The balaalo can surely coexist with the Acholi

Robert Webale

What you need to know:

  • My appeal, therefore, is that let us be open minded and learn to accommodate each other since we are all looking for better survival of ourselves and the generations to come.

Late last month, authorities in the greater northern Uganda ordered the Balaalo herdsmen out of the area as per a presidential directive to evict them.

In a May 19 Executive Order Number 3, President Museveni banned all Balaalo from northern Uganda, accusing them of indiscipline and land grabbing. 

In the order, the President also sought to criminalise nomadism, prescribing a seven-year prison sentence for anyone convicted. He also threatened to have the cattle of the Balaalo found in the north confiscated.

The President, however, directed that only those Balaalo who have not fenced off their land, those without water sources for their animals and those on government land should leave the area. 

However, despite the challenges both the Balaalo and their hosts are facing, I believe these can be amicably resolved and thus the two parties can co-exist.

Security sources say the majority of the pastoralists claim to be from Kyankwanzi, Kiryandongo, Luweero and Bushenyi, who either hire or buy land from the land owners.

Uganda is blessed with a diversity of cultures, with more than 50 ethnic groups. When cultures integrate, they embrace the unique skills from each other, hence increasing creativity and innovation.

With the presence of vast and largely empty land with favourable pasture for livestock production in the Acholi region, the Balaalo are said to have been sneaking into the region to graze their cows since 2013.  This is more than 10 years ago and their numbers have since increased to several hundreds. Chances are that these have since intermarried with the locals, hence creating that family bond which should not just be broken through reckless evictions. If not handled carefully, the evictions might leave behind dysfunctional families, which may affect the future generations.

I believe the Balaalo in northern Uganda have made a healthy contribution to the area. For instance, there has been a reported increase in milk and other cattle products in Acholi Sub-region. This has improved the health wellbeing of the people in the area, especially the children.  

The Balaalo have also boosted the local revenue of Acholi Sub-region following a boost in cattle trade. The materials the Balaalo use on their farms are purchased from the local people, which has improved their economic welfare. Besides, it is common knowledge that offering cows as a gift is rooted in the culture of the Balaalo and, therefore, where intermarriages have occurred, the Acholi and other tribes around have benefited from this practice, thus improving their income. 

There is no doubt that the Acholi have picked some valuable skills from the Balaalo as far as cattle rearing is concerned. 

My appeal, therefore, is that let us be open minded and learn to accommodate each other since we are all looking for better survival of ourselves and the generations to come.

The people of Acholi should be extremely careful with populist narratives being promoted mostly by self-seeking politicians. The Balaalo and the Acholi can peacefully coexist in northern Uganda if some of these politicians spewing sectarianism propaganda are stopped in their tracks.

The leaders in northern Uganda should also handle the issue delicately so as not to entirely lose the positive outcomes of this coexistence.  

I call upon the Balaalo to adhere to the directives and guidance of the President so as to live peacefully with their hosts. 

Mr   Robert Webale  is a former Mbale Resident City Commissioner.