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Museveni’s land politics

FILE PHOTO: President Museveni and Land Commission chairperson Catherine Bamugemereire in Lusanja, Nangabo Subcounty in Wakiso District where a businessman Kiconco evicted over 350 families and destroyed homes in October. He ordered a stop to the evictions.

Why the president’s defence of squatters is humane but economically retrogressive

THE LAST WORD | ANDREW M. MWENDA | During his New Year speech, President Yoweri Museveni reiterated his commitment to defend squatters being evicted by “land grabbers”. Yet he also promised to protect the ownership rights of title holders. In trying to please both, Museveni may be doing good politics but it is bad economics. Here is why.

At the heart of capitalist development (all “advanced” countries in the world today are capitalist) is the transition of most people’s livelihoods from depending on agriculture to depending on industry and moving from rural to urban areas. The persistence of peasant agriculture in Uganda as the main source of livelihood for the vast majority of our people is only a re-statement of our continued backwardness and poverty.

In most of Europe, the transition from agriculture to industry was brutal. It involved the forceful expropriation of land from peasants to commercial interests. This paved way for commercial relations to penetrate and transform agrarian structures. The expropriated peasants were reunited to the land through the agency and initiative of capital – as an agricultural proletariat. The other expropriated peasants went into cities where, destitute, they were willing to accept substandard wages in factories. This made growth of manufacturing possible, thereby paving way for the industrialisation of Western Europe.

Contrary to a historical but popular beliefs common most especially among African elites and their cheer leaders in the West, the rise of the West from poverty to affluence was not initiated by kind and benign leaders seeking to improve the welfare of the vast majority of their citizens. Rather it was championed by a very small, selfish and greedy group of industrialists, merchants and commercial farmers who allied with the state to expropriate ordinary peasants of their land and exploit workers via substandard wages. Due to the inhumanity of this process, Karl Marx said capitalism came to the world “dripping with the blood of labour”.

Pre-capitalist Europe was feudal; a mode of production characterised by land. Land was owned by landlords, tilled by peasants. The peasant decided what to produce e.g. rare chicken or goats, plant beans or peas. He would pay the landlord rent in kind or in money. Thus those who owned land did not control the production process i.e. did not decide what to produce, using which technology, in what quantities, and for which market. Those who tilled the land did not own it. This made feudalism retrogressive because the owner of the asset did not control the production process. Capitalism is dynamic because it fuses user and ownership rights.

In Uganda, the 1998 Land Act recreated feudal relations in agriculture. It left the holders of title as legal owners and gave security of tenure to squatters by issuing them “certificates of occupancy.” This made both sides losers. While the tenant has security of tenure via his certificate of occupancy, the land is encumbered by a title held by the landlord. The landlord has title but it is also encumbered by the certificate of occupancy of the squatter.

Under these circumstances, a bank would find it difficult to lend anyone of them because of these competing user and ownership claims. Equally someone trying to buy such land has to negotiate with the user and the owner thereby increasing transaction costs and creating uncertainty. This undermines land as a commodity that can be easily traded.

Capitalism is dynamic because it commoditises land and labour. In medieval times, land and labour did not exist as freely and easily traded commodities. Labour existed only as human beings and land as soil to be tilled. But the idea of abstract land and abstract labour i.e. as agents of production – impersonal, dehumanised economic entities, did not exist.

There were lands of course – estates, manors, and principalities. But they were not “real estate” as we know it today available for buying and selling as the occasion warranted. Land could be sold under some circumstances (with many strings attached) but was not generally for sale. Nobles owned land but no self-respecting nobleman would sell his estates – exactly the same way Museveni cannot sell Karamoja to Kenya today.

The same situation pertained to labour. The medieval world had serfs, peasants, cobblers, journeymen, apprentices who laboured. But these did not constitute today’s vast network of job-seeking individuals selling their services to the highest bidder. The peasant tilled the master’s land and paid rent in money or in kind. The apprentice entered the service of his master and his hours of work, pay or length of his apprenticeship were regulated by the guild. There was no bargaining between master and servant.


  1. 1.Why is land grabbing so common in Buganda region?Its because 98% of the land brokers are baganda who are naturally crafty and love quick fixes.
    2.Why are most westerners grabbing land in Buganda Region?it is because they have money how they make it does not matter and secondly the terrain in western Uganda is not suitable for farming and construction.
    3.Big chunks of Land in Uganda have always been owned by fairly wealthy families for example, the royal family of Buganda donated land to Makerere and Kyambogo universities,churches and hospitals .
    4. Since when did the poor begin owning land and how did they acquire it?
    5.The poor have become the biggest land grabbers in Uganda .So because of their misery, one can easily believe that the rich are being unfair to the them.
    6.Family break down is largely responsible for land grabbing in Uganda for example, men deny their children as a result, the fatherless children have become a public nuisance like the supporters of people power.
    7.Whoever proposed that squatters should have a share in the land they have squatted in should be in jail.
    8.Does Mutebile and Bagyenda have genuine academic documents? i mean, who makes critical decisions without any documentation in this earth?you see Rajab and Ejaakait’s wives have an exercise book where they keep record of yams they have sold.

  2. Although this article seems muddled up/unclear/confused, Mwenda has never been closer to the truth than what he reveals here (my emphasis being: ‘closer.’) However, he is trying so hard hammering home an arguably political issue using ‘purified’ economic lens.
    Land by nature is an emotive issue which carries political, economical and social connotations. Therefore, we cannot discuss it or even describe and evaluate its market workings without discussing the political and social structures in which it operates.
    In an interplay of events (through time and history), I will expose the intellectual flaws that he is wrong. But first, there are a number of untruths that need to be expunged from this record.
    By omission, Mwenda strictly skirts his article around two wrongfully land users i.e the squatters and the land grabbers and thereby tactfully omitting the two rightful users of land i.e the tenants and the landlords. Unless if Mwenda is a goonda (a person paid to do wrong), if not, then his naivety is of a child. Why do I state so? Mwenda conveniently equates the tenant to a squatter on the one side and a landlord to a land grabber on the other. For political reasons, Mwenda feels comfortable to feed into the widely accepted narrative that the existing crop of landlords are actually land grabbers. At the same time he is so uncomfortable to discuss that the group of ‘land grabbers’ is “politically well connected.” When Andrew equates landlords to grabbers, he wrongfully appeals to the public perception which suggests that Baganda are land grabbers because of the historical misconceptions about the two lost counties. In truth, Buganda was grabbed of its 9000 sq miles by the protectorate government the two lost counties were duly returned after the 1964 referendum.
    The misconception that Baganda are land grabbers cannot be further from the truth as evidenced in justice Catherine Bamugemeire’s land commission. The victims of this commission are largely outside the Mengo establishment. We have witnessed the Queen mother of Toro, the minister of lands and her junior minister, the office of the prime minister and the unfortunate saga of Kiconco- Lusanja evictions.
    By and large, the article was intended to make believe that President Museveni was playing fair between the Baganda landlords and the non Baganda squatters. But doing so Mwenda had wanted to portray the president as if he was doing something new forgetting that the interplay between the tenants and the landlords had long been cemented under the colonial law of Busuluand Envujjo law.
    Through history, land has always been a tool for political expedience. The colonialists used land to pit the Kabaka against his subjects. In pre colonial Buganda Kabaka’s powers over land were almost absolute. The colonialists undercut these powers by granting ‘Christian chiefs’ with large chucks of land. What seemed to be the prerogative of the Kabaka was soon matched at the altar of the priest. But what the new Christian converts had gained was so much stronger than what the Kabaka offered. This was because at annoyance of the Kabaka, he could quickly retract his offer. That was not to be the case with Jesus Christ’s offers whose actual existence and possible return to earth remained/still remains a distant reality in the minds of the faithful.

    The art of divide and rule has continued from the times of the colonialists up to the present day. ‘Regime loyalists’ have been repeatedly rewarded at the expense of sustainable economic development. My sister Winnie believes that Buganda donated Makerere University land. That can be partly true but in 1944 Governor Dundas had to change the constitution in to “accommodate” a clause that largely benefited the protectorate sympathizers. The same could be said about the ‘Public land act of 1969.’ Where ‘public interests’ “superseded” ‘customary interests.’ This was further entrenched into the 1975 ‘Land Reform Decree.’ It should be noted that in all these cases the ‘regime loyalists’ remained unscathed.
    What is of great interest to this new land craze is the fact that the land which is under attack falls largely under public land which is of two kinds; leasehold and freehold. The current land grabbers are well known and fall within the reach of government. This is the more reason why behind every land scandal, there is an evident shadow of government lurking. President Museveni is not about to stop land wrangles for anything is about stirring them up and in furtherance of an old dictatorial dictum of divide and rule.

    • 1. Permanent squatter/evictees/landless can make a good vote pool if and when they are kept in perpetual destitution; but occasionally fed with a little hope over the horizon of once being accommodated or given some place to call their own.
      2. Tell me in sincerity Rajab, isn’t it in the responsibility of the state to ensure that everyone is accommodated (on land)? If foreign refugees are given land, should a citizen by birth and descent be without. If wild animals are accommodated and protected, shouldn’t a human citizen be accorded better facilities?
      3. To see evicted people a la Lusanja exposed to sun and rain, homeless and hungry calling themselves Ugandans while their leaders hoard square kilometers of unoccupied land, no matter what the law says is to invite disaster.
      4. I at times wonder how the Uganda government under the ‘idiot’ Amin Dada implemented the Kibaale Settlement scheme; ferrying a population from Kigezi in the 70s giving them land ,seed, farm implements, household equipment and food to eat before first harvest. All this was implemented using government money (not foreign debt,aid or grant). I am personally an eye witness and I can produce 1000 witnesses/beneficiaries that what I say is what happened. How about this second-to-none enlightened revolutionary government?
      5. As a believer, would you complain if God rained some horrible calamity like the Sodom and Gomorrah days? Mwenda’s argument and theorems are cheap. Any development and progress must come after people have eaten. ‘Wealth is left-overs’ not depriving an underprivileged group of God-given basic essentials (land,air,water,fish) and instead give it to foreign ‘investors’ mbu in the name of economic advancement… …. collateral damage along the way Mwenda would say. Mwenda must be a ‘goonda’ indeed because he knows the truth and knows basics of survival.
      6. Hypothetically, if you evict a person(family) from a land they have occupied all their lives, you are chasing them out of the country. It implies the only place they have a right to is a foreign refugee camp if they will be given asylum.
      7. The Universal Declaration of Human rights (on which all constitutions are based) in article provide for LIFE, SECURITY and LIBERTY. How can you the government guarantee those to a homeless? article 15 provides for NATIONALITY. How do you ensure nationality when a person does not have where(land) to stand?
      8. Development and economic growth are stupid vocabularies if some people live worse that animals in the National park. Those other statistics of growths percentages are crook-generated figures a la Crane bank and other sinking enterprises.
      9. First things first …survival,living,developing, saving then philanthropy…..in that order
      10. our rich swim in irredeemable debts and those are the businesses Mwenda praises as being progressive?

  3. It is only permissible for an old man to cry before his lady not in front of his kids. But I will bend backwards only to try finding you. Address yourself to ‘political Mathematics.’ A philosophy that deals with minimizing ambiguities while focusing on conceptual aspects and actual contexts of real world life. It is a tool used in solving international conflicts.
    Let me try to find you. You must have attended nursery or at least ‘Sunday school’ (during your years.) If so, then, you should have come across the seesaw game. A seesaw or a teeter board is usually a stiff, long narrow board which can be curved out of wood or metal. It is balanced at the centre by a single pivotal point and on either side weights are placed to generate a “swing” of up and downward movement. However, if you weren’t that lucky to have attended Sunday school, then, during high school you tackled it in mathematics/physics under ‘Mechanics.’ If, however, you were so so unlucky that you missed it both at Sunday school and high school, at least, you’re familiar with the phrase, “Balancing the boat.” Yes, the ‘mechanics’ of the seesaw relates to that of balancing the boat. (Have I got you now? Or, not yet?)
    The reason as to why I had to give that brief is to have a clear understanding of how organized societies operate. Organized societies operate at the ‘equilibrium’ of a social contract. Under a functional society there are two sides. On one side we have the functions/duties and on the other we have the needs/demands. They are in a “pulling” and “pushing” motion. When one side is pulling and it does not want to be pushed or the reverse, then the social contract is destroyed. For instance, if a village set out to construct a road and in the process, decided to elect a committee to see out the construction process, then, the terms of the constructing committee in relation to time duration and finances have to be set. If, however, the committee does not effect the construction as stipulated in the terms, then, the social contract is destroyed. This is the more reason as to why there are querying voices about the NRM government regarding to the volume of money being collected (revenues) and debts contracted vis-à-vis ‘value for money’ in so far as delivery of social infrastructure.

    I will now relate the ‘seesaw analogy’ to the social contract and Museveni’s land politics. The current squatters and land grabbers are creation of President Museveni. In a largely liberalised economy like Uganda is, the free forces of supply and demand should be the determining factors for the price of land. Land in Uganda should be acquired on the basis of ‘willing seller’ and ‘ willing buyer.’ However, this raises the anecdotal question of, “historical injustices.” But logically, we cannot try to resolve “injustices” by creating more “injustice.” Secondly, Uganda in its coonstitution does not have a term, clause or provision for “national destitutes” it only provides for asylum seekers/refugees. This implies that every person in Uganda have where they are coming from. The said “immigrants” in Buganda also have somewhere they come from. The socioeconomic dynamics should have demanded that for an “immigrant” to own land should provide labor and use the Price for their labor to acquire a piece/plot of land. However, what political expedience sets in motion, is for people to ride on “freebies” in lieu of political loyalty. This distorts both the social and economic order. Museveni creates his own “balance” at the seesaw. On the lower side of Museveni’s political seesaw you have the poor/destitute/squatters who are unwilling to work yet they need the land on the upper side of Museveni’s political seesaw you have another group of politically connected/dubious/land grabbers who take the law unto themselves. Then, in the middle you have the “Human pivot” in President Museveni trying so hard to balance these two supposedly worrying factions. (Theatrics!) In essence, the squatters, land grabbers and president Museveni are on one side of the seesaw. In an open play economy, this puts to much pressure on the operating land tenure system. What needs to be done is to have an open policy on how and who is ‘eligible’ for public land but more so, perks should be awarded depending on economical sense not political affiliation. (Did I find you, Sir?)

  4. i wish the land being grabbed was in Toro and Ankole

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