A team consisting leaders from Adjumani District and Acholi last week failed – after third round of negotiations – to agree on President Museveni’s options of ending the long-running land conflict between the Madi and Acholi communities. The two ethnic groups both claim ownership of the contested land that borders Amuru and Adjumani districts.
Land issues are emotive and require careful negotiations. To reach an amicable resolution, there must be widespread consultations and sensitisation of the affected communities. Involvement of neutral parties is also key to rein in raw emotions and guide the teams to come up with fair resolutions.
That the negotiations have yet again suffered a setback is disappointing because this wrangle has gone on for long; has claimed many lives and displaced many families. Last year, four people were killed and 21 sustained serious injuries following violent clashes over the contested land. More than 100 grass-thatched houses were torched by men armed with machetes, spears, bows and arrows. An estimated 700 people were left homeless!
The fight for the contested 40-square kilometre Apaa land has had a history of counterattacks over the years. The Apaa boundary question has been made more complex because part of the land is also being claimed by the Uganda Wildlife Authority as a game reserve.
To avoid further clashes, an amicable resolution of the conflict should be the priority of the eight-member committee from the Madi and Acholi communities tasked to reach a consensus. The negotiations, chaired by Prime Minister Ruhakana Rugunda, are no doubt a positive step in the long-running attempts to ensure the two communities live peacefully as neighbours.
The talks that kicked off in September follow President Museveni’s recommendations on the land conflict. The President had earlier issued proposals, which the leaders of the two communities were tasked to discuss and find a solution to the conflict. The recommendations included relocating the settlers to Acholi area with government support and compensation; allow genuine land owners to settle on the land but be restricted from expanding to gazetted areas and be offered a portion of land near Adjumani Town, which is outside gazetted land.
Last Saturday’s negotiation, however, failed to take the talks forward. This is unhelpful. Since the negotiating teams have been given more time to consult and come up with final submissions before government makes a conclusive decision, the two communities should use this chance to resolve this conflict once and for all.