Thursday July 24 2014

Find lasting solution to land, tribal tensions

Increasing reports of tribal and land-related tensions across the country should wake Ugandans up to the dangers of land conflicts and broader ethnic tension.

In the space of only one month, at least 90 Ugandans have been killed in tribal and land-related clashes in the Rwenzori region.

The latest clashes between immigrant Bahuma cattle keepers and Alur cultivators have left at least 20 houses burnt in revenge attacks in Hoima District. This presses the need for government to thoroughly address the root causes of these fights over land troubles.

Sadly, the frequent clashes between the herdsmen and cultivators in Bunyoro have been persistent but not settled.

First was the bloody clash between the pastoralists and the Bagungu in Buliisa District in 2006. Second was the skirmish between the Alur and the cattle keepers in Runga landing site over land adjacent to the oil sites in Hoima District in 2012.

The first clash left several people injured, including Buliisa County MP Stephen Mukitale Biraahwa while the second left three people dead, scores injured, and 25 huts burnt down.

But there is also the new misunderstanding created by displaced families from oil-rich Kibaale Parish in Buseruka Sub-county, Hoima District, who have settled in the area and have heightened the struggles over land.

These recurrent squabbles over land require a sustainable solution to the matter of land problems, which is limited, fixed, and generates emotive reactions. But this durable answer was not quickly worked out, paving way for the cycle of clashes.

Therefore, these clashes demand that the authorities should devise lasting solutions. This requires that district authorities in Bunyoro, the cattle keepers, and farmers sit down and solve the problem.

As the Kigorobya Sub-county district councillor and Hoima District chairman of production and natural resources committee suggested, the parties should respect the time-honoured land holding rights, and land use in those areas.

This means land at the top of escarpments be set aside for cultivation and areas in lower Albertine escarpments is dedicated to fishing and grazing. Moreover, the parties should come up with clear demarcations of the land as recommended by the police.

More important is the need to involve Ugandans, right from community level, in efforts to find lasting solutions to tribal and land problems. This is crucial because these fights are not limited to the Rwenzori and Bunyoro regions.

In northern Uganda, the clashes had properties destroyed, lives lost, and development stopped. But neutral third parties have stepped in, arbitrated, and created space for chiefs, administrators, and political leaders to stop the wrangles.
Similarly, feuding parties can stop the fights through honest dialogue.