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).

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