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Children Play at a compoun in Apaa trading Centre. Some children do not have access to education due to the land conflict in their villages.

AMURU-ADJUMANI-UGANDA: Ten years after the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) Insurgency led by War Lord Joseph Kony that ravaged Northern Uganda for more than 20 years, the region is in the recovery period. The guns are silent but the glares of a little known war continue among communities; land conflicts, poverty and disease.

One of the conflicts that has persisted since the return of people from the Internally Displaced People’s (IDP) Camps due to the LRA war is the Apaa Land conflict. The conflict is synonymous with big names in Uganda Wild Life Authority, Uganda People’s Defense Force, Uganda Police Force and vested interests from individuals in the government.

Two months into the drive to end the Apaa conflict that has dragged on since 2002, both Acholi and Madi leaders have divergent views on the three options given by President Youweri Museveni Kaguta to end the fight. Whereas the Madi leaders want the area maintained a game reserve, the Acholi leaders want their people to continue settling in the same area.

This means the work of the Prime Minister Dr. Ruhakana Rugunda delegated by the President to oversee talks between 16 leaders from the two tribes is far from complete. Dr. Ruhakana was to report to the president within three weeks from 13th August on one option agreed by the leaders in finally ending the Apaa conflict. But the two sides after consultation with the community instead have two divergent views from the three options given by the president.

In August, President Yoweri Museveni visited the people of Apaa  and met with the two conflicting communities after the Acholi Paramount chief, Lawirwodi Rwot David Onen Acana II had written to him three times demanding for a response on human rights abuses on the Acoli by Madi community.

The Paramount Chief also queried the use of UPDF soldiers and police deployment to guard the area of Apaa where Uganda Wild Life Authority rangers were allegedly burning down people’s huts and some people from Madi were settling in the said game reserve after fighting with the Acholi on the land.

To resolve the conflict, the president came up with three options to permanently end the conflict after three weeks.

The three proposals that the president came up with include; relocating the people to somewhere else in Acholi land fully compensated and supported by government, allow the people of Apaa to stay where they are but not expand anymore and get another portion of land near populated area and resettle there away from the forest.

The Community say they were not consulted on these options yet they continue to suffer without tangible solutions to their problems.

44 year old Christine Lamwaka, a mother of 8 children lives in Goro B in Apaa village. She is among the 200 people who camped at the UN Human rights offices in Gulu in July demanding for end of human rights abuses by Uganda Wild Life Authority and alleged attackers from Madi community in Adjumani district.

Lawamka has not been able to settle in her home for the last five months. She lives on hand out from well-wishers at Apaa trading centre.

“At the moment, we have no rebels in this area but you find that our houses are burnt and some people killed. And there are soldiers among these people. That is why we think that the people making us suffer may not be the Madi but the government.” Lamwaka told our reporter recently.

“The president told people to leave and go to the camps in 1996. We left from Apaa here. Some people left and went to Paboo. After the war, we came back but they are saying that this area is a game reserve. But for us we left here and there were no animals. If you check around, there are no animals here.”

Meanwhile, the Madi leaders want the area maintained a game reserve.

Pakele clan Chief Chudi David Drichi, recently told journalists during the president’s visit in Apaa that the government did not act fast enough to solve the conflict in a community that has since lived peacefully.

“The Acholi and Madi lived peacefully before. Now, our people are also suffering the way the Acholi people are suffering.”

Recently, the president stopped eviction of about 10,000 people resident in Apaa after a demarcation by Local Government which indicated that Apaa is in Adjumani district and the area where people are living is in East Madi Game Reserve which belongs to Adjumani District, not Amuru district where majority are Acholi.

Uganda wild life authority and national forestry authority claims that Apaa land is a gazette in East Madi wild life game reserve and zoka central forestry reserve respectively.

Chief Drichi maintains that the Madi stand their ground on having Apaa, a gazette game reserve.

“We cannot over rule what the government had previously stated in the parliament. The NFA, which has gazetted as a game reserve, to remain as it is. If there is any option, we should allow the government to take this people away to a much free area….we would like to see that the government maintains this business of the game reserve … “

His option is one among the three that the president proposed to the leaders of Acholi and Madi to consult their people on and make one decision.

On Wednesday 23rd August, 2018, President Yoweri Museveni unveiled the three-point proposal to the people of Amuru and Adjumani districts saying the proposals will provide a win-win situation specifically for people who lived on the land before 1963 when the colonialists drew the boundaries and 2002 when government surveyors returned to the land to open up park land boundaries.

The decision proceeds an intense clash between the Madi and the Acholi after demarcation of contested land boundary between Amuru and Adjumani.

In his meeting with the local leaders from both districts, President Museveni said the Prime Minister Hon, Ruhakana Rugunda would be coordinating a committee of 10 people, five from each tribe to study the President’s proposal and return with a conclusion after three weeks. The two sides however requested for eight names from each side and two decisions instead of one are before the Prime Minister to Submit to the president.

The 8 members from Madi are Dr. Robert Esuruku, professor Dominica Dipio, office of the LCV Adjumani, Harriet Mesiku, Lawrence Akuti, Soro Baru, Moses Kibiraf and Prof. Chrsitine Dranzoa while those from Acholi are Kilak North MP Anthony Akol, Amuru district LCV chairperson Michael Lakony, Daniel Komakech, Senior Lecturer (Institute if Peace and Strategic Studies) Gulu University, Chairperson of the committee, Prof. Elizabeth A. Opiyo, Gulu University, Matthew Okello, Consultant Surveyor, Counsel Juilius Ojok, Right Hon. Dan Kidega, Former Speaker EALA, Vice Chairperon, Mrs Ayot Gladies Oyat, Head Teacher Y.Y Okot.

The Acholi committee set out to consult with the community and they maintained that they want to stay in their ancestral land.

48 year old Filda Akoko, a mother of six from Acholi Ber Ward in Apaa says she is HIV Positive and has no access to food to continue with her medication. She wants to continue living in her land with her children.

Akoko says her houses were burnt and things in the garden destroyed by people she suspects to be from Madi side. She adds that the government must know what is happening to them since only one side in the conflict is hurt and complaining.  

“The president knows what he came to do here during his visit. He did not come to save us because we are still not safe….We want the UPDF soldiers to be removed from our area and we go back to our homes. We don’t have rebels here, why do we have soldiers guarding our area.”

“The Prsident and Ali (First Deputy Prime Minster) know what they are doing. We are attacked and they say the Madi but we still in the same market with the Madi. We have no problem but the government wants to show that we are clashing. We don’t know what they want on our land. “Akoko adds.

43 year old Opoka Keneth says his father died and left him on the land that he has known all his life.

Opoka like many men in Apaa do not consider leaving the area to settle in any other land that the government would prefer for them.

“I have nowhere else to go.”

“We want an independent inquiry by a world body to help us in this conflict, not the government because they have interest in this conflict….They should also consider going back to history, on the boundaries drawn by the British to show where we belong,” says 43 year old Peter Achaye from Juka sub ward in Apaa.

According to elders, in 1911, the British government drew administrative boundaries between West Nile and Acholi [current day Adjumani and Amuru districts respectively].

The area around Apaa was by then infested by tsetse flies and the communities in the area that owned land communally, part of which were hunting grounds, vacated it for health reasons.

However, in 1963, the Uganda Game Department amended statutory instrument Number 17 and gazetted Kilak a hunting area for licensed gun holders. On March 30, 1972, President Idi Amin’s government issued a decree revoking the hunting grounds status of the area.

This later led to the passing of a resolution in 1973 allowing residents of Apaa to return and occupy their ancestral land. But the 20-year Lord’s Resistance Army war forced many people off this land and they settled in camps.

In 2002, while these people were in camps parliament gazetted the area as a nature reserve to promote tourism north of Murchison Falls national park. This followed a resolution of the Adjumani local council designating the area for tourism and wildlife conservation.

When the LRA war ended, the new legislation affected the resettlement process as Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) blocked people from returning to the gazetted area.

However, more than 10,000 people returned from the IDP camps after the LRA insurgency and resettled in Apaa from 2006.  The conflict that started thereafter over the land has since had no absolute solution as lives and property continue to be lost.

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