Uganda: Agriculture Minister Says land dispute shouldn't be seen as Ethnic bias

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Gulu-Uganda: The Minister of Agriculture, animal industry and fisheries has cautioned the country against viewing the Balaalo (pastoralists) land issue in the northern part of Uganda as related to ethnic bias.

While speaking to a meeting of security committee members and the Balaalo at Gulu district council hall on Friday last week, Vincent Bamulangaki Ssempijja told the Balaalo --as the pastoralists from Western Uganda who travel with their huge herd of cattle are known-- and their leaders that they were being asked to leave the northern part of Uganda because of their conduct that was disrespectful and inconsistent with the way of life of the Acholi community.

“People should not take it that the Acholi are chasing you away from their land. You cannot come here, allow your cows to graze on people’s sorghum gardens calling it tall green grass. That is wrong and unacceptable,”

he said, adding that the Acholi and the Banyankole have a good relationship that should not be mixed with the misbehavior of a few individuals in the society.

“The Acholis were paying back in a way because you hosted them when they had problems, now they are hosting you. But how do you do it? Do you just brig animals here, in an acre of land, you bring about 300 animals that are grazing that needs about 500 acres of land? I think now everybody sees the problem," Ssempijja told the cattle keepers.

The dispute between the Acholi community and the Balaalo started in 2015 when the district leadership failed to peacefully settle problems arising from animals straying into people’s gardens and the community claimed the cattle keepers were arrogant and referred to sorghum and millet, Acholi stable foods as tall grass fit for their cattle to consume.

Ssempijja warned the Balaalo against tricking the Acholi land owners who rent their land to them saying such dishonesty breeds conflict.

“It’s like you trick these fellows to say I will bring 100 cows and you ring 900. You go there and convince the others using this little paper and you bring 900,"  he noted.

Peter Okoya, a land owner in Iraa Village, Palaro Sub County, Gulu district says his family was forced to rent land to the Balaalo since they were no longer respecting boundaries and their animals were destroying crops in their gardens.

Okoya and his family rented out 400 acres of land for two years at 3million shillings, about $850.

“We gave our land because the animals were already grazing in it. Returning their 3million shillings is not difficult if they don’t fence the land they rented.”

He adds;

“Now we are surviving on food from Paluda Refugee camp in Lamwo district. We buy posho, cooking oil and beans from because our crops were destroyed by the Balaalo cattle apart from rice.” Explains Okoya.

Okoya says efforts to get help from local and district leaders were futile since meetings never yielded any fruit.

“Sometimes, the day you sit with district leaders, you see vehicles full of animals entering the sub county. They mostly come at night and some guard the animals with guns,”  says Okoya.

Robert Agaba, one of the cattle owners with around 200 cattle rented land for two years in Oroko village, Mede parish in Palaro Sub County said he did not know the measurement of the land he hired in acres.

“They just pointed for me the boundaries in miles. We put the agreement in miles. But I will fence it. I have no problem with that," he says.

Agaba however could not tell our reporter the number of miles put in the agreement.

Martin Ojara Mapenduzi, Gulu LCV Chairman told the meeting on Friday that the Balaalo should understand that exploiting the ignorance of the local population is wrong.

“They came and make agreements with the land owners where in some cases, an acre of land is rented at 1,000/= per year if you do the calculation. They are giving our people peanuts and they are very arrogant as you can see from the way they are talking in this meeting," an angry Mapenduzi pointed out.

He adds;

“When you come with your ranks and you want to intimidate our people, we shall not accept.”

Gulu district has about 4,000 cattle mostly in Palaro Sub County.

Godfrey Oringa Largo, Pader LCV Chairman told the minister that the security situation in his district is volatile due to conflicts caused among the community by the Balaalo who leave their animals to stray and destroy crops from gardens.

“As we sit here, the situation back at home, the temperature is hot. People no longer want the Balaalo in the community.”

President Yoweri Museveni on 24th October, 2017 issued a directive after that the Balaalo should leave the northern part of Uganda since they are causing conflict and their animals destroying people’s crops.

He ordered those who have genuine land agreements to fence the land to prevent animals from straying.

Minister Ssempijja asked the Resident District Commissioner of Pader to ensure that peace prevails.

“Even when the temperature is high, make sure you protect life and property and no one is hurt. We are stopping nomadism in the whole country, no one is going to say I am a general. You have to follow the law and the culture of the people you find in that area. ” The minister ordered.

Milton Kato, Gulu Chief Administrative Officer to read out the resolutions of the meeting to more than 200 Balaalo cattle owners gathered at the council hall giving two months deadline to move their animals out of the region back to where they came from.

He said the issue surrounding the Balaalo should never be taken as motivated by ethnic bias "but mismanagement of wealth has caused the problem. Actions of some cattle owners who did not follow procedure like getting movement permits and letter of no objection and transporting large numbers of animals in the night as opposed to the law.”

Kato added that the two months period given by the Minister of Agriculture is to allow the ministry tonprocure vaccines for the 150,000 cattle in the region to avoid the spread of Food and Mouth Disease that is already a problem in 27 other districts in the country.

Other resolutions of the meeting included;

The presidential directive shall stand and the Balaalo must leave in two months after vaccination of their cattle by government. No more ferrying of animals to Northern Uganda from other parts of the country until the matter is resolved. All animals will be vaccinated beginning 5th February and animals brought without legal document should leave the region by March, 2018 and agreements reviewed by district leaders together with clan heads since land in the region is communally owned. All cattle keepers with legal requirements must fence the land they rent if they are to continue grazing their animals in the region and cattle keepers must respect the culture of the Acholi people.

 

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