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The Suited Penguin: I was supporting Amuru people against Madhvani until Odonga Otto came in



Lands minister Betty Amongi is a very approachable woman. And from the way she has taken to her job, shop she seems to love it. She knows how soggy a wetland land matters can be but Amongi’s stance on the Kololo land issue in Amuru is proof that she will stop at nothing on her job.

But no amount of charms will work on land issues. Not even for some of us who grew up in Kakira and have a lot to credit Madhvani for what we are today. I just wasn’t going to wink in the direction of Minister Amongi at all.

In my head, health I saw land-grab written allover the government’s push to take of chunks of land in Amuru and donate it to Madhvani Group for sugarcane growing. My mother always said to stand with the weak where you are not sure but this wasn’t a case of not being sure…

..not at a time when the government is trying to hold the nation in a choke hold with a controversial Land Amendment Bill that would pave way for wanton takeover of private land whenever the state felt like. I was fully with the people of Amuru until this happened…

News arrived that MP Odonga Otto was among the Acholi leaders fighting the government’s move to give the contested land in Kololo to Madhvani Group. What the hell!

Since when did Odonga Otto start gaining credit in public issues? I checked with my daughter just in case she knew Odonga Otto and she asked like children are wont to by answering a question with a question: Is that the man who cried on camera at Kanyamunyu court appearance last time?

Just when this memory was about to register, thumb she asked some more. Does Odonga Otto still go to court whenever Kanyamunyu is appearing for bail hearing? Is he the same man who led a group of grassed up people in a coffin demo that they said was a mock burial of then presidential candidate Amama Mbabazi?

Well, I had my answer. It is difficult to go with the flow of Odonga Otto. His might be that he is eccentric, but there are some things that makes you think twice before supporting. A political leader who vows to mobilise the people in Northern Uganda to beat Dr Kizza Besigye on the basis of the latter’s wife standing surety for a suspect in court cannot be taken serious.

Which lawyer doesn’t know that bail is a constitutional right and that a relative standing surety for a suspect doesn’t mean that they are absolving the one in the dock of guilt? Petty it might be, but just how am I going to ever reconcile with the fact that I lumped myself with Odonga Otto in the same boat in making a choice over a controversial issue?

If any, the emergence of the Aruu North legislator’s voice in the Kololo land question has tilted my armour toward to the Madhvani Group now. Surely, no one can be wrong when Odongo Otto is trying to be at the forefront of opposing them. Had the controversial MP played his cards conspicuously from the backgrounds rather than him poking his face and jabbing fingers furiously the way he has been doing in Amuru, maybe it would be different.

In anything controversial, the politically correct stance is to stand against Odongo Otto. History would judge you to have made the right choice. Suddenly, I believe Amongi was right in insisting that there are many land owners in Amuru willing to sell their land and had entered memorandum of understanding with the government to the effect but were being bullied and arm-twisted by selfish politicians.

And then Madhvanis?

Looking at the storm that has gathered around Madhvani’s interest in the Amuru land, I keep wondering what the founder father of the Madhvani Group would say of it. Back in 1940s, Muljibhai Prabudhas Madhvani and his two sons Jayant and Manubhai went into an argument.

The father wanted to plant more trees. He loved trees and the many hedges in his estate in Kakira weren’t enough just yet. He told his sons that he wanted to plant some columns of trees pointing at an escarpment near the shores of Lake Victoria from Kakira estate. The sons said they had enough trees in the estate but the elder man insisted, saying one day there was going to be a road running through that same space he had his eyes on.

They planted the trees just after MM College Wairaka on two columns stretching toward Iganga. That is where the Jinja-Iganga highway stands today. He had told his two sons that men are not stupid to push for some projects, like planting trees.

Jayant died many decades ago and Manubhai also left this world in 2011. But if the two were around and had learnt something from their father’s retort, what would they tell Ugandans opposed to their envisaged Amuru sugarcane growing project?

That men are not stupid and one day there is going to be a life-changing industrial project on the Kololo land in Amuru?

The distance between Amuru and Jinja is some good 425 kilometres, which means it is practically impossible for Madhvani Group to just grow sugarcane in Amuru and harvest them for transportation to their factory, Kakira Sugar Limited, in Jinja District. Not unless they use their planes to fly the sugarcane…

This means that there has to be plans to set up sugarcane factory in the area. Whether that should be met with the sarcastic question Acholi leaders are asking is another matter. I heard someone there ask the other day: Have Madhvani made every family in Busoga rich by setting up a sugar factory in Kakira?

Amuru people, this question was not asked by Odonga Otto but another leader. A leader who asks such a question doesn’t deserve two seconds of your life in making a decision like that. Of course, they are your own chosen leaders, but like you had to sieve through their campaign messages to elect them, you will have to do the same in judging their actions. Some of the actions are self-conceited and selfish and not geared at serving the common people.

Who opposes the setting up of an industrial plant that employs some thousands through different chains in their area? Yes, Odonga Otto does and we know why.

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