On Ma 13, President Museveni assured the people of Amuru District in northern Uganda that Lakang Sugar Factory will stimulate a myriad of economic activities in their area and help in the transformation of their society.
The President made the remarks at a thanksgiving ceremony for William Wilson Nokrach, the district Member of Parliament for People with Disabilities at Olwal Mucaja Primary School playgrounds in Ayela village Lamogi Sub-county, Amuru District.
Lankang Sugar Factory is a project of Madhvani Group of Companies in partnership with government. It is to be established on 10,000 hectares of land in parts of land in Kololo, Lakang, Bana, Omee, Lujoro, Lwak Obito and Pailyech in Amuru Sub-county. Since 2006, the government had earmarked this land for Amuru Sugar Works Ltd to set up Lakang Sugar Factory, but the move was resisted by landowners, who instead dragged the government to court.
Madhvani Group had expressed interest in acquiring 40,000 hectares of land for sugar cultivation in Amuru District, but residents are fearful of forceful eviction and have opposed the move. In August 2017 after forcefully surveying of the 10,000 hectares of land in Kololo village, Amuru District to pave way for establishment of a sugar factory and sugar plantation for Madhvani Group, a section of land owners are now crying foul that they were forced by the government to accept the exercise.
Lands minister Betty Amongi and a team of land surveyors guarded by police and soldiers camped in Amuru District and surveyed the disputed land for the Amuru Sugar Works Ltd project that had stalled for more than a decade. The minister and her team were, however, greeted by protest from political leaders, locals and nude demonstrations from elderly women who opposed the exercise, saying it is a ploy by government to grab their land.
According to a story in the Daily Monitor September 13, 2017 “an investigation carried out by paper nearly a month after the survey, reveals that some of the locals are unhappy claiming they were forced to hand over their land for survey.”
Ms Adong, who was among the elderly women who staged nude demonstration, owns 100 hectares of land. She said on the fateful day of the survey, 15 men armed and others in plain clothes emerged from a nearby bush and told them they had finished surveying her land.
“I had never accepted that my land should be surveyed, but on that day, I was surprised by people who told me my land was surveyed,” Ms Adong said, Daily Monitor reported.
She said her particulars were not registered, adding that there were no neighbours and local leaders to witness the exercise. The question in our minds are: How do we protect the interest of poor women like Adong from the rich and powerful?
How can your land be surveyed without your consent and particulars? How do we compensate those who lost life and property? What should local leaders do to restore the dignity of women like Adong?
Already, plaintiffs like former MP Mike Ocula, Concy Achiro, David Penytoo, Uma Zakeo and Jack Obalim Weleya, who were representatives of other land owners and the Amuru community, who had sued government for grabbing land of the locals, have reached a settlement while Achiro and Ocula have joined government. Ocula is now deputy Head of Mission Cairo-Egypt.
The settlement says in part: ‘The parties support the establishment of the sugar project by M/S Amuru Sugar Works Ltd, in which Madhvani Group is proposed to acquire 49 per cent shareholding (and) the appellants and the communities in the areas of Kololo, Lakang, Bana, Omee, Lujoro, LwakObito and Pailyech accept the grant of 10,000 hectares of part of their land to Amuru Sugar Works Ltd to establish a sugar factory.’
The rest of the land in these places shall be protected for the communities in Amuru Sub-county under customary land tenure system and a design and implementation caused of a special project to issue certificates of customary ownership.
Dismissing this settlement as “fake”, MP Gilbert Olanya for Kilak North, says: “If you read a copy of the settlement, it all stinks of corruption. The President invited members of the community to his country home, got them to sign that deed settlement allowing for the land to go, and the whole thing leaves out local people who actually own the land.”
The Amuru- Madhvani conflict is part an intellectual difference among Acholi elite on what and how to use the land as a means of production, part a fight by the poor against vested interests, part a development issue in a post-conflict setting distrustful of the government, part a scramble for fertile and well-watered land by fortune hunters and crooks, and part an attempt to reconfigure the structure of Acholi leadership (see Daily Monitor, September 6, 2017).
Historically, Acholi leadership negotiated big projects with government and leased customary land for its development. For instance, Aswa Ranch was leased to government for a period of 49 years by the then Acholi District Council to cattle breeding. This approach has been exceedingly successful in previous governments. It also worked out for Atiak Sugar in the same district. The Acholi do not always sell land, but offer right of its use. This ensures a great sustainable working relationship and a direct negotiation with land owners who are suspicious of this increased interest on their land.
The Acholi leadership, as a unified team, need to have a clear comprehensive strategic plan that defines how they will work with government on land matters and say what they want. They can also state how their land can be used and accessed by local and international investors.
This can only be done by a focused, robust and deeply reflective and ideological team of ambitious leaders like the 1996 Acholi leadership that ended the northern insurgency by engaging government as a team. This is the only way we can restore the dignity of our naked mothers by dressing them with Hope for a secure future with the safety of their lives and properties.
Mr Aliker is an opinion leader based in Gulu.