Uganda rolls out digital land registry to eradicate fraud

Fake land titles could soon be a thing of the past in Uganda as the government, supported by a French mapping company, experiments with a computerised land registry to stop fraudsters in their tracks. But not everyone is convinced.

A Ugandan worker registers maps and surveys in the National Land Information System (NLIS) that was rolled out on 20 February 2020
A Ugandan worker registers maps and surveys in the National Land Information System (NLIS) that was rolled out on 20 February 2020 Courtesy of the NLIS Project

A nationwide land registry has been in the pipeline since 2010. Ugandan officials have been under pressure to improve transparency of the land sector, and last Thursday unveiled the completion of the Land Information System, the first of its kind in Africa.

"Twenty-two districts are now registered, and we've seen a tenfold reduction in the time it takes to carry out transactions," explains Christophe Dekeyne, the CEO of French company IGN FI, behind the digitisation process, saying it had brought the land ministry's services closer to the population.

Delegates from over 30 countries gathered in Uganda last week to strengthen land rights for citizens and computerise land records to safeguard against fraud.

"All of the data entered into the NLIS [National Land Information System] was subject to very thorough checks and vetting processes to minimise the input of fraudulent titles," Dekeyne told RFI.

Unlike conventional deeds, all new land titles have bar codes making it difficult to forge signatures.

Collusion concerns

There have been numerous cases in the past of conmen impersonating elderly family members or pretending to be local officials to sell fake land titles. 

"It's difficult to say now that the NLIS system is 100 percent safe but we are working in close cooperation with experts from the land ministry to verify all the information entered into the system," explains Dekeyne.

Some observers also suspect collusion between conmen and officials.

"A digital land registry does not address the attitude of workers who in Uganda do not live on their salary alone," says Kenneth, a voluntary land adviser who spoke on condition of anonymity because he feared getting in trouble.

Land is a very sensitive issue in Uganda, where the majority of people still rely on agriculture for their livelihood. And the country has suffered from heated disputes over who owns what.

That could soon change.

High costs

"Everything is registered in the system so in case of conflict, it is much easier than before to issue or print any document related to a conflict," comments Dekeyne.

However, getting onto the land registry remains a challenge for residents in remote areas.

"If you want to register, you have to bring a surveyor and it's expensive," continues Kenneth, referring to the high surveyor fees, which can cost as much as 3 million Ugandan shillings or over 700 euros.

French CEO Dekeyne hopes the money raised from the Land Information System will go towards covering some of these costs.

"Uganda invested 70 million dollars in the system, it has now got back 195 million," he said, adding, "It is now their policy to adjust services to the different category of people in Uganda."

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