3rd Ugandan convention in the UK: is land the elephant in the room

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September 20, 2013 By IdaHorner

On 14th September 2013 the Uganda Diaspora in Europe, Ugandan government officials, experts from the Business world, Civil Society, Investors and friends of Uganda gathered at the Troxy Arena in London to explore the investment opportunities in Uganda

The convention sought to answer the question

Where are the investment opportunities in Uganda?

The meeting further explored the role of the Ugandan diaspora in the economic development of Uganda as well as how the government of Uganda can leverage the resources and skills set that exist amongst the diaspora.

Participants heard directly from Ugandan government and officials as to why they should invest in Uganda.

As I listened to the day’s deliberations it occurred to me unless  issues surrounding land ownership are resolved, meaningful development may elude some parts of Uganda.

According to Mustafa Kigozi Executive Director of the Ugandan Manufacturers Association, Uganda needs factories, and a lot of them in order to add value to its raw materials at source and to drive economic development

Factories take up land. But most land in Uganda is in the hands of individuals

It seemed to me that the task is to get to put that land to work, however that reaching that position is not straight forward

For those seeking to invest in Uganda the issue of access to land and land ownership can be a nightmare. In fact during my last visit to Uganda my colleague and I  witnessed a very long and intricate land negotiation at the White Horse Inn in Kabale between a Chinese business man and an extended family from the area who all had an interest in the land in question.

I suspect government faces its own challenges with respect to land ownership for similar reasons.  I understood that one of the incentives that are available to investors is access to land on which to locate factories etc. If the government doesn’t own the land in question, it too has to negotiate with the individuals.

And according to Oxfam International those negotiations aren’t always favourable to the individuals that own the land

On Saturday we also heard from David Male Kyewalabye the Chief Executive Officer at the Buganda Land Board. Buganda is the largest Kingdom in Uganda and given its central location in the country, it owns the most sought after pieces of land, some of which are located within the central business district.

David reported that up until recently the Kingdom was unable to access prime pieces of land it owns, but following intense negotiations with central government the land is now back in the Kingdom’s ownership.

David presented the Kingdom’s master plan or a wish list with respect to how the returned land should be developed and a big chunk of it is to do with the provision of decent housing and office accommodation.

Of concern to the Ugandan diaspora is the unresolved issue concerning dual nationality. As I reported here http://www.africaontheblog.com/2nd-ugandan-convention-uk-who-are-the-real-ugandans/ at last year’s convention the immigration officer informed us that any Ugandan in the diaspora that has a British passport couldn’t own land in Uganda.

A delegate at this year’s convention sought clarity on this matter and Hon Sam Engola Minister for Housing suggested that we in the diaspora should buy houses from the government or risk being cheated by relatives etc.

In addition we were informed that plans were underway to create a minister for the diaspora who would address such concerns and provide the diaspora with an opportunity to influence policy.

However this does not clear up the issue of land ownership by the diaspora specifically where such land was acquired before the person in question nationalized as a British citizen.

The issues pertaining to land ownership in Uganda appear complex and are compounded by that fact some of the land is held communally and those that own it have no land titles to prove that they own it.

This is a disadvantage to small-scale farmers in particular, as they cannot raise money on the only prized asset in their possession to scale their enterprises as I learned from Kinyara Sugar out growers in Masindi NW Uganda

The impact of such complexities on the country’s development prospects cannot  be underestimated.

The question is can the Ugandan government develop robust and equitable land policies?

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