Thursday August 7 2014

Boundary disputes fuelling conflict in north

A woman explains a point after she was recently

A woman explains a point after she was recently evicted from Laguri village, Ywaya parish Lamwo District. More than 13 families were left homeless when court bailiffs and a group of men armed with machetes stormed their village and ordered them to leave before razing down their huts and setting them ablaze. Photo by Dan Michael Komakechi. 

By Martin Odong & Cissy Makumbi

People in Acholi sub-region had hoped for a peaceful return home after two decades of war, however, this seems to be fading as northern Uganda gets embroiled in boundary disputes that has seen several properties destroyed, lives lost and developments halted.

Recently a severe dispute broke out over boundaries separating Atiak Sub-county in Amuru District and Palaro Sub-county in Gulu District.

Residents at border points of the two sub-counties are preventing each other from cultivating on the disputed land in the areas of Mede, Oroko, Gwei and Lagot-Oywec all in Palaro Sub-county.

The piece of land in question stretches to more than 10 kilometers and the dispute dates back to 2008 after Amuru was carved out of Gulu District in 2006.

The Palaro Sub-county chairperson, Mr David Ngole, says families residing on either sides of the districts borders have become hostile and are preventing each other from tilling the land.
“The administrative boundaries are well known, but at times they just have personal interests in the particular areas,” he says.

His counterpart of Atiak Sub-county in Amuru District, Mr John Bosco Ocan, says the border disputes cannot be solved by arrows and spears but the best way is to involve local leaders in the disputes.

Other areas where there are administrative border conflicts are Bobi Sub-county in Gulu District, Koch Goma Sub-county in Nwoya District and Odek Sub-county in Gulu and Oyam District at theborder.

The Gulu District chairperson and the boss of all chairpersons in the Acholi sub-region, Mr Martin Ojara Mapenduzi, says: “Fights will not take us far.

After the war we had hoped for peace as an avenue of helping each other, but to our dismay, locals have turned swords on one another.”

Changing the tone
However, Ms Catherine Lamwaka, the Gulu Resident District Commissioner, says leaders should change their tone, especially when they are commenting on land disputes.

“Instead of inciting people, leaders must educate them on co-existence,” she says. In Amuru District, there is a long standing boarder conflict border between residents in Adjumani and Apaa in Amuru District. Both residents claim ownership of Apaa.

However, the same land is claimed by Uganda Wildlife Authority as part of East Madi Wildlife Reserve.

In May, more than 100 residents of Adjumani District majority of them, cultivators and food producers were held hostage for over six hours by Amuru residents impounding 24 motorcycles along with a truck.

Ms Suzan Mildred Aber, a land officer in Amuru District, says: “Dialogue should remain paramount within communities as district borders only ease administration but not to dividing people.”

Similarly in Nwoya District, the Jonam and Acholi people have been conflicting over boundaries connecting the two areas in Latooro Parish and Purongo Sub-county. The Jonam accuse the leadership in Nwoya District of being behind eviction threats in the area.

The threats
They say threats to evict them are superficial as they have lived in the area for decades but had only fled during the war to West Nile.
“Our people have been here since 1974, but they are getting threats of eviction,” a Jonam chief Rwoth Charles Ottober, says.

However, Mr Patrick Oryema, the Nwoya District chairperson, says the Jonam must respect the leadership of Nwoya where they live. “We have no problem with the Jonam, but our concern is the increasing numbers of the coming here,” he says.

According to Mr Oryema, the Jonam keep ferrying people, who have never lived here.

“They [Jonam] themselves are the source of confusion, they keep on selling off their land and in return they accuse locals being denied access to their land,” he says.

In May, gun-shots rocked Obira village in Purongo Sub-county in Nwoya District after a group of armed cattle keepers waylaid police and residents who had gone to settle a land dispute involving cattle keepers and the Jonam.

The Jonam had confiscated cattle belong to the herdsmen on allegations that they were feeding in their gardens.

However, in retaliation, the herdsmen, who were armed, descended on the Joman demanding that they release of their cattle thus calling for police intervention. In Lamwo District, border conflicts have been cited in Lokung Sub-county between people in South Sudan and Uganda.

According to Mr Jovan Opira, the Lokung Sub-county chairperson, some people from South Sudan are claiming for a piece of land that is 15 kilometres inside Uganda.

Stealing cattle
Since the beginning of the year several kraals have been raided and more than 100 heads of cattle stolen.

In Pader District, there is a conflict between, Awere and Puranga Sub-counties, in which Olet communal grazing land is being claimed by an individual.

The land in question [10 acres] has been grazing area; however, an individual claims that the land belongs to him which has raised a number of questions.

Last year during the inter district conflict meeting in Kitgum District, Acholi Paramount Chief Rwot David Onen Acana II, advised Acholi chiefs to stay away from land related disputes, saying these issues have been negatively impacting the kingdom’s image.

Similarly during his visit to the region, Assistance Inspector of Police and director of special duties, Mr Andrew Sorowen, asked various stakeholders in the region to intervene in resolving land matter amicably.

In 2006 when people started to voluntarily return to their homes, some using the advantage to grab other’s land which has feulled conflict as real owners also lay claim to the lands, according to Ms Alice Adong, a resident in Agung in Purongo Sub-county in Nwoya District.

However, she says the situation has not been helped and has now become a source of insecurity in the region.

Likewise, Safer World Uganda, an NGO resolving boarder conflict in Apaa, says there are a lot of flash points that need to be dealt with especially in Amuru and Adjumani districts.