Certificates of Customary Ownership (CCOs) are not what they seem on the surface – risks to CCOs

Uganda’s National Land Policy 2013 (NLP) sets out the principles and direction of the Government’s approach to land policy. This document was published after the passing of the Land Act (1998) which leads to confusion between the law and policy, and which should be followed, although the Government has now published an implementation policy proposing to bring the NLP into legislation.

Section 237 of the 1995 Constitution provided for the recognition of four tenure systems – customary, freehold, leasehold and mailo and the 1998 Land Act operationalized this provision of the Constitution. Despite customary tenure’s legal recognition by the 1995 Constitution, the NLP recognized that in 2013, customary land tenure “… continued to be regarded as inferior in practice to other forms of tenure and converted to Freehold”. To correct this wrong to the 80% of Ugandans who own land under customary land tenure, the NLP now promises that““The state shall recognize customary tenure in its own form to be at par with other tenure systems (freehold, leasehold, and Mailo)” “… establish a land registry system for the registration of land rights under customary tenure” and “…issue certificates of Titles of Customary Ownership based on a customary land registry that confers rights equivalent to freehold tenure.”

Despite this fundamental change from the current law, since the approval of the NLP, a few development actors have promoted and facilitated the issue of Certificates of Customary Ownership (CCOs) in Kasese and Nwoya districts, respectively.The sensitization that usually accompanies projects to issue CCOs focused on only one or two issues – that it provides one with better security and collateral for bank loans. CCOs can bring far reaching changes to the land rights of many people in a family and community, so it is important that there is a much fuller understanding of the pros and cons, especially as there is no doubt that the customary land tenure system needs to be supported with a title that is equal to Freehold; that can provide evidence of land rights, provide security of tenure and that can be used as collateral for bank loans. This paper is written to highlight some of the risks to CCOs, as they are currently implemented. The paper is also written to help communities and other stakeholders understand the risks in CCOs so that they can make informed decisions. The paper also proposes solutions to the risks