Balaalo ‘take over’ sugar factory land in Amuru

Tuesday January 14 2020

Invasion. Cows graze on the land meant for the

Invasion. Cows graze on the land meant for the sugar project in Orego Village, Amuru District, last Friday. PHOTO BY TOBBIAS JOLLY OWINY 

By TOBBIAS JOLLY OWINY

Residents, who recently surrendered their land to the government for the construction of Amuru sugar factory, have decried takeover of the project site by herdsmen commonly known as Balaalo together with thousands of cattle.
When Daily Monitor visited the site in Orego Village, Pailyec Parish, last week, several herds of cattle could be seen roaming the area. Residents said more than 7,000 heads of cattle are grazing in the villages of Tee-okutu, Bombayi, Orego in Lakang and Kololo parishes.
Mr Michael Ochora, the Orego Village chairperson, said the herdsmen started arriving in the area in April last year and repeated calls to the RDC, Ms Linda Auma, to intervene have been fruitless.
“In November, we marched to the RDC’s office and petitioned her. We had given her two weeks to chase away the herdsmen because of the destruction the animals were causing to the crop plantations neighbouring the project area but up to now, nothing has changed,” Mr Ochora said.
In the letter, a copy of which Daily Monitor has seen, the residents asked the RDC to explain why the land had become a grazing area yet government took it for sugarcane growing.
Mr Francis Otim, a resident, said the cows arrive through Nwoya, Pakwach and Adjumani districts with herdsmen, who are usually armed with machetes.
“Sometimes their cows stray into our maize or sorghum gardens but if you try to chase them away, the herdsmen become hostile and threaten to harm you,” Mr Otim said.
He added that gardens of rice, maize and sorghum have been destroyed by the animals that are even grazed at night.
Mr Michael Lakony, the district chairperson, told Daily Monitor yesterday that 13 head of cattle were found grazing on the land and that some people were returning to reclaim it since it is idle.
In October, Amuru District leaders wrote to the ministry of Lands, demanding an explanation about the presence of pastoralists on the land and when the Madhvani sugar project would start but Mr Lakony said they were not given any feedback.
“Since this is a state project, they are trying to conceal a lot of information from us on what they intend to do. We tend to think that the cattle project belongs probably to some people in government,” he added.
But Mr Denis Obbo, the ministry of Lands spokesperson, said the responsibility of protecting the project land solely lies in the hands of the district local government.
“When herdsmen intrude into the land, it is the district local government to answer. Once government acquires land and the people are compensated like in the case of Amuru, it is the responsibility of the district to safeguard it,” he said in an interview.
Attempts to speak to Ms Auma were futile as she did not pick repeated telephone calls. However, she recently confirmed the presence of herdsmen in the area.
“The community reported to me about the presence of Balaalo on land for the sugar project in Amuru but their number is big that I can’t chase them away singlehandedly. But we asked 4th Division army Commander to give us soldiers so that they are evicted once and for all,” she told journalists recently.
Ms Auma noted that some cattle keepers are suspected to have guns, which makes it risky to visit them.

By TOBBIAS JOLLY OWINY
editorial@ug.nationmedia.com
Residents, who recently surrendered their land to the government for the construction of Amuru sugar factory, have decried takeover of the project site by herdsmen commonly known as Balaalo together with thousands of cattle.
When Daily Monitor visited the site in Orego Village, Pailyec Parish, last week, several herds of cattle could be seen roaming the area. Residents said more than 7,000 heads of cattle are grazing in the villages of Tee-okutu, Bombayi, Orego in Lakang and Kololo parishes.
Mr Michael Ochora, the Orego Village chairperson, said the herdsmen started arriving in the area in April last year and repeated calls to the RDC, Ms Linda Auma, to intervene have been fruitless.
“In November, we marched to the RDC’s office and petitioned her. We had given her two weeks to chase away the herdsmen because of the destruction the animals were causing to the crop plantations neighbouring the project area but up to now, nothing has changed,” Mr Ochora said.
In the letter, a copy of which Daily Monitor has seen, the residents asked the RDC to explain why the land had become a grazing area yet government took it for sugarcane growing.
Mr Francis Otim, a resident, said the cows arrive through Nwoya, Pakwach and Adjumani districts with herdsmen, who are usually armed with machetes.
“Sometimes their cows stray into our maize or sorghum gardens but if you try to chase them away, the herdsmen become hostile and threaten to harm you,” Mr Otim said.
He added that gardens of rice, maize and sorghum have been destroyed by the animals that are even grazed at night.
Mr Michael Lakony, the district chairperson, told Daily Monitor yesterday that 13 head of cattle were found grazing on the land and that some people were returning to reclaim it since it is idle.
In October, Amuru District leaders wrote to the ministry of Lands, demanding an explanation about the presence of pastoralists on the land and when the Madhvani sugar project would start but Mr Lakony said they were not given any feedback.
“Since this is a state project, they are trying to conceal a lot of information from us on what they intend to do. We tend to think that the cattle project belongs probably to some people in government,” he added.
But Mr Denis Obbo, the ministry of Lands spokesperson, said the responsibility of protecting the project land solely lies in the hands of the district local government.
“When herdsmen intrude into the land, it is the district local government to answer. Once government acquires land and the people are compensated like in the case of Amuru, it is the responsibility of the district to safeguard it,” he said in an interview.
Attempts to speak to Ms Auma were futile as she did not pick repeated telephone calls. However, she recently confirmed the presence of herdsmen in the area.
“The community reported to me about the presence of Balaalo on land for the sugar project in Amuru but their number is big that I can’t chase them away singlehandedly. But we asked 4th Division army Commander to give us soldiers so that they are evicted once and for all,” she told journalists recently.
Ms Auma noted that some cattle keepers are suspected to have guns, which makes it risky to visit them.

ABOUT PROJECT
The Amuru sugar project is a joint venture between the Madhvani Group and the government. Upon negotiating with landowners, the Lands ministry successfully completed the acquisition of more than 10,000 hectares of land meant to set up sugarcane estates. Once developed into a sugar estate, the area would create employment for at least 8,000 individuals.

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