Thought and Ideas
Here is my story on the Attiak incident
Posted Sunday, February 3 2013 at 02:00
The Acholi say “latek wiye ki lero” (a peacemaker ends up with an injury on his head). That is my the predicament in relation to the incident which took place on January 24, at a place called Gem in Pacilo Parish, Attiak Sub-county, Amuru District.
There are things that should be straightened out. First, we were not there to acquire or survey the land. Second, the 300 families said to be on the land seem to be a form of propaganda to gain sympathy for those who accosted us. We stood at the highest point on the land and saw no settlements. And this is six years after the guns fell silent.
The Omaya family told me that Gunya village is four miles from the boundary of their land! They told me that some people are inciting villagers that they want to acquire the whole of Attiak, which is actually almost half a million hectares! They told me that the people from Bibia are not even neighbours to their land. It is a bit like Congo claiming to have a border dispute with Kenya!
To stem the tide of malicious speculation here is my story. I will not allow anyone to tie goat’s ears on my head to make me a carcass for hyenas.
Last week, I was invited by the family of Mzee John Omaya to visit their land. They told me that they would like to revive their ranch destroyed by war. Mzee Omaya told me that his family customarily owns a large tract of land at Gem. He told me that with input from his well-to-do children the family can marshall the means to establish a modern ranch.
Late last year, one of Mzee Omaya’s sons based in Germany told me that after a long process they had obtained legal instruments for their land measuring 7,800 hectares. He told me that they applied to the Amuru District Land Board for conversation of part their customary land holding into freehold. The sub-county land committee received their application and gave a 14-day notice on radio stations and also by posting notices in public places. The land committee then went to inspect the land as required by law in the presence of community members, particularly owners of adjacent lands.
I was told the inspection went well without any incident and the land committee issued their report to the District Land Board stating that there is no dispute and recommending that the Omaya family’s application be allowed. I have seen the report of the sub-county land committee and also the grant of freehold and instructions to survey issued by the Amuru District Land Board.
The two white men in our company are a Kenyan-based farmer and an Italian Veterinary doctor. These days it is common to refer to any white person as an “investor”. Like me, these two gentlemen have no interest whatsoever in acquiring the said land. Infact it may be better to describe them as “consultants”. We had been in touch for several months and I asked them to come look at some farms and offer advice. The first farm they visited belongs to Moses Onono and it is based at Omel, Aswa County, Gulu. They spent three days there without incident and offered valuable advice on livestock management.
On Tuesday, January 22, I travelled with them to Pacilo, Attiak, arriving just before dusk. We camped under the skies in the compound of Mzee Omaya located at Pacilo along Juba Road for the night.
In the morning we drove to Gem, about 5km off Juba Road. The week before the Omaya family, with the help of villagers, had made a track through the burnt bushes. All that activity of cutting treed, filling up ditches, getting boulders out of the way did not meet with any objection.
At Gem we drove towards the River Unyama which runs right through the land. We parked our vehicles and waded through the river and went across to the rocks and hills which lie at the border of the land. It was a long and tiresome walk as we zig-zagged across the land. We took long because our visitors are also Botanists and they kept studying various plant species. We talked about my plan to establish an Arboretum in Northern Uganda.
As the afternoon wore on, we got a phone call that the people we left across the river had been accosted by villagers armed with arrows and bows, machetes and spears and axes. They told us that these armed elements had said they would follow us. Indeed they followed us and we saw them as we climbed down from the rocky hills. They did not accost us then. Later we learnt that a few of them tried to accost our Kenyan visitor who had chosen to walk alone on the way back to our base camp. He ignored them and they left him alone.
Back at our base camp we were informed that another group of armed villagers said to be from as far as Bibia had accosted the people we left behind. They threatened to burn our vehicles and eventually stole three solar lamps and solar panels which we had left charging. Confident that we were not intruders, we went about our business. We chatted about our observations, had supper and went to bed.
After breakfast in the morning we started packing up ready to return to Pacilo centre. It was about 9am. Suddenly we heard whistles, shouts and barking dogs. We found ourselves facing over 50 angry and visibly intoxicated armed villagers. Others continued to drink the methanol laden liquor from polythene sachets. They were hurling abuses and asking their leader one Omona, a son to one of the advisers of the Attiak clan chief, to give the order so that they could finish us off.
I walked close to their leader and told him that I for one does not fear death otherwise I would not have risked going to the bushes of Congo to face Kony. I told him that we were unarmed and it is no bravery to kill unarmed people, particularly visitors. I told them that if they have complaints over the land they should use non-violent channels rather than sparking what may become an endless cycle of bloodshed.
Their leader tried in vain to restrain his drunken gang as they run around grabbing our belongings and running off. We got into our car and drove off even as some of the irate gang struck at the vehicle damaging the rear glass.