Uganda has undertaken a series of ambitious legal and policy reforms with regard to property rights and resource governance since 1995, with the intention of bringing about fundamental reforms in rights, tenure management and control of land. The Constitution (1995) and the Land Act (1998) redefined land rights, attempted to resolve old conflicts, and provided an institutionalized framework for land management with decentralization a key feature of that framework. More recently, a National Land Use Policy approved in 2008 provides guidelines for effective use of land for development, a draft (4th) National Land Policy was released in September 2009, and a controversial Land (Amendment) Bill was passed in November 2009. The Amendment, designed to curb eviction of tenants and squatters, is objected to by many groups on the grounds that it weakens the property rights of landowners. Continued reforms of laws and policies regarding land rights are likely to ensue as issues inevitably arise, particularly as urban areas expand, population densities in productive agricultural regions increase and populations displaced during the years of conflict in northern Uganda attempt to return to their home lands.
Uganda has fertile soils with 64.5% of its land area suited for agriculture and 27% cultivable. The country also has relatively abundant water resources for production and a thriving, increasingly market-oriented agricultural economy. Access to productive land and water, however, is highly variable in different regions of the country and among different population groups. Only 0.1 % of land is irrigated, so rainfall and land productivity are closely linked. It is widely believed, in part because of inequitable access to land and insecure tenure rights, that land is not used optimally or sustainably. Draining of wetlands, deforestation, overgrazing and erosion are causing degradation. Uganda’s land management institutions, including the Land Commission, Land Registry and District Land Boards, are generally weak and have not facilitated rapid progress to the goals laid out in legislation and policy.
Means for securing property rights, though, are changing rapidly, especially in urban and peri-urban areas where rental became increasingly common in the 1990s. In the rural areas, landowners possessing “customary” tenure rights dominate, representing 70% to 80% of all land. Registration allows these landholders to convert these rights into freehold land rights, and there is a high demand for registration, although few have completed the process. Customary land tenure systems are biased against women.
Figures on forest coverage vary, but, according to the government, forests cover 4.9 million hectares (24% of Uganda’s land).About 30% of the forestland is in protected areas and parks. Seventy percent of the forests are on private land. While private forests are an important source of construction materials and fuel, they are reportedly being replaced by agriculture and urban uses. There is also significant pressure on state-managed forests and concerns that current management approaches are not effective enough.
Finally, access to and exploitation of Uganda’s mineral resources is moving into a new phase as commercially viable quantities of oil have been proven. The 1995 Constitution is silent on ownership of minerals, but a constitutional amendment (2005) vested all control of minerals and petroleum in the government. The Mineral Policy of 2000 lays out development goals for the mineral sector, recognizing the potential importance of mineral exploitation for national income and employment, and allowing for private (including artisanal) investments. The Mining Act of 2003 addressed the division of revenues from the exercise of mineral rights, with the national government claiming 80%. A series of Petroleum Acts provides guidance on the development of that sector; two new bills are being developed to address other matters, including revenue management and allocation.
KEY ISSUES AND INTERVENTION CONSTRAINTS
- Policy Analysis and Public Dialogue Uganda’s recent legislative and policy reforms, combined with a rapidly evolving economic situation, are raising new land and resource governance issues that need to be resolved. Key issues include: 1) optimizing agricultural productivity for food security and economic growth, in part by ensuring tenure security in ways that promote investment in sustainable development; 2) ensuring equity of access to land for all Ugandans, regardless of gender; 3) development of land markets that are transparent, sustainable and appropriately-priced; 4) facilitating foreign investments in resource-based enterprises while assuring a fair and adequate return for all Ugandans and avoiding “land grabbing” and “speculation”; and 5) establishing functioning public institutions that ensure responsible governance on behalf of the Ugandan public. Donors can help by: making experienced global analysts available for consultation with public and private organizations on property rights and resource governance issues; supporting local policy analysis and legislative drafting efforts; and ensuring that public education, outreach, and awareness initiatives are adequately supported.
- Institutional Development As Uganda’s economy continues its rapid growth, land and natural resource conflicts will continue to emerge. The decentralized structure for land administration has only been in place a decade or so; support and training for its effective functioning in managing conflicts between customary tenure rules and those associated with freehold and mailo (a customary form of freehold land) tenure are essential. Strengthening of local courts’ capabilities to adjudicate disputes may also be important. Central government’s acquisition of land for mining, oil drilling, sugarcane (for bio-fuels) and other development activities is also coming under scrutiny. Development of independent institutions both inside and outside of the government that are capable of reconciling conflicting goals and providing for sustainable management of Uganda’s natural resources will be needed in the coming years. There is a need to strengthen the capacity of Uganda’s public institutions to manage and resolve conflict over land and natural resources and, at the same time, to enhance the capacities of Uganda’s private citizens to understand, assert and defend their rights.
- Displacement and Resettlement. With improved security in northern Uganda, displaced people have begun moving away from the refugee camps and returning to their home territories. In many cases, their traditional lands have been occupied by others who now claim the land, and competing claims need to be resolved. The abilities of the Land Registry, District land boards and land tribunals to support the peaceful resettlement of the refugees are likely to need strengthening. In other areas, combined pressures for forest conservation and agricultural cultivation have pushed indigenous groups off their land. The Batwa, Benet and other indigenous peoples have been dispossessed of their land in this fashion; adjudication of their claims may need to be accompanied by plans for compensation in the event that restitution is not feasible. There is need for support to strengthen key government agencies with property rights responsibilities to address these conflicts, and to employ sound methods for arriving at appropriate land valuations and compensation plans to resolve unsettled claims.
Uganda has fertile soils and abundant natural resources. Control of productive land is inequitably distributed across the regions, between income groups and by gender. The Constitution (1995) vests land in the citizens and recognizes four historic forms of land tenure—customary, leasehold, freehold, and mailo (a customary form of freehold land). Most rural people have rights to their land through customary tenure arrangements (representing 75%–80% of landholdings). Only 15%–20% of the land is formally registered.
Uganda has significant water resources, but these resources are not evenly distributed across the landscape. The Director of Water Development grants surface water and groundwater permits; discharge is prohibited without permit. Forests cover 4.9 million hectares (24% of land). About 30% of the forest—1.9 million hectares—is in the protected estate; 70% is on private land. All commercial operations in Central Forest Reserves must be licensed. Uganda’s leading mineral export is gold, although active mining activities extend to other minerals. Commercially-viable quantities of oil have recently been discovered in western Uganda. In 2005, a Constitutional amendment was passed that vests the ownership of minerals and petroleum in the government. The exploration and exploitation of minerals requires a license; a separate permit is required to utilize natural water resources for mining. Drilling for oil or natural gas requires a Petroleum Production License.