• Types of Land Holdings

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Owning Land In Uganda – The different land type holdings

The Land Act of 1998 defines the different types of land ownership (tenure) systems in Uganda which include:

  • Customary

  • Leasehold

  • Freehold

  • Mailo

  • Public (Government)

Only through the above systems can land be acquired, utilized and sold off in Uganda. As the ‘Peral’ of Africa, Uganda is blessed with lots of prime and fertile un-utilized and underutilized land which is every conducive for large scale industrialization, residential setups and agriculture.

Customary Tenure

Under this tenure system, the land is communally owned by a particular group of people e.g. clan, family with often controlled activities by heads or elders under well-defined administrative customary structures. This is typical of land in the North, East, North East, North West and a few parts of Western Uganda. The rules of customary law vary in different parts of the country though. The Land Act of 1998 states that customary land tenure shall be governed by rules generally accepted as binding by the particular community, and anyone who acquires land in that community shall also be bound by those same rules.”


Under this tenure system ownership of land is given by a land owner for a specific period of time. In the 1998 Act of the Uganda Constitution, leasehold tenure is described as; ownership where one-party gives the other the right to exclusively possess their land for a specific period in exchange for the payment of rent.

Under this type, a land owner (whether through freehold, Mailo or customary tenure) grants a lease to another person. Much of the land that is leased was initially owned by government bodies i.e. the Land Commission and the District Land Board with some development conditions imposed on the land’s subsequent use by those to whom it is leased. In Uganda you can get a lease from an individual, local authority or government for a period usually between 49 to 99 years with agreed terms and conditions.

Freehold Tenure

A freehold tenure is one where land is owned in perpetuity. This was established 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 owners of land under this tenure acquired it as grants from the colonial government before independence and from the then Uganda Lands Commission post-independence with only a few having bought it mostly from government.

The Land Act specifies that the land holder in freehold has full power of ownership i.e. they can use it for any lawful purpose including selling it off, renting and leasing it out by will. The 1998 Act also decrees that only citizens of Uganda are entitled to own land under freehold tenure, with non-citizens allowed only the alternative of leasing it for a period of up to 99 years. Obtaining certificates of title under this tenure can be directly pursued through the government authorities where the Sub-county land office, the district land office and the zonal office of the Ministry of Lands are all involved.

Mailo Tenure

This tenure system is mainly common in the Central i.e. Buganda (Central region) and a few portions in Western Uganda. This land tenure system confers freehold granted by the colonial government in exchange for political co-operation under the 1900 Buganda Agreement and guided by the provisions of the 1998 Land Act. Under this tenure system, land is permanently ownership and belongs to landlords while at the same time there are tenants on the same land with rights to occupy and utilize the land.

Under Mailo land tenure, owners have perpetual ownership and are free to sell or pass on their rights to their heirs. On the side of the constitution, it states that Mailo land owners are not allowed to use their powers against the interests of customary tenants, bona fide or lawful occupants. This provision was introduced in 1998 and revised further in 2010 with the aim of inhibiting the possible eviction by landlords of people occupying Mailo land as customary tenants or squatters.

Public Land

Under this type of land tenure, the government owns land and has the right to lease it to any company or individual on specific terms and covenants.

Foreigners can also own land in Uganda through applying for leases which a for a maximum period of 99 years.

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