Tension remains high in the West Nile border town of Moyo as residents protest against brutal attacks by suspected South Sudanese on villagers along the border stretch where a long-running border dispute persists. The conflict arises from a border dispute at Wano Village in Lefori Sub-county in Moyo District, an area which is claimed by both Uganda and South Sudan as part of their territory.
The media recently reported that about 50 South Sudanese had attacked the area and looted household property, cattle and burnt about several huts, which forced people to flee their homes. The skirmishes have displaced 108 families in the last one week, and this could escalate into a bigger crisis if not handled urgently.
These attacks come on the heels of another attack where the South Sudanese security officials arrested and tortured 35 Ugandans, including census officials and journalists covering the census in Wano Village, as they were deemed to be operating in South Sudanese territory.
This conflict over a small piece of land brings memories of when our military forces almost went to war with neighbouring Kenya over a small island called Migingo, which is precisely the size of a football pitch. This war threat pushed the two good neighbours, also big trade partners, into diplomatic embarrassment.
In August 2007, Uganda almost went to full-scale war against the government of DR Congo over a tiny island of Rukwanzi, which lies at the southern tip of Lake Albert. Rukwanzi was seen as a strategic location for oil exploration.
The country has also experienced tribal/district border clashes with the most recent being the clash between residents of Nwoya and Nebbi districts over land located some five kilometres away from the boundary of River Nile. And lives have been lost.
On January 8, 2010, more than 150 farmers from Kamonkoli Sub-county in Budaka District raided Namatala wetland in Mbale and killed a farmer from Bunghoko, Mutoto Sub-county in Mbale, sparking a row that would culminate into deaths over a border dispute between the Bagisu and Bagwere.
First, the Uganda and South Sudanese governments should move swiftly to settle the border conflict in Moyo and other border points before things get out of hand. If need be, the two governments should involve a third party, the British government, which was the main architect at delineating this border in 1914.
In the words of Moyo District Woman MP Anne Auru, “if not handled properly, the situation could escalate into a bigger crisis”.
Mr Daniel Deng of the South Sudan National Legislative Council, who led the Juba delegation to Uganda soon after the attacks, couldn’t say it more candidly: “Since the Anyanya 1 war, we have been living peacefully in Uganda because it has become our second home. So we want our people to stay peacefully. We have a crisis in South Sudan which should not be extended to the borders with Uganda.”
Border disputes spark wars, an example being the war that eventually booted Idi Amin from power in 1979. Amin had declared war on Tanzania in an attempt to bring back what he called part of Uganda’s territory - Kagera region which, to him, had been unfairly given to the Germans at the time of delineating Uganda’s colonial boundaries. President Nyerere supported the exiled Ugandan rebels to wage war against Amin.
It was the same Amin who once threatened to invade Kenya. The mission was to bring back Kisumu which, he said, was initially part of Uganda before the final boundaries were drawn in 1914. Actually, Amin’s idea was to redraw the map of Uganda as a “square map”.
Secondly, the government should seriously rethink the policy of creating new districts, which has seen districts split into smaller units, a situation which is escalating inter-tribal border disputes.
Mr Akampurira is secretary, external affairs at National Youth Council. [email protected]