Gender and Land Rights Database

Uganda

Prevailing systems of land tenure

  • The Constitution recognizes customary, freehold, mailo and leasehold tenure systems under Article 237. 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 (11).
  • Customary tenure systems regulate 75 percent of the total land and are still the most common form of tenure in the country. Customary tenure applies to former public land that has not been registered. 
  • Under the Land Act, a person, family or community holding land under customary tenure may acquire a certificate of customary ownership for that land, but has no obligation to do so. The Parish Land Committee receives applications for a certificate of customary ownership. In order to come to its decision, this Committee will apply customary law. However, it is obliged to safeguard the interests and rights in such land, which is the subject of the application of women, absent persons, minors and persons with a disability (11).
  • Tenants on registered land, known as lawful or bona fide occupants, 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. The tenant has to pay an annual nominal ground rent of maximum 1 000 shillings per year. The tenant by occupancy also has the right to pass on his tenancy in a will (12).
  • The Land Act recognizes 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 (12). If an individual or a family belonging to such Association wishes to own in their own capacity, they may apply for a certificate of customary ownership or a freehold title (11).
  • The Constitution restored the freehold and mailo tenure systems, which had been abolished by the 1975 Land Reform Decree:
    - The mailo form of tenure resulted from allotments made from the 1900 Buganda Agreement. By Article 15 of this Agreement, the total land area of Buganda was assumed to be 19 600 square miles and was divided between the Kabaka and other notables in the protectorate.
    - The mailo owner is registered and in most cases has a title to the land. Land is owned in perpetuity and the mailo owner may lease, mortgage, pledge, sell or subdivide the land (11).
    - Under the Land Act, any person, family, community or Association holding land under customary tenure on former public land may convert the customary tenure into freehold tenure (11).
  • In colonial times, freehold 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. Under the Crown Ordinance of 1803, the British also issued adjudicated freehold to a small number of people and churches or religious institutions (12).

National and local institutions enforcing land regulations

  • The Land Act provides for the establishment of Land Tribunals at the subcounty and district levels. Land Tribunals consist of a chairperson and two other members. At the subcounty level, the Land Tribunals shall handle those land disputes with a maximum value of 50 million shillings in rural areas, 100 million shillings in urban areas or 250 million shillings in divisions.
  • The District Land Tribunals have jurisdiction to:
    - determine disputes on land whose value is above 50 million shillings in rural areas, 100 million shillings in gazetted urban areas and 250 million shillings in divisions;
    - determine land disputes related to the grant, lease, repossession, transfer or getting of land by individuals, the Uganda Land Commission or other authority with responsibility for land;
    - determine any dispute related to the amount of compensation to be paid for land acquired by the national or local Government;
    - make orders to cancel entries on the certificate of title or cancel the certificates of title and vesting of title in cases handled by the lower land tribunals;
    - determine any other dispute relating to land under the Land Act (11).
  • Traditional leaders may determine or mediate in disputes over customary tenure. One or both parties to a land dispute may invite the traditional authorities to hear their matter. The Land Tribunal may also advise the parties to use such mediation or may refer the parties to an independent mediator, appointed by the Tribunal, but agreed to by the two parties.
  • The tribunals accept evidence that would not ordinarily be admissible in the normal courts of law. (11).
  • All appeals to decisions made by the District Land Boards and by subcounty Land Tribunals have to go to District Land Tribunals. Appeals to decisions made by a District Land Tribunal must be lodged at the High Court.
  • While at least one of the members of the Land Tribunals on the subcounty level must be a woman, no such provision is included for the membership of the District Land Tribunals (11).
  • By November 2001, District Land Tribunals were finally being established. With the delay in establishing the Land Tribunals, many people who did not have a case pending at a Local Council Court or Magistrate’s Court have had to go directly to the High Court, which is overwhelmed by the number of cases filed before it. An amendment on the jurisdiction of Local Council Courts and the Magistrates’ Courts was thus adopted in June 2001, allowing these courts to finalize the cases that were still pending before them on 2 July 2000 (11).
  • The Local Council Court (LCC) is a system created to complement the formal courts with more informal courts; they are designated in every village, parish and subcounty to function as courts. Among other issues, these courts deal with customary law disputes relating to customary marriages, such as the marital status of women and the identification of customary heirs. They might also be called upon to decide on family property upon divorce (11).

Land administration institutions and women quotas

  • The 1998 Land Law reform guaranteed minimum representation for women in key decision-making institutions on land and other key resources (11).
  • The land management hierarchy starts with the Uganda Land Commission, which is responsible for any government land and related issues. It consist of a chairperson and not less than four other members, at least one of whom must be a woman (11).
  • 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. These Boards hold and allocate land in the district which is not owned by a person or an authority. They also facilitate the registration and transfer of interests in land. At least one-third of the members of a District Land Board have to be women (11).
  • The Land Committees, set up in each parish, gazetted urban area or division [in the case of Kampala in an advisory role to the District Land Board], consist of a chairperson and three other members, at least one of whom must be a woman. These Committees assist the District Land Boards in an advisory and facilitating capacity. In addition, they should safeguard the rights in land of women, children and persons with disabilities (11).
  • In March 2001, a Constitutional Review Commission of 18 members was appointed to consider and get opinions from all citizens on 20 issues, including those related to land ownership and management. A sensitization programme was introduced to increase the participation of women in the process of drafting the Constitution (6).

Funding provisions to guarantee women’s land transactions

N/A

Other factors influencing gender differentiated land rights

  • Lack of funds has greatly delayed or even blocked the establishment of several thousand institutions proposed under the Land Act. Those Land Committees and District Land Boards that were established have lacked capacity, logistical support, funds and clear regulations to guide their operations (11).
  • Most women who were being threatened with eviction did not have the necessary documentation as rightful owners of the land upon the death of their husbands. In some cases, it was evident that although women were struggling to keep their land, they were not fully aware of the boundaries of the land for which they were struggling (16).
  • As land becomes more of a commodity for sale, some women have been able to access user rights and ownership rights from purchasing land. However, this is true for very few women because the cost of land is so high that very few women can afford it (16).
  • Women’s equal right to inheritance has not yet been recognized in national legislation. With regard to the rights of widows, the Succession Act is in violation of the Constitution and the country’s international obligations as signatory state to treaties prohibiting discrimination against women on the basis of their sex (11).
  • The consent clause of the Land Law demands that a person who wishes to use a land title as security should seek consent from the spouse and children if the land title in question is the one on which they live and from which they earn their living [Article  40].
  • However, some women feel that the consent clause would work only in a monogamous setting. In a polygamous setting where most of them lie, it would cause conflict. Agreeing or not agreeing to use the land titles could make the other woman or women unhappy, causing them to behave accordingly.
  • Women also feel that the consent clause does not really empower women or protect their land rights. The fact that the woman does not own the land still remains. If she consented and somehow the land was taken, she would be landless. If she did not consent, she would still be landless because the mere fact that she has not consented does not give her ownership. In any case, refusal to consent in a rural setting could earn a woman some serious battering (16).
  • The HIV/AIDS infection rate is 4 percent in general and 3 percent for women. The result is that the number of households headed by women has increased because of the deaths of their husbands. A recent study showed the huge impact of HIV/AIDS on small-plot farmers. Newly created female-headed households decreased their land cultivation by 26 percent, compared with male-headed households in which the wife had died from HIV/AIDS; they decreased their cultivated area by 11 percent. Between 1998 and 2003, female-headed households reduced their land holdings by 11 percent [0.3 acres on average] because of the increasing number of distress sales following the death of a husband (3).
  • Lack of funding to civil organizations and paralegal networks hinders their capacity to proceed with legal education, paralegal training and follow-up training (11).


Sources: numbers in brackets (*) refer to sources displayed in the Bibliography