Balaalo are proxies for ministers, generals - CJ

President Museveni addresses residents of Amuru District affected by Balaalo settlers on November 3. Inset is the Chief Justice, Alfonse Owiny-Dollo. PHOTO |  PPU

What you need to know:

  • Justice Owiny Dollo disclosed that he told President Museveni that ministers and military generals who are supposed to advise him on the Balaalo issue ‘‘are [instead] dragging them deeper into the pit”. 

Chief Justice Alfonse Owiny-Dollo has said the Balaalo (nomads) marauding in northern Uganda are proxies for army generals and ministers grabbing land in the region.

 Featuring on a talk show on Radio Rupiny on Friday, Justice Owiny-Dollo revealed that he had conveyed the same position to President Museveni during a meeting on October 18.

 “I told him that we previously thought the herdsmen bothering our people in the region were the (original) Balaalo, but we have discovered that these are the modern-day Balaalo. These (modern-day) Balaalo in a letter your brother (Gen Salim Saleh) wrote to you are 15 of your ministers, and army generals,” he stated.

 The Chief Justice heads the Judiciary, one of the three arms of government, and hails from Acholi.

 Justice Owiny-Dollo did not in the radio talk show that lasted for three hours clarify whether his comments were in official or personal capacity.

 He, however, said he had made it clear to the President that the Balaalo question, which is a touchy issue in national discourse, is unsettling natives some of who he said falsely claim there’s a government agenda against them.

 “I challenged him (the President) as to why he allows his army generals to go and grab land belonging to Acholis. I said, ‘the Balaalo who are there are (your) army generals because your brother (Gen Saleh) wrote to you pointing that the land owners were your ministers and army chiefs, the same ministers who would have been helping you to save the Acholi, they are instead robbing land to add on the problems of the Acholi’”, the CJ said in a recount of his conversation with the head of state.

 Others guests who featured on the same talk show on Radio Rupiny alongside the Chief Justice included UPDF Reserve Force Commander, Lt Gen Charles Otema Awany and Members of Parliament from Acholi sub-region.

 The Balaalo are a group of nomadic pastoralists from western Uganda, the backyard of President Museveni, and they over the years have settled in other parts of the country to a rejection by agrarian communities who complain of free-range cattle destroying gardens.

Those voices of disapproval have echoed loudly mainly in Acholiland, the former epicenter of the near two-decade Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) insurgency, where Kilak South lawmaker Gilbert Olanya and former Aruu MP Odonga Otto have led the campaign to evict the Balaalo.

 Similar sentiments have been expressed in West Nile and Lango sub-regions, prompting President Museveni in Executive Order 3 issued in May to, among others, direct that the nomads without paddocked farms or water on their land should leave northern Uganda.

 However, the implementation of this aspect of the order remained wet in the wings after Gen Salim Saleh, a brother to the President who doubles as his senior advisor on Defence matters, wrote to inform him that some natives in Acholi objected to the blanket removal of the Balaalo on grounds that they acquired the land legally.

 Acholi leaders shot back saying land in the region is communally owned and no individual can claim a right to sell it out to third parties.

 Gen Saleh, who has intermittently based in Gulu City, the de facto headquarters of Acholi sub-region over the years, had also noted that the time given to the Balaalo to depart was too short and some could as a result suffer avoidable injustice.

 The Ping Pong led President Museveni to extend implementation of the Executive Order on the Balaalo three times --- on July 2, October 1 and October 21 --- with the period for the last extension lapsing on Friday, this week.

At the Friday talk show, Justice Owiny Dollo disclosed that he told President Museveni in last month’s meeting that ministers and military generals who are supposed to advise him “on how to get the Acholi people out of this problem are [instead] dragging them deeper into the pit”.

 Claims that some leaders from Acholi were tribalistic for demanding that the Balaalo leave, the Chief Justice argued, were incorrect because the pastoralists had previously been evicted from Bunyoro, Teso and Lango without the natives in those sub-regions being labelled tribalists.

 “I asked him (President Museveni) ‘why is it that when Acholi people begin to demand that the Balaalo must leave, then you say Acholi people hate other tribes?’ … [the President’s] first Executive Order (of May) must work,” he said, quoting his conversation with the President.

Chief Justice Alfonse Owiny-Dollo

 Mr Museveni reportedly told the delegation led by Justice Owiny-Dollo to coexist with the Balaalo herdsmen instead of crying foul and lamenting over the crimes being committed by them.

 “What you are talking about is very easy. You give me factual examples of the crimes being committed so that I have where to move in,” President Museveni was quoted to have said.

 The Balaalo question has galvanised natives and leaders there, both political and civic, to speak with one voice in demanding the pastoralists depart.

 For instance, in comments at a thanksgiving service to honour Rtd Bishop Mcleod Baker Ochola in Kitgum Municipality on November 12, Justice and Constitutional Affairs Minister, Mr Norbert Mao, who hails from Acholi, said any compromise on the herdsmen renders the Executive Order meaningless.

 “He (Museveni) said the herdsmen must be expelled, expulsion means once you are chased, you must not return. There is no shame in this matter because it was the President’s order which is just like a law itself,” minister Mao said.

 He added: “I have never found a law that is passed and people begin debating it. You don’t debate a law. And it has nothing to do with tribalism. The President himself defines them as [u]ndisciplined cattle keepers. When you are in my home, you should follow the rules.”

 We were unable to speak to State House following the revelations that the Chief Justice made on radio regarding his conversations with President Museveni at the October 18 meeting that Refugees and Disaster Preparedness Minister Hillary Onek, State Internal Affairs Minister Henry Okello-Oryem and his Economic Monitoring counterpart, Ms Beatrice Akello, attended.

 Earlier, Mr Farouk Kirunda, the deputy presidential press secretary, said the Executive Order was very much alive and would be implemented and the Balaalo exited.

 “The Executive Order still stands and the President’s position is very clear, on the 25th of November the deadline is expiring and the next day the team of resident district commissioners and security will kick off the eviction,” Mr Kirunda said.

 In a November 7 letter addressed to all resident district commissioners (RDCs) in West Nile, Acholi and Lango sub-regions, the State Minister for Northern Uganda, Ms Grace Kwiyucwiny, detailed how the President’s order on eviction of the “undisciplined Balaalo who bought or hired land, but have not fenced the land nor have water for their cattle on the land and those [on] government land of Lakang, Aswa and Maruzi ranches and Got Apwoyo reserve” would be implemented.

 Mr Museveni reiterated the order during a visit on November 3 to Okidi Village in Amuru, giving the Balaalo three weeks to leave, which lapses this Friday.

 Minister Kwiyucwiny tasked the RDCs, working with district executive committee members, to superintend implementation of the directive, with technical support from respective district veterinary officers.  She asked them to brief the Balaalos and chairpersons of applicable Local Councils.

 “Your task will be to identify all Balaalo in your respective districts and assess the fence and water on their farms; identify all the Balaalo on government land; identify holding grounds for the cattle ready to be exited [from the sub-regions]; identify location(s) for cattle market for those who would like to sell [their cattle]; and, escort the animals to the respective holding grounds and, subsequently, out of the district,” she noted.

 Ms Kwiyucwiny also detailed documentation required in the evictions and specified Masindi Port and Karuma as final exit points for the departing Balaalo and their animals, depending on sub-region they are leaving.

 The Presidential Executive Order 3 issued on May 19 banned all Balaalo from northern Uganda, labelling them as undisciplined, and prescribed a seven-year imprisonment for convicted violators.


Justice Owiny-Dollo on Friday hinted that Gen Salim Saleh, whom were unable to reach for this article, telephoned him to register his displeasure that the May 19 Executive Order authorising the ejection of the cattle keepers was “wrong” as it gave them tight deadline to relocate.  

He said he informed the President that presumptions that the Balaalo are a solution to get Acholis out of the problems they are mired in would suggest President Museveni’s unwillingness or incapacity to build the sub-region back from years of ruinous LRA conflict.