Types of Land Tenure Systems

Types of Land Tenure Systems in Uganda – Land Ownership in Uganda

There are various Types of Land Tenure Systems in Uganda under under which citizens and foreigners can buy land, own and utilize it. Land can either be owned in perpetuity or for a given period of time. The Land Act (1998) identifies the four forms of land tenure systems in Uganda which include Customary, Leasehold, Freehold and Mailo, grants all legitimate and bona fide occupants property rights; establishes land tribunals and decentralizes land administration.

It is under such tenure systems under which land can be acquired, owned, utilized and disposed off. If you do  not belong to any of the systems of tenure, you do not own land in Uganda. However, you can only be defined as a tenant on a property, a squatter or bona-fide occupant as may the law determine based on circumstances of occupancy.

Uganda is relatively a vast country with lots of un-utilized and underutilized land. Uganda’s land to a bigger scope is fertile and very excellent for large scale industrialization, residential setups and farming.

The following are the Types of Land Tenure Systems in Uganda as enshrined in the 1995 Ugandan constitution:-

1. Mailo Land Tenure System
2. Freehold Land Tenure System
3. Leasehold Tenure System
4. Customary Land Tenure System

5. Public Land 

1. The Mailo Land Tenure:

Under this tenure is where land is registered and owned in eternity or perpetuity with its holder having a land title for it. This land tenure in Uganda has its basis from the allocation of land pursuant to the 1900 Uganda Agreement, subject to legislative qualifications. Land held under mailo tenure is mainly confined to the Central region of Uganda. The system confers freehold granted by the colonial government in exchange for political co-operation under the 1900 Buganda Agreement.

Essentially feudal in character, the mailo tenure system recognizes occupancy by tenants (locally known as Kibanja holders), whose relationship with their overlords or land lords is governed and guided by the provisions of the Land Act. Mailo land, like freehold is registered under the Registration of Titles Act. All transactions must therefore be entered in a register guaranteed by the state. Under this tenure, the holder of a mailo land title has absolute ownership of that land.

Mailo land tenure also has features of freehold system. Here, land held under mailo tenure (about 9000 square miles) is confined to Buganda (central Uganda) and Bunyoro (western Uganda). The British colonialists allocated mile-square blocks of land to Baganda notables in exchange for political cooperation.

At present, there are no more new titles issued for land administered under Mailo tenure since all titles were issued before 1928. What is being done today is a mere further subdivision of the already existing titles issued prior to 1928 plus changing the names on the titles during to new ownership. Within the process of subdivision and that of transfer of ownership, both the applicant and the transferring land owner fill application forms with the zonal office of ministry of lands in their area. They then wait for the zonal office to accomplish the rest of the entire process.

Mailo Land tenure is mainly in Buganda, with some few portions of it parts of Ankole, Tooro sub-regions and Bunyoro among others. At present, there over 250,000 of Mailo Land title holders in Uganda courtesy of a majority having bought or inherited it.

Acquiring a Mailo Land Title

The process of acquiring a certificate of Mailo land title is done legally. Under Mailo Land, there are no new titles being offered but instead old titles are either being subdivided or transferred into the names of new owners.

In order to have a land title subdivided or transferred, one must get the plot and the block number of that particular land and present it to the Registry of Titles who will ratify that it is registered.

The buyer.

The buyer picks and fills applications form from the Land Commission and returns it to the commission. When filling forms, one must indicate clearly that it is either subdivision or transfer.

The seller.

The same time, the owner from whom the land is being bough fills in a transfer form together with consent forms.


Subsequently the land survey is done and the ministry completes the course by filling and issuing a mutation form.

Getting the title.

When the process is done, the ministry offers you your title that is either segmented off an current one or an old title being fully changed into the new owners names. 

2. Freehold Land Tenure System

It’s a system of owning land in Perpetuity or Time Without end and was set up by an agreement between the Kingdoms and the British Government. Grants of land in freehold were made by the Crown and later by the Uganda Land Commission. The grantee of land in freehold was and is entitled to a certificate of title. Most of this land was issued to church missionaries and academic Institutions and some individuals. Freehold is the premier mode of private land ownership under English law.

The Land Act recognizes it as one of the four regimes through which access to land rights may be obtained. Its incidents are defined to include registration of title in perpetuity and conferment of full powers of ownership that is the power of use, abuse and disposition. Transactions involving freehold land are governed by the Registration of Titles Act (Cap. 230). There is little land is held under freehold tenure in Uganda.

The 1998 Uganda Land Act defines ‘freehold tenure’ as a land tenure that develops its legitimacy from the Constitution and the written law. Freehold tenure might comprise of either a grant of land ownership in eternity. The Land Act specifies that the freehold land holder has full powers of ownership over it. This implies that that person may use it for any legalized purpose like selling, letting, leasing and disposing it off by will or execute it in any way as he may deem it right and prudent. It is only Ugandan citizens that are legally entitled to own land under the freehold tenure system.

Certificates of title for this tenure are pursued directly via government authorities which involve the Sub-county land office, the district land office plus the Ministry of Lands zonal offices.

3. Leasehold Tenure System

This is a system of owning land for a particular period of time. In Uganda one can get a lease from an individual, a local authority, an organization/Company, an institution like Buganda Kingdom or from Uganda government for a period usually 49 or 99 years or in between with agreed terms and conditions.

The leasehold transactions, being essentially contractual allow parties to define the terms and conditions of access and usage in such a manner that suits their give-and-take land use needs. A grant of land would be made by the owner of freehold, customary or Mailo or by the Crown or Uganda Land Commission to another person. The grantee of a lease for an agreed period of time is entitled to a certificate of title.

Leasehold form of land tenure is whereby a property owner grants the right to another party the exclusive possession of land for a stated time period regularly in exchange for a rental fee. Any land owner in Uganda whether for Mailo freehold or customary tenure may award a lease to another individual.

In practical terms, most of the land under leasehold was formerly owned by government agencies and bodies, predominantly the Uganda Land Commission and District Land Boards. These bodies tend to enforce some development conditions for the subsequent use of the land. Leasehold tenure is usually granted for a payment of rent, premium, both or for free of charge.

4. Customary Land Tenure System

Customary Land Tenure applies to a specific land areas and are governed by customary laws. Land under this tenure system is communally or jointly owned by particular groups of people. Land use under this tenure is commonly controlled by elders, clan heads or a group in its own well-defined administrative structure and authority. In Uganda, this land tenure is found in the north, south and western Uganda.

Over 60% 0f land in Uganda is held on customary tenure system. In this case, people own their land, have their rights to it, but most of the times don’t have land titles. Some tenants on such land allocate specific areas to themselves with known and defined boundaries usually marked by ridges, trenches, trees and provisional mark stones.

In Uganda, Customary tenure embodies the main part of landholdings that is between 70% & 80% of the land in the country. There is a sizable collection of customary tenure structures among Uganda’s more than 60 indigenous clusters, that is, from powerfully distinctive tenure configurations to exceedingly communal structures. Customary systems also differ in how members acquire, use, manage and transfer land.

The Uganda Land Act identifies the fact that customary land occupancy conveys legitimate rights minus documented evidence and offers what is known as a “Certificate of Customary Ownership.”  In the laws of Uganda, customary tenure is defined as “A system of land tenure regulated by customary rules which are limited in their operation to a particular description or class of persons.”

In Uganda, there are diverse systems in which customary land tenure occurs in various parts. In some areas, customary land is owned communally, in some parts; the land belongs to a certain clan whereas in other sections, it is held by individual persons.

Similarly, the rules of customary arrangement as well differ in various areas of Uganda. The 1998 Land Act states that the customary land tenure shall be governed by rules largely acknowledged as obligatory by a given community and anybody that attains land in that community shall be legally bound by the same rules.  With customary tenure, attaining of a private certificate of title is probable for individuals, whereby they modestly have to agree with the community in charge of that land (clan or tribal heads).

5. Public Land

Under this type of land tenure, the government owns land and has the right to lease it to any company, organization or individuals on specific terms and covenants. In most cases, this form of land is not for settlement; it is basically for business and usually located in urban areas such as Kampala and other big towns in the country. Many people buy land without proper knowledge of the procedures. It is only after they have landed themselves into problematic transactions that they will now want to follow the right procedures. At Land in Uganda, we are available to guide you throughout the whole process.


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