Has “This Plot Not For Sale” Become Another Measure of Tenure Security in Uganda?

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By Jude Ssebuliba

From bushes, banana plantations to land in towns, the phrase “This Land is Not For Sale” is becoming so common that one might mistake it to be a nationally accepted land tenure security mechanism. The words in it are much to inform the unwary as they are to deter the conmen, who sometimes collude with land officials to obtain fake titles to sell land in a manner that has become to be known as “buying air” presumed to be understood by everyone in Uganda today.

Land fraud in Uganda is so rampant as confirmed by the head of the land division of the high court Andrew Bashaija who recently said

“Most of the cases we handle here, I can say 75 percent-plus are fraud-related cases….We have instances where officers in the land registry unfortunately, are involved in the same fraud.”

He gave examples where titles were transferred rapidly between several people, passing land on to third parties and covering for the initial forgery. “Sometimes there are two, three, four minutes in between those successive transfers,” said Bashaija.

People are crying foul left right and center, some allege that certain individuals started constructing on their land without their prior permission usually starting construction at night. Police and the judiciary take their time to intervene and often favor the side of those that have the money, unfortunately these have often proven not to be the true owners of the land. In the meantime as the process to reverse this is going on, construction too is continuing, leaving only one option i.e. compensation for the land at rates usually decided by the aggressor.

Disputes also arise when the landowner dies and family members squabble over the inheritance. Due to the commercialization of land, many families perceive selling land as the only way out of extreme poverty. Unfortunately old land owners that owned land are not easily persuaded to sell. Lack knocks upon their death, family members start scrambling and the only way for everyone to get a share is to sell. Even with the decision to sell, some want to benefit more than others thus applying dubious means among which forging documents.

Further, it’s common for Ugandans to go out of the country or their homes for some time either for studies, work or visit. Unfortunately upon returning, many are greeted with unbelievable realities of their land having been sold by relatives, brokers, friends masquerading as true owners. These often use forged documents to quickly transfer ownership that by the time the true owner comes back it’s with the third or fourth owners, court cases to reverse this drag on forever with little success to the true owner.

As pressure on land increases, especially in the central region and surrounding districts, it has become necessary that one makes it known that his/her land is not yet up for sale hence painting “this plot is not for sale” on their property to protect it.