Brutal skirmishes over the land however intensified in October 2017, after the then Local Government Minister Tom Butime, annexed the land from Pabbo Sub-county in Amuru District and officially handed it to Adjumani District Local government.
It has been close to three months
of relative calm in Apaa Township, a disputed fertile strip of land at the
borders of Amuru and Adjumani Districts in Northern Uganda. But Abraham Opiro,
a resident of Lulai Parish in Apaa village is sceptical that this will last.
About a month ago, Opiro, says a
minor attack on residents in Kalacut village where some grass thatched huts
were torched by unknown arsonists, sent locals in a panic of a looming attack.
“As I speak now, about 200 grass
thatched huts are being erected by locals of Kalacut village who are opting to
stay in a camp for protection fearing repeated attacks. This place has been
calm since September but we are worried if this peace will last,” says Opiro.
resides on the disputed land with his six children and wife returned to what he
calls their ancestral land in 2007 after spending years in an Internally
Displaced People’s Camp in Pabbo following the two-decade Lord’s Resistant
But in February 2012, Opiro along
with close to 6,000 locals found themselves homeless following a forceful
eviction by Uganda Wildlife Authority-UWA rangers under the guidance of the
Ministry of Tourism. The government accused them of encroaching on a protected
East Madi Game reserve.
Although he returned to his land
shortly, Opiro says numerous eviction threats by the government and attacks by
unknown armed men have left him uncertain of peacefully living with his family.
Home to some 26,000 people
according to an unofficial door-to-door census and measuring approximately 827 sq.
miles, Apaa township, has been at the centre of a dispute for nearly ten years
now. Residents and leaders in Amuru and Adjumani Districts both claim the
disputed area is their ancestral land while UWA claims it’s a protected game
Brutal skirmishes over the land
however intensified in October 2017, after the then Local Government Minister
Tom Butime, annexed the land from Pabbo Sub-county in Amuru District and
officially handed it to Adjumani District Local government.
Sheikh Musa Khelil, the Acholi
District Muslim Khadi also the Vice-Chairperson of the Acholi Religious Leaders
Peace Initiative (ARLPI) attributes the genesis of the current bloodshed to the
government’s forceful demarcation of the land. He alleges that despite the
clear history that the disputed land belongs to the Acholi community, greedy
individuals with ill motives went ahead and annexed the land at the expense of its
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But in May 2018, President Yoweri
Museveni while speaking at a fundraising drive in Atiak Sub-county in Amuru
District defended the decision to demarcate the contentious land. He said that the
government surveyors used British colonial maps which had the old district
boundaries to locate the Apaa boundary which was found to be in Adjumani
District. Whereas his statement was lauded by the Madi community, it received
backlash from locals and leaders in Acholi Sub-region.
Anthony Akol, the Kilak North
legislator also the Acholi Parliamentary Group Chairperson told Uganda Radio
Network in an interview that the President was wrongly fed with details of the
demarcation exercise. He accused the
then Local Government Minister Tom Butime of siding with leaders from Adjumani
to illegally erect a mark stone on the contentious land minus the involvement
of Amuru leaders.
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Despite the growing contention,
the government has for all this period maintained its stand on evicting locals,
alleging that they are illegally occupying the protected East Madi Game Reserve
and Zoka Forest land all inside Itirikwa Sub-county in Adjumani district.
But the several attempts have
ended with bloodshed, destruction of houses and household properties, arrest,
and illegal detention of people perceived to be defiant. For years, the President,
religious, political, and traditional leaders from Acholi and Madi have held
back-to-back dialogue meetings to end violence in Apaa but with minimal
success. For instance, when the President visited Apaa land in August 2018, he
made three key proposals aimed at solving the land dispute.
His proposals included the
relocation of Acholi people to areas in Acholi land with compensation,
cautioning locals already occupying Apaa Trading Centre from extending to Zoka
Forest, and acquisition of land nearer the populated area of Adjumani to settle
locals already residing in Adjumani district but inside Zoka Forest.
The President later in 2018
appointed the former Prime Minister Dr Ruhakana Rugunda to head a committee on
finding lasting peace in Apaa before appointing Jacob Oulanyah, the Speaker of
Parliament for the same role in 2019. But some leaders suggest that honesty,
goodwill from the government, and political leaders would have helped to end
the conflict much earlier.
Sheikh Musa Khelil believes an
easy way to end the conflict over the land is for the government to portray goodwill
for the two communities instead of making rational decisions that pit the
communities against others. He also notes that leaders from both sides should
agree to listen to each other to come to a common ground.
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Amuru Resident District
Commissioner Geoffrey Osborn Oceng says the conflict over Apaa is political and
therefore needs a political solution. Oceng says the mantle now lies with the
committee of Parliament to degazette the area into a human settlement instead
of a game reserve.
Apaa land was reportedly gazetted
as East Madi Wildlife Game Reserve in 2002 by the Parliament at the request of
the Adjumani District Local Government.
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He notes that Apaa being a
“virgin” land endowed with natural resources, us attracting several actors whom
he says are currently profiting from the lucrative trade in timber and charcoal
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His counterpart the Adjumani
Resident District Commissioner Peter Taban Data also reiterates that the greed
by several actors over resources and vast chunks of land in Apaa is the driving
force behind the conflict. He however maintained the land rightfully belongs to
the Adjumani district local government as opposed to what the leaders from Amuru
“It’s only land, people are
crying for land, others want land so that they sell it to others, its
economics. there is nothing there,”
Taban told URN in a telephone interview on Wednesday.
Rev. Geoffrey Loum, the Bishop of
Northern Uganda Diocese says honesty on the parts of people settled in Apaa and
the government will help resolve the land dispute.
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Rev Loum says that as long as
there is dishonesty among the actors in the Apaa land, no amount of dialogue
will help to settle down the disputes.
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In August last year, in one of
the several attempts to find a solution to the Apaa land dispute, the President
met with a team of nine eminent leaders from the Acholi Sub-region at Nakasero
State Lodge. The leaders were led by Chief Justice Alphonse Owiny Dollo and
included Gen. Charles Otema Awany, the UPDF Reserve Force Commander, and
National Resistance Movement Secretary-General Richard Todwong.
Others in attendance were the Minister for
Relief, Disaster Preparedness, and Refugees also Lamwo County legislator
Hillary Onek, APG Chairperson Anthony Akol, Bardege-Layibi legislator Martin
Ojara Mapenduzi, Amuru District Chairperson Michael Lakony, and Nwoya Woman
Legislator Judith Achan.
The President, during the meeting,
directed that a special judicial Commission of Inquiry headed by a senior judge
be set up to find a lasting solution to the Apaa land woes. The President later
in early September met with a section of leaders from the West Nile Sub-region
headed by Grace Freedom Kwiyucwiny, the State Minister for Northern Uganda the
Akol told URN in an interview
that whereas the Judicial Commission of Inquiry hasn’t yet been established,
both the team from Acholi and West Nile sub-regions are expected to meet
jointly with the President this month to forge a permanent solution.
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With no solution in sight over
the land dispute for a decade now, the provision of Health and Education services
to residents of Apaa remains at a standstill. While learners across the country
will next week return to school, parents in Apaa are uncertain whether their
children will study. The majority of their community primary schools were
demolished while others turned into army detaches.
Amuru District Education
department also years ago withdrew its financial support to Apaa Community
Primary school after the government annexed the land to Adjumani district.
Joyce Lanyero, the Amuru District
Education Officer told URN in an interview that they could not continue
offering support to the school because it is in a contentious land. “We can’t
go there when it’s a contentious area, but the community will give us another
land that is considered in Amuru then we shall support them,” She said.
Equally, Apaa Health Center II,
the only government health facility in the area has been non-functional for the
last two years after UWA officials closed down alleging it’s on a game reserve.
Dr Patrick Odong Olwedo, the
Amuru District Health Officer acknowledges the closure of the health facility
and notes that the government to date still allocates Primary Health Care funds
and drugs. He however notes that the closure of the facility has affected
thousands of patients and expectant mothers who trek long distances in search
of health services.
About 20 people have been killed
since 2012 and more than 840 homes were reportedly destroyed between late 2017
and June 2018 arising from forceful evictions and attacks by unknown people.