Acholi warring clan heads elect rival paramount chief 

Mr Richard Santo Apire (second left) addresses journalists recently with Mr Justine Ociti Binyi, the Pagak chief ( left), and Mr John Peko Lugai, the Pajule chief (second right). PHOTO/TOBBIAS JOLLY OWINY

What you need to know:

  • Sources said election was held behind closed doors to avoid interference from the security (police). The media was also locked out of the meeting, in which the organisers claimed to have had a total of 25 participating chiefs.

A group of rival clan chiefs has elected Mr Richard Santo Apire as the new paramount chief of the Acholi cultural institution.

On June 14, the chiefs convened in Kitgum Town and conducted the controversial election at the private residence of Mr John Ogenga Obita, one of the clan chiefs, after police dispersed them from two separate venues where they had planned to hold the election.
 
In the election, Mr Ogenga Obita, Mr Collins Atiko Muttu (Patiko clan), and Mr John Peko Lugai (Pajule clan) were elected as the first deputy paramount chief, second deputy paramount chief, and speaker, respectively.

Sources said election was held behind closed doors to avoid interference from the security (police). The media was also locked out of the meeting, in which the organisers claimed to have had a total of 25 participating chiefs.

Earlier on June 14, the police blocked the meeting in which the chiefs were planning to elect a paramount chief. 

Mr Anatoli Katungwensi, the regional police commander of Aswa East, in a statement said they blocked the meeting for security reasons.
 
“We agreed... that the intended election will be postponed and that there will be discussion between the two parties and a way forward will be found,” Mr Katungwensi said.

He added:  “We, therefore, give no security clearance or guarantee for the said meeting to take place because the intended meeting ought to follow all legal and cultural procedures.”

According to the police, the planned meeting did not follow the legal and cultural practices and it risked causing conflicts.
 
“There is a national threat alert currently, and the meeting is being planned in a very intense environment. Given the intensity surrounding the said meeting, the chosen venue, being a private property and business premises, is not conducive and secure for the said meeting if the meeting unfolds in an unanticipated way,” Mr Katungwesi said.

He added: “The Aswa East Regional Police has not met and discussed with the organisers how the said meeting has been elaborately planned to determine the logistical requirements to provide a secure environment. We are, therefore, constrained to allow the meeting to proceed in this circumstance.”

However, while the police also held a meeting with Mr Apire and five other chiefs at Kitgum Central Police Station and resolved to postpone the election, sources said Mr Apire reportedly regrouped his team at about 8pm on the same day and conducted the elections at Mr Ogenga’s home under the cover of darkness.
 
When asked about the legality of the meeting, Mr Apire said: “We met all the requirements that are required to hold a meeting and an election. But of course, there are some communications that came from him (RPC), copies of [a statement] which we have not seen, that this meeting should be cancelled.” 
 
On June 11, Rwot David Onen Acana II convened a meeting with clan chiefs at his palace to discuss what he termed ‘continuous provocation, manipulative, fraudulent, and dishonest conducts of some breakaway chiefs’ whom he said had consistently purported to be acting on behalf of Ker Kwaro Acholi by extorting money from the public.

He said the meeting devised ways to resolve the conflict, including notifying security organs across the region about the activities of the dissident chiefs who he claimed want to destabilise the Acholi community.

Rwot Acana said: “The chiefs resolved that no chief should organise or attend any social gatherings in another’s chiefdom without informing his counterpart before the events to avoid suspicion and unnecessary conflicts.”

“This group broke off from us last year [2023] in June for reasons best known to themselves, and since then our repeated attempts to call them for dialogue have not yielded any fruit,” he added.
 
But Mr Robert Adongakulu, the spokesman of the rival clan chiefs,  said the election followed the gazettement of a new constitution that their committee finished recently.

“Let it be known that this is not an election for a ‘Rwot’ for, or of, any clan head, but for the titular head of chiefs (paramount chief) who is but one among equals, with a mandate given by the votes (trust) of his peers for the period as prescribed in the new constitution,” he said.
 
Mr Adongakulu said several measures  have been employed to  sabotage their efforts to revamp the chiefdom.
  
He also down played rumours that former prime minister Dr Ruhakana Rugunda is heading a mediation between the two groups of chiefs to solve the problem. 
 
The dispute, according to sources began on June 20, 2023, following a sitting in Gulu City where a group of ‘rebel’ chiefs led by Mr Apire claimed they had dethroned and replaced Rwot Acana as the Acholi Paramount Chief.
 
They accused Rwot Acana of corruption and mismanagement during the construction of houses of chiefs under the Peace Recovery and Development Plan programme.
 
In reaction, Rwot Acana suspended the dissident chiefs , insisting that their agenda was politically motivated.
 
He also asked the chiefs to make a public apology and pay fines slapped on them before they could be allowed to conduct any chiefdom activity or join the council of chiefs.
 
Without disclosing the details of the fines attached to the suspension, Rwot Acana said the rebellious chiefs would be subjected to particular rituals (cleansing) after they broke into the palace’s compound on June 20,2023.
 
“The things they are doing now are not correct; they are forging the official chiefdom documents, headed papers, stamps, and seals. They have doctored these documents several times,” he added. 
 
Mr Geoffrey Okello Okuna, the Ker Kwaro Acholi spokesperson,  said: “The election is not legitimate and the only person that can called for an election or meeting is the paramount chief who is gazetted; and he is Rwot David Onen Acana II, and for any election to take place, there must be a vacant position, and the position of the paramount chief is not vacant.” 
 
He said the position can only become vacant when Rwot Acana retires or “passes on”.  
 
“When such events happen, there will be congratulatory messages from the Ministry of Gender and other cultural institutions like it was in Lango and other cultural institutions. Those are just comedians,” Mr Okuna said.

Mr Michael Otim, the prime minister of Ker Kwaro Acholi,  told Daily Monitor    yesterday that  the council of anointed chiefs are the supreme decision makers.

Mr Otim added that in the June 11 meeting, the council resolved that Mr Apire was not  the chief of Atiak chiefdom  and that he has never been part of Ker Kwaro Acholi.  

“...for that matter, therefore, he  [Mr Apire] is illegitimate. The substantive Rwot of Atiak is Rwot Acero Bongorwot...the council of chiefs resolved that Rwot David Onen Acana II will remain... until he retires,” the  council’s resolution reads in part.