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Locals of Lakang in Amuru district listen sto their elected leaders over the fate of their land wanted by Uganda government for sugar plantation.

 GULU-UGANDA:The 1995 constitution of the republic of Uganda vests land on the people of Uganda.  Article 237 (1) states that “Land in Uganda belongs to the citizens of Uganda and shall vest in them in accordance with the land tenure systems provided for in this Constitution”.

The tenure systems under which land is held in Uganda are customary, freehold, mailo and leasehold.

During the promulgation of this Constitution, President Yoweri Museveni is reported to have expressed “displeasure” with some of the clauses of the Constitution. His preference was that land should have remained public land as was the case with 1967 Constitution.

In Acholi sub-region, where customary land tenure system is practiced, land is gazetted for homesteads (settlements); farmland, grazing land, water sources, woodland (firewood and herbs), rocks and mountains (grinding stones and quarries) and wilderness (hunting game meat).

Since the end of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) insurgency in 2006; and people left concentration (Internally  Displaced Peoples’) camps, and returned to their former homesteads, they witnessed unprecedented level of land conflicts; both within themselves and with its neighbors.

Uganda’s State-owned daily, The New Vision newspaper came out with a screaming headline on Monday, July 3, 2017; “District Boundaries to be Drawn Afresh”.

The move is necessitated by inter-district land conflict which has engulfed fifty districts throughout the country forcing government to draw up a supplementary budget of 3.8 billion shillings ($1.1 million dollars) to conduct a fresh land survey for the purpose of re-demarcating all district boundaries in Uganda.

“We have requested for 3.8 billion shillings to conduct the exercise. We shall initially start with the re-demarcation of boundaries of districts where conflict tendencies are high such as Karamoja, Northern, West Nile and Eastern Uganda”, the paper quotes State Minister for Lands, Persis Namuganza.

At Independence in 1962, Uganda had six federal states and ten districts only; but by 1986, when Museveni came to power, there were already 43 districts. This number has increased over the years to now 118 districts, most of which are being created for political reasons according to political commentators, making Uganda spend most of its revenue on administration.

Amuru district in Acholi sub-region has had its fair share of land conflicts. One such conflict involves a boundary dispute with its neighbor Adjumani district in West Nile sub-region which has been dragging on for over six years and have claimed at least ten lives.

The second conflict puts the local community of Bana, Lakang and Kololo villages in Pailyec parish, Amuru sub-county in Amuru district against Uganda government and Madvhani group of companies since 2006. In that year, Amuru district land board leased out 10,000 hectares of land to Government and Madvhani for the establishment of sugarcane plantation and a factory.

This move to give away part of what local leaders argue is a customary land, and not public land as the land board says, did not go down well with a section of local leaders in Amuru who decided to go to court.

On February 2, 2012, Justice Wilson Masalu Musene, the Gulu Resident Judge ruled in favor of government and argued that the land in dispute was not customary land but public land. He ruled thus “In the result this court finds no merit in this application and the same is hereby dismissed”.

On October 3, 2012, leaders of Amuru appealed against this judgment to the Courts of Appeal and while a section of those leaders have withdrawn their names from the appeal, arguing that they prefer settling the dispute outside courts through negotiations, a section of leaders want it settled through courts.

On June 26, 2017, a nation Television (NTV) telecasted a news clip filmed from State House showing cultural leaders of Pagak, Pamuca and Toro chiefdoms signing a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with government and giving away the 10,000 hectares of the contested land to government for the sugar project. The team, who signed the MoU before President Museveni and Lands Minister, Ms. Betty Amongi Akena, was led by the outgoing Vice Chancellor of Gulu University, Professor Jack Nyeko Pen Mogi.

The newscast did not go down well with the local community who are actually occupying the land in question. They therefore called for a general meeting on Monday July 2, 2017 which they invited the delegates who signed the MoU with President Museveni together with their elected leaders.

During the meeting, the Local Council 5 councilor, Amuru District Council, Mr. Apollo Okello said the chiefs had no authority from the litigants who took government to court to go to State House to sign the MoU with government.

“This MoU is null and void. The Court of Appeal will not honor their signatures since they were not part of the litigants. I don’t know what actually took them to the President. I want to assure you it should be business as usual. If you had not yet planted your rice you should plant it. Government will not take your land”, says the councilor.

 “We shall fight and make sure that the appeal is concluded, even if it means going up to the Supreme Court. Let us loose the case from court, but we would have tried to protect our people’s land from being grabbed forcefully”, says the area Member of Parliament, Mr. Gilbert Olanya.

On Monday July 3, 2017, Professor Jack Nyeko Pen Mogi told listeners of a local FM radio station that he feels pain to see that the Acholi people wallop in poverty yet they have large swaths of virgin land which are not being put into productive use.

Museveni’s waterloo

On June 18, 1815 the British fought and defeated the Emperor of France, Napoleon at Waterloo in present day Belgium.

Since he came to power in 1986, President Museveni gave away all public lands to investors and there is no more land to give out. He now wants to amend land law to allow for compulsory acquisition of land from Ugandans for national programs and compensate the owners later.

Will this move not cause regime change come 2021?

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