To block their eviction from land they claim is rightfully theirs, 60 women from Amuru District stripped naked before officials of Madhvani Group of Companies, the firm seeking land in the area for sugar cane growing.
The Wednesday afternoon drama unfolded when representatives of Madhvani Group, the local council chairperson and the Resident District Commissioner travelled to Lakang Village to convince residents to vacate the land.
However, hundreds of locals, composed of women and youth, who had gathered to await the arrival of the officials, charged towards the guests, asking the team to forget about the land.
Efforts to calm the group by the RDC Milton Odongo failed as the women started to wail and undress, while the men pulled out spears.
The Amuru Sub-county chairperson, Mr Caesar Acelam, who accompanied representatives of Madhvani Group, said the women’s ‘shameful’ act’ made them to abandon the meeting.
Mr V. S Somaiya of the Madhvani Group, who was present at the aborted meeting, accused MPs from Acholi Sub-region of mobilising the community against them.
“They were protesting that they do not want Madhvani in Acholiland and some MPs sent three or four people to incite the people who were even drunk. We could not hold the meeting,” Mr Somaiya said.
However, Mr Gilbert Olanya, the area MP, said the “women were only protecting their land.”
Madhvani Group is seeking 40,000 hectares of land for sugarcane growing in the area. The High Court in Gulu in February ruled in the company’s favour.
Ms Grace Akot, who also undressed before Madhvani officials, said she wanted to deter them from insisting to acquire their communal land.
“If they insist to get this land, we shall strip naked again. It is painful because we have just left camps for our villages. I think this is (aimed) at causing us mental anguish,” Ms Akot said.
The community said the Madhvani Group should have used negotiation and not force if they wanted land in their area.
Some of the residents have even vowed to undress before President Museveni who is expected to visit the area today. “We are very sad with the President for giving away our land. If he comes, we will do an abomination, we will strip naked again to show our anger,” said Ms Agnes Angee, the women leader in Kololo Village.
“We are widows and have many orphans to cater for, we are not sure there is another land they would relocate us to,” said another woman.
Ms Lucy Ajani, a mother of five, said she undressed “to show anger over the continued eviction threat against them”. “Where do they want us to go? If they returned, curses will fall upon them and they will die”.
RDC Odongo confirmed that the women undressed before the Madhvani Group officials, and blamed local leaders for mobilising the group against investors.
“Being a public land, the district land board decided that the land should not be for hunting squirrels but for productive purposes,” he said.
Mr Odongo, who was clad in the company’s red T-Shirt, said he would buy animals to ‘cleanse’ the curses by the community when Madhvani Group kick-start their work in the area.
Mr Steven Olanya, a resident of Lakang Village, who accompanied some youth to Kakira Sugar Company to orient themselves with the firm’s activities recently, said he was not satisfied with what they witnessed.
President to visit
“Workers in the sugarcane farm do not wear shoes, parents pay high school fees and out-growers are not Basoga but some rich individuals,” Mr Olanya said.
During a land debate last month, Pabbo Sub-county chairman Christopher Ojera warned that the Madhvani Group was wasting time to invest in the area because people would burn down its sugarcane.
President Museveni is expected to meet residents of Lakang Village today over the land dispute after several ministers and government officials attempted to persuade the communities in vain.