Allan Sentamu: Improving Land Management In Uganda For Economic Growth

In Uganda, around 20 percent of the total land is registered, which is higher than the average level of 10 percent for sub-Saharan African countries. However, the current system of land tenure makes it difficult to transform land uses to spur higher levels of productivity and hence a slow progress in development. This kind of system should change in order to foster development in Uganda.

For starters, unclear property rights lead to difficulty in transferring ownership as well as a large number of disputes and conflicts. Due to this unclear land rights, 37 percent of individually owned land cannot be sold; 34 percent cannot be rented and 44 percent cannot be used as security for a loan.

Another problem is that current land policies and systems are too weak to efficiently implement urban planning and reduce the cost of infrastructure development in the country. Uganda should come up with strong land policies in order to stimulate growth. In Buganda Kingdom for example, there is a drive to enforce “Ekyapa Mungalo” which literally means every land occupant should hold a land title deed. This would be a good initiative although it may not have been brought up in good spirits.

According to a World Bank report, Uganda’s population is expected to increase from 35 million to over 70 million by 2040, bringing about an increase of about 388 people per square kilometer of arable land. Uganda’s rapidly expanding population is putting pressure on land usage, especially in urban areas and the country being one of the fastest growing countries in terms of urban population, it will be bad if the cities that would accommodate the expected population increase are not developed now.

“With the fast-growing urban population, Uganda needs to enforce the existing policies to promote better urban land management that will allow them to build livable cities.” Said Christina Malmberg Calvo, World Bank Country Manager. For Uganda, key among these would include land value capture to finance urban infrastructure.

The Ugandan government can promote more efficient land use to support the healthy transformation of the agricultural sector and a shift towards higher value economic activities located in urban areas by taking the following four actions:

Strengthening institutions for land administration management

Accelerating the process of registration of land is very important. The process of land registration is very hectic and this should not be the case if we are looking towards real development. Activities of corrupt government officials should also be checked in order to encourage better land registration compliance.

Redesigning the Land Fund to enhance its efficiency and equity in supporting resolution of overlapping rights

Reviewing and prioritizing policy commitments to identify and close critical gaps such as in restrictions on rental markets, disincentives such as taxation for speculative holding of land, urban land use, and expropriation and compensation to promote equity and fairness in land transactions.

According to Calvo, the Ugandan government has begun the process of systematically registering land and improving land information management. By accelerating these activities and the overall reform programs, she says the country would raise the share of land that have secure rights and ease the process of transferring land. These measures to improve land management will contribute to spur long-term economic growth and transformation in Uganda.

Properly demarcated land should be surveyed and left under the custody of the local owners as this would help them to access credit from banks to carry out entrepreneurial activities that will result in better wellbeing for them.

I feel so agitated seeing endless conflicts amongst Ugandans on land issues and these should stop. As a way to improve property rights the government should come out and discourage the common habit of land grabbing which is very rampant in Uganda.

* Allan Sentamu is a Local Coordinator at ASFL, from Uganda.