Buying land in Uganda was EASY!
Thinking that the best option for the Shule Foundation was to buy its own land I enlisted our trusty architect Simon to help identify potential sites. Though I have heard the horror stories about acquiring land in developing countries, I was not going to be deterred.
Simon narrowed down the search to 5 locations and pre-negotiated on my behalf. Having Simon pre-negotiate was key. Once locals get wind that a “mzungu” is the buyer, prices seems to immediately skyrocket. And I was not going to be anybody’s fool.
My first stop was a huge piece of property outside of Gulu Town, situated between an airstrip and army barracks. Soldiers and little girls living next to each other, probably not a great idea. Though we would safe during peace times, the slightest chance of unrest—that close to the military—and you never know what could happen. Good chance my head would be the first to roll. This is Africa (TIA) – PASS
Next stop was a completely overpriced piece of property that was rumored to be possessed. The owner was so desperate to sell I could have negotiated it down to a fair price, but understanding the culture, had word gotten out that the land was haunted, our doors would be closed even before we opened them. – PASS
Next two stops, nothing special.
I needed the land to speak to me. I wanted it to tell me that it was the right place for our school. I was getting NOTHING. Frustrated and tired, hot and dusty, I was ready to give up. But then Simon mentioned one more site. Cranky and discouraged I said “NO”. I was done for the day. Having spent 16 hours of the last 24 driving around Uganda I was ready to go home, plus it was getting dark and I couldn’t see. Simon was certain this was the place. So the entire group talked me into seeing it.
I will be forever grateful to all of them for that. I didn’t even have to get out of the car. As we drove down the dirt road to the actual site I knew this was it. This was going to be home to Shule’s inaugural school.
It was perfect. The perfect size, distance from the road, the right surroundings. There was no way I was leaving Uganda without a deal in place.
Even though Simon had already locked in the price per acre there were a few details that needed to be hammered out, and I was ready to negotiate.
The seller wanted me to cover the cost of his broker’s fee and pay the District Local Counsel’s fee (aka bribe…which would be a deal breaker for me). When I refused, he tried to up the price per acre. I told him I would have to get board approval before going any further, so we parted ways.
I headed back to NYC and had a week to counter. Staying at the original price per acre I would split the broker’s fee, but it was a firm NO on the LC’s fee. By the time I told the owner, I had won the entire family over—they loved the idea of a beautiful new school for their community. Boo-yah! They agreed. We had a deal! The only thing left was for them to prove land ownership.
In most African countries finding proof of land ownership is like looking for a needle in a haystack. Most people do not hold the actual land title. Land can be “tribal or communal”, making it almost utterly impossible to track down the legal person/s who has the authority to actual sell the land. And if you don’t do your due diligence, you can end up making a non-binding deal that could come back to bite you in the ass. I met a man who bought land in Kenya and years later a sibling contested the sale. The brother won. The guy had to give the land back and was never refunded for it. TIA
We were very fortunate. The sellers had all the necessary papers to prove ownership and within weeks we were ready to close the deal. So I returned to Uganda to sign the papers. And to my surprise, we hit a snag.
The gentleman I was buying from had two wives who needed to sign off on the deal. They wanted all the funds before signing, and we wanted them to sign the agreement before releasing the funds. We were at stand still.
Again, I was experiencing the Africa only I seem to know. I witnessed as these two women held all the power. They were in control. My attorney begged the husband to step in but he refused. He just shook his head and said it was their call.
Fooled into believing they did not understand a word of English, I made a comment to my attorney, in which the one wife replied, “Do not worry, it will all work out.” It was at that moment I conceded. The funds were released, the two mothers signed the papers, and the deal was complete.
The Shule Foundation is now the proud owner of 20 acres of land in Kigumba.
Beginning in March we will launch our Miche Project. Miche means “seedling” in Swahili. We will use the money we earn from the sale of crops to build an exceptional preschool for the village toddlers.
Follow me on Instagram (#JerseyGirlFarmsUganda) as I head back to Kigumba to learn best farming practices. Join me in becoming a farmer, so that we can build schools across rural Africa.