Evicted Apaa residents return to disputed land

Saturday January 02 2021
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Apaa residents who fleed their homes following a clash over the contested land, have returned to their ruined villages of Lulai, Gaji, Acholi ber and Pundyanga. PHOTO/TOBBIAS JOLLY OWINY.

By Cissy Makumbi

More than 7,000 households who were evicted from the disputed Apaa land that is located on the border between Adjumani and Amuru districts, have returned.

The land that is claimed by the two  district,  is  also claimed by Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) . The UWA says the disputed land is part of East Madi Wildlife Reserve.

The government evicted people from the  disputed land following several clashes between the Madi ethnic group from Adjumani and their Acholi neighbours from Amuru.
There were also repeated clashes between members of the two rival ethnic groups and UWA rangers.

The clashes led to death of several people in 2019 and destruction of property.  Hundreds  were displaced.
Locals who have since opted to return to their original homes, told Saturday Monitor that government has  made no effort to resettle them on another land. They said their nearly two-year stay in internally displaced peoples’ camps is unbearable.

Ms Cecelia Akumu Akera, one of the affected persons who returned to rebuild her home in  Lulai village, said: “Government has failed to resettle us elsewhere after being evicted from an area we once called home. Its avenue to settle the matter between the Acholi and Madi seems not to work out,’’ she said

Ms Akera, a mother of five, said she is now the only breadwinner after her husband abandoned her with their  children.

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“Feeding is a challenge since many of us cannot return to our homes to do small farming to feed the large families. The only school in the area was also closed, leaving our children with no access to education,” she added.

Gerald Olum, 82, a resident of Acholi ber village, said he  returned to spend the remaining years of his life in his ancestral home.
 Olum, 82, said at his age there is little to lose since some of his children died in the 2019 attack on their village.

“As much as I have paid a deaf ear and decided to return  to this place where I was evicted from two years ago,  I know any time the attackers  will come and strike again, but I have no choice,’’ he said. 

Mr Michael Lakony, the LC5 chairperson of Amuru District, said:  “Politics have been key in causing violence to the people of Apaa. That is why right now since many want to get into offices, they are silent on the matter and immediately after election fire is expected.’’ 
“The  violence and destroyed was done by people themselves who are within the community,” Mr Peter Data Taban, the Adjumani Resident District Commissioner, said.

In May last year, President Museveni appointed Deputy Speaker Jacob Oulanyah to chair a  committee to seek a solution to the Apaa land wrangles.
Since then, there has been no progress as Mr Oulanyah is still waiting for the terms of reference from President Museveni to kick start negotiations between the two conflicting tribes.

Mr Oulanyah replaced Prime Minister Ruhakana Rugunda, who the President appointed in 2018 to head an eight-member committee from both Adjumani and Amuru to discuss his recommendations on ending the land impasse but it did not yield fruit.

In 2015, the government began processes to demarcate administrative boundaries between Amuru and Adjumani districts in what it described as a move to restore calm among communities settled on the land.
 In October 2017, the Local Government Minister Tom Butime officially handed over Apaa to Adjumani District officials after completing a demarcation exercise, sparking off another clash among the two communities.

In June 2017, 10 people died and more than 20 others were  injured after a clash broke out between  the Acholi and Madi communities, with the Acholi suffering the largest numbers of casualties.
In August 2018, President Museveni unveiled a three-point proposal on ending the Apaa land crisis and called for formation of a 16-member committee from both Acholi and Adjumani districts headed by Prime Minister Ruhakana Rugunda.

He subsequently visited the disputed land in 2018, where he held meetings with both locals and district leaders.

Government position
Government maintains that the area in question is part of East Madi Wildlife Game Reserve and Zoka Central Forest Reserve respectively that was gazetted by Parliament in 1963, a claim backed by the Adjumani District local government officials.

editorial@ug.nationmedia.com

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