Wednesday July 9 2014

Emulate Acholi, Madi on ethnic conflicts

By Editorial

It is commendable that the Acholi and Madi communities have buried their differences over a bitter border land wrangle. This sets a decent example, considering the bloody inter-ethnic tensions now tearing apart communities in the Rwenzori sub-region and has so far left at least 90 people dead.

Just as the attacks in Bundibugyo, Kasese, and Ntoroko districts are disturbing, no less was the conflict over an 825-square kilometre of land bordering Adjumani and Amuru districts in northern Uganda. The dispute has been in and out of court. It also had more than 6,000 residents forcibly evicted, properties worth millions of shillings, including food stuff, destroyed and people left vulnerable since mid-2012. The bitter quarrels also involved torching huts, blocking roads, and looting rivals’ property. Both the Amuru and Adjumani communities claim ownership of Apaa, which Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) officials also say is part of East Madi Wildlife Reserve.

But the people of Adjumani and Amuru last week took a positive step by giving up the warpath. They found it worthier to be one another’s keeper. This ability of once sworn enemies to rise above petty disputes, sort out their conflict, and forge harmony is an exemplar of success and worthy of praise. And the solution here was easy. So can it be borrowed by communities in Kasese, Bundibugyo and Ntoroko districts. A neutral third party intervention was crucial and non-governmental organisation Safer World Uganda stepped to arbitrate and create space for active participation of chiefs, administrators, and political leaders to stop the wrangles. The conflict over Apaa land block in Pabbo Sub-county in Amuru District had for years pitted the Acholi in Amuru against the Madi in Adjumani District.

Sadly, disputes over the land remain outstanding between the National Forestry Authority (NFA), UWA and the two communities. As claimed by Adjumani District Forestry officer Francis Ojja, the activities of NFA and UWA in the disputed East Madi Game Reserve in Apaa remain legal. This means to seal the peace, NFA and UWA should not shoot anyone from the two communities over encroachment. UWA and NFA should sit down with the Acholi and Madi communities who claim ancestral rights and agree on balancing human rights and animal and wildlife rights over the land. The residents as well should heed advice by Amuru RDC James Kidega and his Adjumani counterpart Ms Agnes Akello Ebong and remain calm as they engage NFA and UWA.

The Acholi and the Madi have lived in harmony for ages. This is why it is laudable they have rediscovered themselves and are responsible for their collective well-being. So must the warring parties in Bundibugyo, Kasese, and Ntoroko districts. Let us all be our brother’s and sister’s keepers.