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Mailo system: Legacy of land dispossession and inequality in Uganda

Mailo system Legacy of land dispossession and inequality in Uganda

In Uganda, the mailo system introduced by the 1900 Buganda Agreement has left a lasting legacy of land dispossession and inequality. Less than one percent of the population was awarded land, while over ninety-nine percent were stripped of their rights.

Bibanja holders, who once owned their land, became slaves in their own country, forced to provide free labor to the newly established mailo landlords. This system led to permanent trauma and rural unrest, hindering cash crop production.

To prevent a violent revolution, the colonialists enacted the 1927 Busulu and Envujo Law, offering some security to bibanja holders. However, the 1975 Land Reform Decree reversed this progress, rendering bibanja holders mere tenants at sufferance.

The National Resistance Movement (NRM) came into power aiming to restore security of tenure through constitutional amendments and the Land Act Cap 227.

Despite these efforts, the Land Act of 1998 mainly focused on enhancing security of occupancy for bibanja holders, falling short of the constitution’s vision. Mailo landlords still hold the land in perpetuity and retain the power to evict kibanja holders under certain circumstances.

As a result, kibanja holders must seek security through the doctrine of adverse possession, where uninterrupted possession for twelve years can confer title and ownership.

Decided court cases have confirmed that bonafide occupants, or bibanja holders, can apply for title under the Registration of Titles Act. Section 29 of the Land Act defines bonafide occupants as those who entered the land without owner consent and occupied it for twelve years before the Constitution’s enactment.

Through the application of adverse possession and registration processes, bibanja holders who meet the requirements can potentially obtain freehold registrable interest in the land they occupy.

While waiting for Parliament to enact the necessary legislation, bibanja holders who have possessed their land uninterrupted for over twelve years can seek the Registrar’s assistance to secure their land rights and perpetual ownership through adverse possession.

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