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Uganda true model for implementation of land policies and laws

By 'Tofe Ayeni
Posted on Thursday, 9 April 2020 12:18

A worker picks tea at a plantation near Kasese town, 497km west of the Ugandan capital, Kampala. REUTERS/James Akena

Christophe Dekeyne is the general manager of IGN FI, a company in the field of geographic information. IGN FI completed a 10-year land administration project across Uganda, which was tested on a few districts before its implementation at the national level. The Africa Report spoke to Dekeyne on land rights, with a specific focus on the Ugandan case.

TAR: Why are land rights so fundamental, what do they allow?

Christophe Dekeyne: Land is considered a crucial asset in most parts of the world. It is critical for habitation, food and natural resources; a core aspect of many cultural and social identities and key to economic growth.

Effective land governance is essential to inclusive, resilient and sustainable societies. Dramatic population increases and the demand for renewable (agricultural, horticulture, forestry, etc…) and non-renewable resources (minerals and oil) are placing unprecedented pressures on land around the world.

Land tenure rights refer to the rights and responsibilities individuals and groups have in relation to the ownership, access and use of a particular plot of land in accordance with local and international norms, rules and principles.

The republic of Uganda has put in place a very progressive set of statutory laws to govern land in accordance with regional and international principles.

Statutory land laws in Uganda safeguard the rights of women and the most vulnerable citizens, and outline ways land can be allocated, transferred, used or managed. Secure and legally demonstrable rights to land can be leveraged to secure capital and attract investment.

What have we learned from other countries who have done similar reforms?

The pressures on land outlined above associated with population and resource needs have prompted reforms in land policies and laws around the world and across Africa over the past two to three decades.

While policies and laws are important, the key question is implementation. Uganda is leading the continent in the implementation of land policies and laws, and the National Land Information System (NLIS) in Uganda is the very first of its kind in Africa.

READ MORE: How land reforms have unfolded around the world

Who was the driving force behind this reform, which parts of the Ugandan state are implicated?

To begin with the second part of your question first, the NLIS in Uganda is as the name suggests: a national system covering all parts of the country. The NLIS comprises 21 cadastral zones and each zone has a ministry zonal office facilitating the delivery of land governance services to the local people.

The driving forces behind the reform comprise:

  • Growing pressures for land governance associated with population growth and increasing demand for resources;
  • The foresight and capacity for planning of the ministry of lands, housing and urban development and the government of the republic of Uganda;
  • The political will within senior government leadership;
  • The World Bank and its financial support for a project of this nature;
  • IGN FI’s experience and capacity to implement the project.

What are the three key lessons Africa can learn from Uganda’s 10-year modernising experience?

Perhaps the most important lesson from Uganda is that such systems cannot be implemented overnight. The successful implementation of an effective NLIS is a process that in the case of Uganda has taken almost 30 years starting with the necessary policies and legislation.

Other lessons from Uganda are:

1) the need for sufficient infrastructure;

2) the critical importance of political will;

3) the necessity of complementary governance and budgetary mechanisms;

4) the need to develop and strengthen human capacity and the core importance of training;

5) the role of development partners and stakeholders;

6) the dissemination of information and raising awareness of all stakeholders and the general public.

One of the initial most notable benefits of the NLIS in Uganda was the volume of government revenues generated by the system, excluding any taxes on land.

The cumulative generation of $193.7m in revenue at completion of the project represented an enormous 269% return on the $72m investment.

This presents a stark contrast to public investment in other sectors such as roads, railway and energy projects across Africa that have experienced protracted implementation delays, cost overruns and minimal returns on investment.

READ MORE: South Africa’s land reform panel report on rocky ground

Does getting land reform right allow for the economy to get more diversified?

Effective land rights are the cornerstone of any economy.

The registration of land promotes tenure security and has direct benefits to business and attracting investment: increasing trust and confidence while simultaneously reducing uncertainty and the time required to make transactions. According to the World Bank’s Doing Business report, the NLIS is responsible for a reduction from 77 days to complete the average land transaction in 2010 to 42 days in 2020.

The land sector has the potential to support a shift in productivity in the Ugandan economy.

For example, only a small percentage of Uganda’s arable land is cultivated and mostly under subsistence agriculture. The average size of a Ugandan farm is 1.1ha, with little use of irrigation and other improved agricultural inputs. However, the potential to increase agricultural productivity is extremely high.

Improved productivity can be facilitated through increased land-use planning and the registration of land rights to improve land allocation for optimal use, increase investment incentives and provide access to collateral-based institutional credit to finance investments.

Similarly, in urban areas where the majority of the land comprises unplanned settlements, the regularisation of land tenure for informal settlements will promote investment in occupied land, improve the living conditions of occupants through better housing, upgraded infrastructure and other services. This will also generate increased revenue for government that can be used to finance more public infrastructure and services.

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