Locals want Balaalo to vacate Apac ranch

Cows graze at a temporarily holding ground in Lakang Sub-county, Amuru District, at the weekend. PHOTO | JESUS OKELLO OJARA 

What you need to know:

  • Maruzi Ranch covers 64 square miles of land in Akokoro and Ibuje sub-counties. 

Residents living around Maruzi Ranch in Ibuje Sub-county, Apac District, have raised concern over the government’s failure to evict Balaalo,  who are herdsmen,  from their area.

On May 16, 2023, President Museveni issued Executive Order No. 3 in which he said the Balaalo should vacate the north and northeastern regions of the country.

In November, Mr Museveni said Balaalo who bought or hired land but had not fenced it off, do not have water on their land or were on government land such as Maruzi Ranch must vacate within three weeks.

However, at the weekend, residents of Ibuje Sub-county claimed that more than 10,000 heads of cattle belonging to the Balaalo are still grazing in Maruzi Ranch and straying into their farmland.

The affected villages include Rwakisaza, Tarogali, Abongokere, Teboke, Aganga, and Igoti in Aganga.

They raised the concern during a parish security meeting chaired by the Apac Resident District Commissioner (RDC), Mr George Abudul, at Tarogali Trading Centre last week.

Mr Abudul, who is also the head of the district security committee, was told that the cattle belonging to Balaalo were destroying crops, and water sources of residents. 

The Balaalo have also been accused of stealing animals and hiding them at Maruzi Ranch.

Mr Caesar Odur, the Teboke LC1 chairman, said they have informed district authorities about several complaints regarding the continued presence of Balaalo in the district. 

“We hear that Balaalo have already gone but if you go inside the ranch, you find more than 10 kraals for Balaalo. Cattle are coming from the ranch and they are destroying our crops. We have been sending this report to the sub-county and district but in vain,” he said.

Ms Codoline Joyce Anyango, a farmer, said the pastoralists’ cattle are always straying in her gardens. We are suffering a lot,” she said. 

Ms Anyango added: “I would like to request our government to protect us and our property. If the government doesn’t listen to us, we shall demonstrate because we are suffering because of these Balaalo.”  

Mr Tom Ebong Coda, another farmer, wondered why Balaalo had not been evicted yet because the President had already given a directive to that effect.

“We don’t understand why the presidential directive has not been implemented,” he said.

However, the RDC, blamed the failed eviction of Balaalo from Maruzi Ranch on lack of manpower and the current restriction on animal movement in some districts to curb the spread of Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD).

“To push these people from a 64-square mile land is not easy. We should have started this operation but the only problem now is the quarantine that was imposed on some of the districts,” he said. 

Mr Abudul added: “The biggest numbers of people in Maruzi Ranch are coming from those districts. We are only waiting for the Ministry of Agriculture to lift this ban so that animals can be removed and taken to those districts.” 

Early this month, Agriculture minister Frank Tumwebaze said FMD had spread to at least 36 districts including Ssembabule, Kyotera, Bukedea and Mbarara City and that 29 of these are categorised as high-risk  and are under surveillance. 

Mr Asanti Odongo, the Apac District chairperson, said he plans to mobilise the locals to  evict Balaalo out of Maruzi Ranch .

“If the government officials have fail ed to evict the Balaalo,  let them tell us. The community is willing to help security to evict those Balaalo ,” he said.

Mr Odongo added: “If the government  can give us three or five policemen,  we can mobilise a thousand members of the community and drive those people out of the ranch.” 

About maruzi ranch
Maruzi Ranch covers 64 square miles of land in Akokoro and Ibuje sub-counties. 

In 2018, 54 square miles of this land was given away to Hillside Agricultural Investment Ltd for palm oil production. However, a large portion of this land is not yet utilised and it is said to be occupied by the Balaalo.