President Museveni's new directives on land, which he says are aimed at resolving conflicts, have no basis in law and could escalate tensions between landlords and tenants, analysts have warned.
On Tuesday, Museveni told journalists at his Rwakitura home, that he had halted all evictions in the country until land conflicts are resolved.
Museveni announced a committee to traverse conflict-prone areas to resettle people evicted illegally. The committee is headed by junior Lands Minister Aidah Nantaba, and includes Wakiso Woman MP Rosemary Sseninde and Deborah Asasira, an employee of State House.
"There is a lot of contempt by landlords who are supported by magistrates, police and local elites to intimidate peasants off the land," Museveni said.
Under the new directives, if the tenant is not willing to sell his/her interest in the land, they should not vacate the land. In cases where tenants accept to sell their bibanja, Museveni said, they should be paid the real value of the land.
Museveni said where someone obtains an eviction order; it will have to be verified by a court registrar to ascertain whether it was got through the right channels. There will be severe punishment for those who encroach on other people's land illegally.
Museveni attacked some of the real estate developers describing them as bayaye (lumpens) and "so full of themselves" that they do not care about the plight of the people.
Nantaba told The Observer at Rwakitura that her team would work with a lot of zeal.
"You have seen people suffering because they were chased from their land on which they have lived for many years. There should be justice," she said.
Nantaba has become the poster child of the fight against land grabbing in Buganda. However, some of her actions, like forcefully resettling people on land (which they had sold), has attracted a lot of criticism. Nantaba's committee joins a coterie of units set up by Museveni to try to resolve land wrangles.
At the briefing, it was not made clear whether the committee will work hand in hand with these units since they play more or less the same role. There is the directorate of Land matters in State House headed by Gertrude Njuba, which Museveni set up after an increase in complaints from people who claimed they were being evicted illegally.
This is in addition to the Land Protection Squad headed by Major Jacob Asiimwe, whose major role is to give protection to people under the threat of eviction. The police also has a land unit, which is supposed to handle land conflicts. At the same time, resident district commissioners have become some sort of enforcers of the president's will on land.
And now, Nantaba's team has joined the fray, working in what observers see as a direct relationship with Museveni, while, literally, bypassing line minister Migereko. Yet the problems persit.
Legal experts fear that the new directives will undermine judicial powers. Uganda Law Society President James Sebugenyi said in a statement that Museveni's directive could cause civil unrest.
"An example of one such scenario is when a citizen has battled a land dispute in the courts of law and finally won with an eviction order being granted, only to have this disregarded and declared illegal by a presidential directive!" Sebugenyi wrote.
The new directives and the operations of the Nantaba committee are likely to undermine the powers of the judiciary particularly the land division, set up to handle land wrangles.
Charles Peter Mayiga, Buganda kingdom's minister for Information, said evictions should be looked at case by case, because even those who obtain court orders lawfully are likely to be affected by Museveni's directives. He added that under the law, the minister (Nantaba) is not empowered to deal with evictions.
"If the president feels there is a problem, he should strengthen the institutions that are charged with solving land conflicts like the judiciary and land registry.
Cliff Rugarama, a land surveyor, told The Observer that the directives will be exploited by some people to claim interests in land they do not own. He also feared that these developments could affect the pace of real estate development in the country.
"The cost of protecting land will go up, which will put off some people from investing in the sector," Rugarama said.