Skip to main content

Urban Land Development

The context for LANDnet’s work on urban land development in Uganda.

Although the majority of Ugandans live in rural areas, the urban population is growing faster. In 1992/93, about ninety percent of Ugandans lived in rural areas, Uganda Poverty Status Report 2014 10 while in 2012/2013 this had fallen to 77 percent. Over the last three years from 2009/10 to 2012/13, the urban population increased by 3.1 million from 4.6 million to 7.7 million, which implies an increase in the urbanization rate from 15 percent to 23 percent.

Urbanization in Uganda presents both opportunities and challenges for poverty reduction. Poverty is much lower in urban than rural areas, although there was no statistically significant reduction in the urban poverty rate between 2009/10 and 2012/13.

Poverty reduction efforts are bearing fruit in rural areas, with poverty falling by almost two-thirds in the last two decades from 60.4 percent in 1992/3 to 22.8 percent in 2012/13.

The share of Ugandans in the middle class is higher in urban areas, but has rapidly increased in rural. The insecure non-poor in urban areas have steadily decreased over the last 20 years, except for a small reversal from 26.4 percent in 2009/10 to 29.2 percent in 2012/13. On the other hand, the insecure non-poor in rural areas have steadily increased from 32.5 percent in 1992/93 to 47.4 percent in 2012/13. This group coupled with the 22.8 percent still in absolute poverty imply that 70.2 percent of those in rural areas are not yet secure, compared to 38.5 percent in urban areas.

This context has increased the rural urban linkages as more people migrate from the rural to urban areas in such for better conditions of living and opportunities while at the same time the urban areas rely on rural areas for food and other services.

For purposes of planning particularly in urban areas, the complexity of tenure comes into play as over 60% of city dwellers in Uganda are informal settlers on land. Therefore although land tenure creates security to land holding, it has a direct effect to development as the perception of the holders of rights only perceive their security of tenure in light of the proposed developments. In other words if an area is declared an industrial park, the land owners in that area who live and derive benefit from such land begin to perceive themselves as insecure in light of the physical development plan. This often causes resistance and failure of enforcement mechanisms to be executed making development control difficult. This is corroborated by the findings by UNHABITAT (2007), MLHUD (2008), and Giddings (2009).

The proposed Urban policy recognizes this as an issue and has as one of its Policy statements under Urban Housing “Government will ensure the supply of affordable land in urban areas and provide a framework for regularizing the tenure system in the informal settlement.” It envisages achieving this through the identification of land for public housing and implementation of the National Land Policy for effective and efficient land administration and management in urban areas.

Whereas this sounds pretty simple and the right thing to do, the complexity surrounding this is that the land is privately owned with complex layers of rights existing over a single parcel. This is particularly true for the Central region whether the Mailo Certificate of title gives rise to subservient rights whose interests are guaranteed by the Constitution. How then will government find this land and streamline informal settlements through the regularization of tenure? Since physical planning is not a ground for compulsory acquisition under Article 26 of the constitution, the only option Government would be left with is to purchase such land on a “willing buyer-willing seller basis.” This is a costly process that is unlikely to yield any results given that the land sector is underfunded.

Not only is underfunding the challenge, the regulation of tenants by occupancy poses a challenge today in Uganda. The Land Act in its section 31 places the burden of proof on the land owner of registered land to show cause why that occupant is not lawful or bonafide. With fluid grounds of claiming bonafide occupancy, more often than not land owners are unable prove the contrary.

Transacting in land is thus hampered by the fuzziness of the tenure system providing incomplete rights to the land owner and the tenant, both of whom must be compensated for their interests in the same parcel, moreover with an unverifiable evidence of such rights to land. This was illustrated by Damaris Kathini Muini Pg.35 when he analyses the development of the real estate industry being constrained by a sudden influx of tenants seeking compensation for their rights to land and the challenge of proving that they are not entitled to such compensation as they are not rights holders. This is compounded by lack of regulation for compensation of the occupants by occupancy making it difficult to amass land for development.

Furthermore, the non-eviction law protects tenants by occupancy from eviction except for the non-payment of ground rent. This compounds the complexity of urban planning in Uganda. There are good plans on paper that are challenging to enforce in practice because of the land tenure regime.

However, where Government is the land owner and where leaseholds exist in urban areas, regulation and enforcement of planning is possible and is executed. In situations where there are unplanned areas occupied by informal settlements, it has been proved by GLTN through the Mbale pilot that it is possible to regularize these informalities and have rights recorded.

Currently, it is only leaseholds that have planning restrictions described in the lease agreement and enforcement effected. These are leaseholds granted by urban authorities out of former government land. In Kampala city for example, leasehold tenure accounts for 26% of the land in the city. 57% of the land is privately owned under Mailo, 14% is official Mailo belonging to the Buganda Kingdom and 3% is freehold owned by schools, mosques and churches.

These compounding challenges in Uganda’s urbanizing environment pose challenges for sustainable and planned urban growth. LANDnet believes that participatory approaches and processes are core to sustainable urban development.

View LANDnet’s Intervention