Contemporary Politics of Land "Resistance" In Uganda's Acoli Region
People take shelter under the "dero" from sun heat. Here a woman is shown with her plantains (bananas).
[The Food Movement: Land Ownership In Africa]
GULU, Uganda---Writing in one of the online publications several years ago, Ladit (Elder) Akena p’Ojok, once a friend but now a foe of Ugandan President General Yoweri Museveni, who now lives in exile in London, wrote that the 1995 Uganda Constitution, Article 237, section (1), (3), (4) and The Land Act are based on Buganda model tenure system in total disregard of land tenure in Acoli region.
P'Ojok wrote: “You will discover this veiled path, which leads to a land disaster for Acoli. A bad Acoli may claim a community land; have it registered in his names and obtain a Certificate. He may sell that his (community) land to any alien, without recourse to law, his community or eve his own brother.”
Article 237, section (1) says “Land in Uganda belongs to citizens of Uganda and shall vest in them I accordance with the land tenure systems provided for in this Constitution”. Section (3) says “Land in Uganda shall be owned in accordance with the following land tenure systems: - (a) customary (b) freehold (c) milo and (d) leasehold. Section (4) says “On coming into force of this Constitution:- (a) all Uganda citizens owning land under customary tenure may acquire Certificates of ownership in a manner prescribed by parliament, and (b) “Land under customary tenure may be converted to freehold land ownership by registration”.
“Lu-te-dero” he is talking about literally mean the people who live by and off the granary or food stores, “dero”. These are people, whose livelihood is based on tilling their own land, growing subsistence crops, which they store in “dero”. They also raise small herds of livestock to supplement the diet, use in ceremonies and barter trade. They may grow some cash crops such as cotton, the cash that they use to buy manufactured goods, pay up taxes and school fees. They build their own houses. They are not poor (in spirit) and certainly not beggars. They live in self-sufficiency.
“Lu-te-dero” are a dignified and independent-minded people. It is not uncommon to hear interjections “Pe acamo igang-ngi!” (Meaning “I do not eat from your home”) as a defense of one’s political freedom and the right to be heard.
The point Ladit Akena p’Ojok is emphasizing is that the social and political systems of the Acoli are so inter-twined that one cannot well understand the social without the political. “Dero” is used as a social and status measure. A young family unit (man and wife) cannot be regarded as mature and independent until it has its own “dero”.
The number of “dero” that stands in the compound of the household filled with foodstuff is the measure of the status, food security and dignity of the household. The more the household is established, prosperous and independent, the more he exerts political power. A homestead with kraal of cattle enjoys relatively higher social status. Communalism and brotherhood is their life outlook and preoccupation. They are humble, honest and abhor deceit, and despise thieves and the lazy. They are not commercial minded people. They are “wegi lobo” citizens as well as “wegi ngom” owners of land.
This therefore means there is no such a thing as “customary tenure system” in Acoli but we have only “customary ownership”, which is communal. The land is owned by the Acoli clan-communities and cannot be owned by some abstract contraption as “individual citizens”.
Disan Obwona, 63, is a typical La-te-dero (singular) of Jaka parish, Odek sub-county in Gulu district. He has four granaries (dero) in his compound which are all filled with foodstuffs. His land covers/extends up to two hilly grounds which are separated by a valley. His water sources are two boreholes and a well called “Mon piyo teke”.
According to a commentator on Ladit Akena p’Ojok’s posting, President Museveni and the giant Madhavani Group of Companies are conspiring to defraud the people of Amuru district of the land of their forefathers just like the Christian Missionaries, the Colonial Government in Uganda and the Regents to Kabaka Chwa did to Buganda; grabbing the whole Bugandaland and pronouncing it Crown Land of the Queen of England.
“Without shame, they then return half of the land back to the Kabaka as a gift from the Queen of England, after forcing him to accept what they, the colonizers, have decided for the entire Buganda. This, the Acoli people in general and particularly the people of Amuru District should not allow it to take place, especially when their eyes are still widely open to see what is going on in Uganda”.
According to Ladit Akena p’Ojok, the British colonizers made several attempts since 1898 to force the Acoli to take up private individual ownership of land and this has failed. In 1913, District Commissioner (DC) Postlethwaite, commonly called Bwana Gweno abolished the Acoli mode of communal production and forced the majority of the Acoli out of their homes and herded and garrisoned them in and approximately 25 miles wide on each side of an imaginary straight line drawn from Atura (in Lango sub-region) to Nimule (in South Sudan) to designate a road. He says the colonial administration allocated individual family plots of land to them, but this was not to be because in 1936, there was a mass movement (uprising), and the people abandoned the plots and moved back to their original homes.
According to p’Ojok, the word "peasant" was first used by Europeans to mean a poor and rustic village laborer who has no land of his own. He works on someone else’s land for low wages, or has rented a piece of land from a landowner to whom he pays tent/tax or share his produce. He is always a despised sort and regarded as unsophisticated, simple, artless, rude, unpolished, awkward, uncouth, clownish, coarse, plain, without culture and worthless for politics.
“The nearest approximation to 'peasants' in Uganda is the poor and the landless Abakopi in Buganda. The Governor Johnston bribed Regents of Kabaka Chwa with a pittance 600 pound sterling, which hitherto has been taken for the purchase price of the whole Buganda”.