Give non-State actors chance to address Apaa land conflict

Wednesday November 13 2019


By David Martin Aliker

The Saturday Monitor of November 9 carried a story, “Apaa land conflict: Hopes fade as Parliament’s Deputy Speaker Jacob Oulanyah fails to meet victims.”
The story reported that five months down the road, the Oulanyah-led committee that includes Prime Minister Dr Ruhakana Rugunda, Lands minister Betty Amongi, Disaster Preparedness and Refugee minister Hillary Onek, First Deputy Premier Moses Ali, Tourism minister Ephraim Kamuntu and State minister for Northern Uganda Grace Freedom Kwiyucwiny, have never been able to engage the community.
The displaced locals are yet to see the committee reach out to them to hear their side of the story. Hence, Apaa land victims have lost hope in all their endeavours to return to their former homes.
Previously, Dr Rugunda, whom the President had appointed in August last year to head an eight-member committee from both Adjumani and Amuru districts to discuss how best the conflict could be resolved, but failed, had told delegations from the two districts that the disputed Apaa land was part of East Madi Game Reserve in Adjumani and locals settled there should vacate the land. A number of community leaders believe that the government is delaying the whole process so that after elections in 2021, massive eviction takes place.
According to the Amuru District chairperson, Mr Michael Lakony: “What we expected from the new committee were wonders and we thought in the shortest period of time, everything would be resolved so that the displaced people return home to resume their lives afresh.” The Kilak North Member of Parliament, Mr Anthony Akol, says the new team is failing the Apaa people. Therefore, what should the displaced people in Apaa do to end the delay in accessing justice? What should the people of Adjumani and Apaa do to address their local conflicts?
Last month, I was fortunate to attend a customary marriage ceremony in Adjumani District. We spent 3 days of celebrations and partying with the elders and youths. More than 1,000 guests attended the event that included dances late in the night and Mass in the day. Clan elders from Acholi joined their counterparts in Adjumani to dialogue and share meals and dance. Surprisingly, there was no iota of anger or ill feelings, but happiness expressed by the two communities said to be in disharmony with each other. So why has it been impossible to address this conflict over the years?
Local leaders from Amuru and Adjumani should institute local peace committees comprising non-state actors such as cultural leaders, youth leaders, the civil society and religious leaders. The committee should be mandated to use traditional conflict resolution mechanisms to address the land conflict. This will eliminate presence of State actors, many of whom are being accused of land grabbing even when they are acting as mediators in the conflict.
Lack of trust in the different State actors arising from previous experiences, including land grabbing, human rights abuses and corruption makes it impossible for them to be the arbiters of peace-building between the community of Adjumani and Amuru districts.
Non-State actors do not have to weigh the options of post-elections as the best moments to address this conflict between communities that have lived together for centuries. They should work on its peace-building efforts every other day.
Similarly, while the traditional marriage was between two different ethnic groups there were a lot in common in terms of culture and customs, and the differences negligible.
In the same way, there may be differences in traditional mechanisms of building peace, but have may be negligible or a hybrid traditional peace-building mechanism can be agreed upon by the two communities to reach a consensus.
In conclusion, the government has over the years initiated a number of efforts by State actors to address the Apaa land conflict, but have failed to achieve. There is no reason to believe it will be any different. Therefore, the government needs to give a chance to non-state actors to build local peace that is more sustainable using a grassroots approach.

Mr Aliker is an opinion Gulu-based opinion leader.