Thursday December 27 2012

When Acholi was marred by land wrangles

By James Eriku

Many have described this year as being characterised by mass land conflicts in Acholi Sub-region.

The area, which has been recovering from a two-decade LRA insurgency, saw thousands of residents being displaced by either State authorities or clansmen as they attempted to resettle in their ‘former’ villages.
The most notable conflict involved Uganda Wildlife Authority where it evicted at least 6,000 residents from East Madi Game Reserve in Appa in Pabbo Sub-county in Amuru District mid this year.

Warders destroyed residents’ property as police supervised the exercise. Affected residents have since taken refuge with relatives in Pabbo and Amuru with no clear livelihood after losing their crops.

The 3rd Deputy Prime Minister, Gen. Moses Ali, while arbitrating over the dispute asked residents to respect the law because they had encroached on the wildlife reserve, adding that the land was in Adjumani District.
However, Mr Christopher Ojera, the LC3 chairperson, said the eviction was illegal because the locals had returned to their ancestral land after the insurgency.

Following mass protests over the matter, the High Court in Gulu District placed a court injunction over continuous evictions in the area.
Historically, many clans, including community members have had land disputes but were resolved by traditional leaders.

But in Elegu, now a viable economic spot at the border with South Sudan, the Acholi and the Madi locked horns over legitimacy of more than 10,000 hectares of land.

Atiak residents in Amuru and Ofodro clan members in Arinyapi Sub-county in Adjumani both claimed legitimacy over the contested land.

The Ofodro community had repeatedly been crossing to Elegu with machetes, axes and sticks to survey the land for possible repossession despite an agreement by leaders in Amuru and Adjumani to halt the matter until surveyors from the Lands ministry map the area.

Atiak LC3 chairperson John Bosco Ochan said residents of Adjumani were illegally claiming its ownership citing the current commercial interests in the area as a possible reason behind the rush for the contested land.

Boundary wrangles between Amuru and Adjumani have existed for a long time but the Elegu conflict surfaced after the lucrative markets in South Sudan and its borders opened five years ago.

In Amuru Sub-county, commercial interests over land have also caused a surge in land cases, especially in Lakang and Kololo areas.
Madhvani Group of companies expressed interest in at least 40,000 hectares of land for sugarcane growing.

In February, Gulu High Court, presided over by Justice William Musene, ruled that the land could be given to the company to grow sugarcane, saying it was unoccupied.

But following an appeal, the ruling was overturned.
Similar circumstances involving dubious and unprecedented evictions were also reported before in the region.
In Agago District, the UPDF 5th Division threatened to evict thousands of residents from more than 13 square kilometres of land near its barracks
Residents claimed that the army forcefully planted thousands of tree seedlings on their land.
In Lomwoka Village in Lamwo District, the National Forestry Authority threatened to evict more than 150 families from their land early this year, while residents from Lukung Sub-county in the same district are living in fear following alleged threat by South Sudanese authorities to evict them from their land.

The Paramount Chief of Acholi, Rwot David Onen Acana, however, warned against illegal acquisition of land in the region, urging residents to focus on peace and unity to rebuild northern Uganda.