Alleged Government Plans For "Investors" Confront "People Power" In Uganda Land Struggle

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Gen. Salim Saleh, brother to Gen. Museveni -- origin of land struggle in Acholi goes back decades


When the younger brother of President Yoweri Museveni, Gen. Caleb Akandwanaho, a.k.a. Gen. Salim Saleh invited me on Sunday, 7th November 1997 to cover the launch of his new organization which he said was designed to help Uganda's Acholi people get out of poverty by teaching them how to utilize their land, he probably did not realize the headache he was creating for his elder brother politically.

The organization: SALIM SALEH FOUNDATION FOR HUMANITY (SSFH) spoke of engaging on large scale commercial farming in Acholi at a time when the people were being displaced forcefully by the government force, the Uganda Peoples’ Defense Force (UPDF), on the one hand, and the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) rebels on the other, from their villages (farm land) into so-called "Protected Villages" where many people died.

The people interpreted the displacement from their ancestral farmland and related it to SSFH's intention to go into commercial farming on their land which they were forced to abandon, as a plot by the Museveni regime to forcefully grab their land.

Since then, Museveni has been losing in all the elections in the north for the entire period that the people were living in the Protected Villages/Internally Displaced Persons’ Camps. So, any move by any business person or group to invest in large scale farming in Acholi land was always looked at with suspicion during the 20 years or so of displacement and deprivation of their wealth, including stolen livestock such as cattle.

This trend in election results however reversed in the 2011 election after the war between the LRA and UPDF shifted geographic location from Uganda soil to Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Central African Republic following a Permanent Ceasefire Agreement negotiated between the warring parties on 23rd February 2008. Although no permanent peace deal was signed between the two parties, people were able to leave protected villages (IDP camps) and they returned to their ancestral land to begin to rebuild their lives from scratch.

The Acholi people, one of the Lwo ethnic groups of the northern part of Uganda, have been on the news lately for land conflicts; involving the local communities on the one hand and the Museveni government and allied investors on the other hand.

On April 17, 2015, a group of elderly women stripped naked before two government ministers --Internal Affairs Minister, General Aronda Nyakairima and Lands Minister, Daudi Migereko-- in protest of plans to plant mark-stones demarcating the boundary between their territory and the neighboring Madi community of Adjumani district. It was the lead story in one of Uganda’s major newspapers, The Daily Monitor, and was also published on The Black Star News in the United States.

The local community blocked government surveyors from planting mark-stones on the boundary arguing that government wants to grab their land forcefully and give it out to a foreign investor named Bruce Martine who wants to convert the area into hunting ground to draw tourists. The April protests by the women follows a 2012 incident when Uganda's Wild Life Authority tried to evict locals from the land on the grounds that it was part of East Madi Game Reserve.

That forceful eviction claimed two lives of the locals and attracted court intervention. The Court has since issued an injunction against any further eviction.

Another incident occurred on May 2, 2015 where the area's Members of Parliament, Hon. Gilbert Olanya and Hon. Ms Lucy Akello were nearly lynched over a land dispute between one family who owns a swath of land in Amuru and squatters on the same land. The family had leased their farm to an investor and tried to evict the locals who had settled on their land illegally.

According to Hon. Richard Todwong, the Deputy Secretary General of Uganda's ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM) party, the conflict is being fueled by the Member of Parliament from Adjumani, Gen. Moses Ali.

Todwong says Gen. Moses Ali is misleading government surveyors into using a “fake” map indicating that the border between the two districts was in the disputed area; yet the border line, which was originally drawn up during British colonial rule indicates otherwise.

By the time our boundaries were being drawn up, there was no Adjumani nor Amuru district as his map indicates," says Todwong. "We had Acholi district and Madi of West Nile district only. As government, we shall use the colonial map to open up the boundary.”

The issue of conflicts over land in Acholi is not restricted to Amuru but scattered all over the region and many people now look at it politically as war between Museveni and his NRM on the one hand and the opposition.

We will see how the issue impacts the presidential election next March.


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