Uganda Law Society

Uganda Law Society
Tel: +256 414 342424   I   Fax: +256 414 342431
E-mail:   I   Web:

Ruth Sebatindira
The President 
Uganda Law Society

Legal Aid Project of the Law Society
Tel: +256 414 342412

Location: Plot 5A Acacia Avenue, Kampala, Uganda
Address: P.O. Box 426, Kampala, Uganda

Uganda has a rapidly growing liberalised economy and a favorable investment climate. The government of Uganda provides the necessary legal policy and physical infrastructure for private investment to flourish. The law permits 100 per cent ownership of investments and investors can invest in any economic activity.

Our director/editor Milly Kalyabe recently interviewed Ruth Sebatindira, the President of Uganda Law Society, on some of the legal concerns prospective investors may have as they consider Uganda as their investment destination. 

Qs:  From the legal point of view, is Uganda a safe investment destination?
A: Yes, we have a good legal framework to foster investment. The investment space is supported by institutions like Uganda Investment Authority, a one stop centre for all investment inquiries, Uganda Registration Services Bureau (URSB) to help register your new business companies, trademarks, charges if you are a lender and all kinds of documents that will be helpful in protecting your investment and the Uganda Revenue Authority for your tax registration. The tax regime is predictable and this ensures that there is stability in the taxation which is a critical factor in attracting investment. The financial industry is well established to lend to investors and start-ups. The National Development Plan details areas of focus for the Government and key among them is agriculture. Agriculture is one of the best areas to invest in Uganda and now it enjoys a good tax regime. So there is nothing that is mysterious about our systems.  Gone are the days of middle men taking advantage of lack of information. There is no information gap, all things are well laid out on websites of the various Government Agencies. If for example you want to start a fishing business, the ministry of fisheries has its information on the website.   The other good aspect is the local governments which are also well organized to ensure that services reach the grass roots.

Above all, we have a proper justice system where disputes are settled. We have a Commercial Court to adjudicate upon commercial disputes; we have a proper appellate system when you are not satisfied with judgement from lower courts.

Further, we have the Justice, Law and Order Sector (JLOS) which brings together a number of institutions, like the Ministry of Justice, the Judiciary, DDP’s office, Police, Prisons, Judicial service Commission, Law Development Centre, Uganda Human Rights Commission, Law Reform Commission, Uganda Law Society, as well as the Uganda Registration Services Bureau. It is a forum where these institutions meet to talk about the rule of law in this country, the administration of Justice and the quality of justice and improved service delivery. It is chaired by the Chief Justice, so we fully discuss the challenges facing the justice sector and how we can improve those. Given that we have the police and Prisons on board, we talk about the criminal law reform justice system. 
JLOS, Danida and the Democratic Governance Facility are some of the partners that the Judiciary has who have supported and continue to tremendously support the justice system in Uganda. 

The pressure is on to improve service delivery. There is a now new call for business like thinking among the local people who are now demanding that institutions are run business like. Many Government agencies are indeed working to achieve this so as to serve to improve the economy.  

We still have sticking issues like corruption and inefficiencies in the justice system and these are being addressed to improve the functioning of the judiciary and indeed all Government Agencies and Ministries.

Qs:  How is the mediation and the arbitration process?
A: It is catching on well. Initially it was only at Commercial Court where we were compelled to start a matter by mediation and now with the launch of the mediation rules, all courts are obliged to start with mediation so that we all embrace alternative dispute resolutions and so that we address the issue of case backlog in the Courts.. It now applies to all disputes, land, family, civil etc in addition to commercial disputes.   

The criminal justice will soon introduce plea bargains to again reduce on the time criminal matters take within the court system.

Qs: How can foreigners own land or property in Uganda?
A: They can buy land or property like any other Ugandan but the difference is that they cannot hold own a freehold interest but only leasehold. The law requires that for freehold it should be owned a Ugandan or a Ugandan company. It comes from the Constitution that all land belongs to the people of Uganda so if you give freehold to a non Ugandan then you are taking away the land rights of the Ugandan people.  

Also foreigners can own companies here without having to have Ugandan shareholders. That requirement is not there in the law at all. Except in the case where the company wants to own freehold land, then, the Ugandan interest should be at least 51% in the company.

Qs: How well do JVs work?
A:  JVs are supposed to be a good thing. But i think people get into JVs without understanding each other as contracting parties, what does each party bring to the table.  The most common form of JVs we have seen are that Ugandans will have land and the foreigner will bring the cash, or machinery or the expertise or equipment. So there must be consensus, parties must have joint venture agreements clearly outlining each party’s contribution and value thereof, the roles of majority shareholders and those of minority shareholders. It is very important to come to table with as much clarity as possible in terms of rights, obligations, duties, termination events, damages in case of breaches and constitution of management teams.  Make sure you get a good lawyer to help you draft and guide you in all these aspects.

Qs: How do you define a good a lawyer?
A: A good lawyer is one who knows their client’s business and is familiar with their client’s industry.  A good lawyer is one who will help the client; make more money, keep more money, save time, cut costs and reduce risk. A good lawyer listens; she solves problems and cares about her client’s well being and success. She is ethical at all times and professional in her approach to work.
A good lawyer is one that would not have had a conviction at the Law Council. In fact I would recommend that before anyone hires a lawyer, they write to the Law Council to find out if that lawyer is free of any blemish.  Also check with the Uganda Law Society, most of them are our members, so we know them. 

Qs:  What is your view of the Public Private Partnerships (PPPs)?
A:  PPPs are a good development for the Government to deliver public goods and services to the people of Uganda. We will see many of them when the law comes into force after the passing of the PPP Bill which is currently waiting at Parliament. PPPs will be the answer for the big infrastructure projects like roads, hospitals, dams where Government will partner with private investors who have funds to invest in these projects and they agree on return of investment for the private party while the people of Uganda enjoy service delivery.

Q: What sort of thing would attract the locals living abroad back here?
A:  I have met many of them who have this fear of the unknown, they are so risk averse. We have young people doing well for themselves here. Young graduates especially should come back with innovations and create solutions for market demands. Our population has grown so the market is growing and majority are below 30 years. So the attraction is to think of what our young people will buy.

Also the general investment climate has greatly improved over the years (see my answer in Qn 1).

Qs: What is the general principle on repatriating the capital?
A: Uganda is liberalised economy; no one stops you from taking away money as long as you are within parameters of the law and as long as you are not laundering money. But it is always good to find a balance so that the investor is good corporate citizen to make a return to the Ugandan economy and your employees, to pay your taxes, treat our people right, avoid any kind of discrimination/ racism and have your work permits in place. Just play the fair rules of engagement in business, make sure you are on the good side of the law.  

Qs: Are the UK laws same as here?
A: They are not the same but very similar.  Like the UK, we apply the Common Law which is made by Judges applying precedents to the facts of the case. A decision of the Supreme Court is binding on all courts.  Statutes prevail over common law where the two overlap. The differences arise from the development of jurisprudence, the quality of parliamentary debates and how efficiently parliament functions to apply its oversight role over the executive.

Also the quality of lawyers and judicial officers affects the implementation and interpretation of the laws.

Qs: So many complaints on the quality of services we get from the lawyers - what is your take?
A: Majority of our lawyers serve the public well. It is only a few that will bring disrepute to the legal profession and most of them are repeat offenders. Lawyers are learning how to work on their inter-personal skills and client management techniques; listening to clients more attentively, diagnosing clients’ levels of needs and demonstrating empathy.

I think it comes from the fact that the numbers are huge. We are getting between 400- 500 graduates of law every year and I think the schools are overwhelmed by the numbers, so they cannot properly manage them. Quantity can affect quality. But right now we are revising curriculum at Law Development Center to ensure it suits today’s market demands to see that we send out lawyers who can address the needs of the citizens.

Qs: Do lawyers have a set fee they charge to the client?
A: Yes. We have Advocates remuneration regulation rules made under the Advocates Act. They set out how a lawyer should charge for his time. Clients should ensure to write and sign an engagement letter detailing the lawyers role and what fees are payable.