)
MPs breaking from the NRM to vote with the opposition. The
bill now awaits the President's signature.



3. (U) The amendment requires a court order to evict "bona
fide" tenants from privately held "registered" land, and sets
failure to pay ground rent for at least six months as the
only legal justification for evicting tenants. Just who
qualifies as a "bona fide" tenant is unclear. Under current
Ugandan law, squatters become bona fide tenants if they are
living on government land or have lived unchallenged on
"registered" land for at least 12 years. The bill invests
the Minister of Land with the authority to determine ground
rent for properties whose values have not been assessed by
district land boards. Private land owners guilty of evicting
bona fide tenants now face up to seven years imprisonment or
a $1,000 fine. The bill gives sitting tenants the right of
first refusal if a landowner seeks to occupy lands, and
tenants likewise must give landowners first crack at
purchasing back occupancy rights.



4. (U) By focusing on only "registered" land, the legislation
clearly targets Buganda land holdings under the "mailo" land
tenure system. Mailo - which comes from the English word
"mile" - is one of four land tenure systems recognized by the
Ugandan constitution. Other tenure systems are customary,
freehold, and leasehold. Less than 20 percent of land in
Uganda is classified as registered or "mailo" land. Mailo
lands were created by a 1900 agreement with the British
colonial government giving the Buganda Kingdom and elite
Baganda families vast land titles in perpetuity. People
living on these lands reverted overnight to tenant status,
forced to pay rent to unknown Baganda landlords.



5. (U) Subsequent colonial laws attempted to protect
pre-existing traditional land owners turned tenants, known
locally as "bibanja", from arbitrary eviction or unreasonable
rent requirements. In 1998, Uganda officially recognized the
rights of tenants present on registered land for at least 12
years, but did not levy any penalties for illegal evictions.
According to the Ministry of Land, there are currently
600,000 registered or mailo land owners in Uganda, as opposed
to more than 20 million tenants or customary land holders.
Buganda contains approximately 85% of registered lands
affected by the new legislation.

KAMPALA 00001365 002 OF 003





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Government vs. Buganda, Again


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6. (U) Prime Minister Apollo Nsibambi and other government
officials justified the legislation by highlighting growing
reports of illegal evictions and land-related violence
sparked by rising land values and exponential population
growth. During the November debate over the bill, Nsibambi
said the reforms were needed to "avoid a major war" between
landlords and landless peasants. Nsibambi said continued
displacement of bibanja tenants would lead to increased
domestic instability by swelling the numbers of urban
unemployed. Nsibambi acknowledged that the land bill is a
short term solution and that larger land problems must await
the eventual creation of a National Land Policy. The Ministry
of Land spokesman, Dennis Obbo, reiterated this point on
December 4, stating that the bill is an interim measure and
that questions of dual ownership and land rights will
ultimately be determined by the National Land Policy expected
in 2010 or 2011.



7. (C) On November 9, Buganda's Attorney General Apollo
Makubuya told Poloff that the bill weakens Buganda's claim to
9,000 square miles the Kingdom has long sought to recover
from the central government. Makubuya interpreted the bill
as a direct affront to the Buganda King, who is one of
Uganda's largest landowners, and said investing the Minister
of Land with the power to fix rent controls could severely
diminish the Kingdom's and private Baganda land owner's main
source of income. Opposition MPs expressed these concerns,
describing the Minister of Land's new authority to determine
local rents on registered land as a major power grab since
few administrative districts have operational land boards.



8. (C) Attorney General Makubuya said Parliamentary debate on
the bill only sharpened the focus on Buganda by removing a
provision on customary land holdings that would have applied
to owners and tenants throughout Uganda. He described the
bill as an election ploy to bolster sagging support for
Museveni among peasant classes by tapping into long-standing
angst directed at Baganda landowners, and predicted that the
legislation will increase rather than decrease tensions
between local tenants and largely absent Baganda landlords.
Makubuya also expressed concern that government officials
will use the amendment as a pretext for seizing mailo land
for investors in central Uganda and oil rich western Uganda
by hiring squatters that Baganda landlords will be powerless
to evict.



9. (U) Following the bill's passage, Buganda's Prime Minister
John Baptist Walusimbi said the Kingdom regarded the bill as
an "idle piece of legislation." On November 30, the Buganda
Parliament passed a resolution asking Attorney General
Makubuya to consider challenging the land bill's
constitutionality. Members of the Buganda Parliament
described the bill's passage as a sign of the President
Museveni's continued unwillingness to compromise with the
Kingdom and the futility of the ongoing negotiations with the
central government.



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The Catholic Church's View


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10. (U) The bill does not appear to impact another of
Uganda's major land owners - the Catholic Church - as most of
the Church's land is "freehold." The Church has been
following the land bill closely, however, and the Archbishop
of the Kampala archdiocese, Kizito Lwanga, said that while
the bill affords some needed protections for tenants, it
could prevent the Catholic Church from evicting tenants who
erect churches that attack Catholicism despite existing on
Catholic land. Lwanga complained that fixed rent rates set
by the Minister of Land will be so low that peasants will be
able to pay for 100 years at one shot, and questioned the
wisdom of ceding this power to the Land Minister. Lwanga
also said requirements regarding the issuance of
"certificates of occupancy" to tenants will result in dual
ownership problems that will complicate both owners' and
tenants' ability to secure bank loans.



--------------------------



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Comment: Protecting Peasants by Punishing Buganda


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11. (C) If, as some suspect, the NRM is using the bill to
further undermine Buganda and score short-term

KAMPALA 00001365 003 OF 003


political points with "bibanja" tenants, Parliamentary
passage is a victory for Museveni. However, the bill does
little to untangle Uganda's land issues and in some respects
makes matters worse. By focusing on registered land, the
bill ignores the 80 percent of Uganda's land that falls under
customary tenure. Likewise, rampant mismanagement and
forgeries in the existing land registry make it very
difficult to determine whether an occupant meets the
definition of a bone fide tenant. The bill may embolden
illegal squatters, and affords the Land Minister considerable
powers to regulate relations between private landlords and
tenants. Banks have indicated that the bill will make it
more difficult for lenders to accept land as collateral for
loans, as it further clouds already unclear land ownership
issues. Directly aimed at the Buganda Kingdom and seeking to
win peasant votes for the NRM, this bill will make Uganda's
land reform debate even contentious. The GOU will hold a
national stakeholders conference in February 2010 to hash out
the comprehensive National Land Policy scheduled to be
submitted to Cabinet for review by mid-2010.
LANIER