President Museveni’s struggle for the rights of bibanja holders paid off when Article 237 (5) was included in the 1995 Constitution giving to citizens of Uganda holding leasehold titles out of public land, the liberty to convert leaseholds to freehold.
The journey from landlessness to freehold holding in 1995 covered three generations. President Museveni has been the only Ugandan leader since 1900 who has ever attempted to reverse the landless state of bibanja holders.
For decades bibanja holders had endured the status of serfs at the pleasure of their mailo landlords.
Prior to the 1995 Constitution, the bibanja holders had been their own messiahs. They was no Yoweri Museveni to hold their hand when they attempted to free themselves in 1905.
The attempt failed but a victory was registered when the colonial Government was compelled to put in place the 1908 Land Law which gave a distinction between a mailo and official mailo. This reduced the power of the chiefs taking away the chieftain official mailo from their mailo.
This victory gave the peasants the strength to keep the struggle and when in 1920’s they were joined by the bataka, a mass movement came into being.
Bibanja holders boycotted the cultivation of cash crops especially cotton. This denied the colonial Government the much needed revenue and row materials for their industries.
The colonial Government reacted by putting in place the Busulu and Envujo Law which gave a measure of security of tenure to bibanja holders.
These gains were however reversed by the 1975 Land Reform Decree. There was nothing in the decree about Land Reform, on the contrary it was a retrogressive move which pushed gains to the dark ages.
Bibanja holders became serfs in their own country. As tenants at sufferance (mombooze) they had no protection of the law as protection, the Busulu and Envujo Law had been abolished.
This was the status when President Museveni came to power in 1986 and put in place a Constitutional Commission whose report formed the basis of the debate by the constituent assembly calumniating in the 1995 Constitution.
The public land known as official mailo created under the 1908 land law was under article 118 (1) (b) of the 1962 Constitution placed under the control of a land board of either a federal state or a district.
In the case of Buganda it was the Land Board of the Kingdom of Buganda under article 118 (3).
The 1967 Constitution article 108 (5) (b) placed the public land which had been vested in the Land Board of a Kingdom or a District, under the administration of the Uganda Land Commission.
This legal shift of official mailo during colonial time, then Buganda Land Board under the 1962 Constitution and under Uganda Land Commission by 1967 Constitution, gave the legal right to bibanja holders their own to apply for, as indeed they did, and obtained leaseholds of 49 years.
These leaseholds would be expiring in 2016. The 1995 Constitution however timely came in under article 237 (5) operationalising freeholds from leaseholds.
Thanks to President Museveni’s 1995 Constitutional action, the bibanja holders on the 1908 official mailo, who acquired leaseholds after the 1967 action had now come eligible for freehold titles.
From a kibanja holder of 1908 to a freehold title, was and continues to be an achievement of President Museveni which no Uganda leader since independence had ever done for bibanja holders.
Now that President Museveni has sorted out the bibanja holders on official mailo, the time is now to consider the situation of bibanja holders on mailo.
These bibanja holders must get their fair share of the land.
The bibanja holders will not allow the mailo landlords to lie comfortable in their beds for it they have no stake in their own Country they will be disrespectful of the rights of those who have it.
Mailo is being acquired by many for speculative purposes and not for development. This has pushed land prices through the roof and the Bibanja holders, therefore, cannot acquire mailo land by buying their kibanja (okwegula) from the mailo landlord on their one or two acre plots.
The mailo owner no longer wants their Busulu anymore. It is therefore imperative that a stake is created for them otherwise they will not allow the landlords to lie comfortable in their bed for when you have no stake in your own country you become disrespectful of the rights of those who have.
If need be, government must buy land from mailo owners so that the peasants, who diligently work on land when they have it, get their share of their creator’s inheritance.
The current state when bibanja holders are being driven into landless, abject poverty, and misery must be delt with otherwise in the goodness of time the country will pay high price.
This is the raison d’etre for President Museveni’s mailo reform effort-doing for current bibanja holders what he so successful and heroically accomplished for bibanja holders on official mailo.
The author is minister of State for Lands