Tracing the roots of Apaa land conflict

A survivor narrates his ordeal to the Acholi leaders at St Mary’s Hospital Lacor. Irene Abalo.

Apaa village has been burning as the Acholi community from Amuru and their border neighbours from Adjumani fight over land. At least four people were killed in land clashes in Zoka at the border between Amuru and Adjumani districts on Wednesday.

Police said the clashes pitting the Acholi community from Amuru and their Madi counterparts from Adjumani, saw arrows and machetes ferociously exchanged, leaving 14 others seriously injured.

The land wrangle has been one of the deadliest between the two tribes that have co-existed for generations in northern Uganda.

The fight erupted Wednesday morning when Madi people allegedly stormed the Acholi community in the garden in the area of Zoka, attacking them with spears, bows and arrows and machetes, claiming the Acholi were cultivating their land.

Residents said, on June 2, a market day at Apaa trading centre, a group of Acholi denied Madi people access, warning them never to come to Apaa market again.

Tension started brewing the following day, with some huts torched in the night. By Monday, an anonymous letter was found in Zoka, warning a person named Okeke and the Madi community never to cross River Terekwa to Apaa area.

Tracing the conflict

The developments in the last eight days alone are not enough to pinpoint the genesis of the conflict. Probably, only historical context can help one understand the genesis of the conflict since accounts on the recent unfortunate events vary depending on which side of the fence one was seeking answers from.

However, by historical accounts, in 1911, the British government drew administrative boundaries between Moyo (Adjumani) and then Gulu District from which Amuru District was carved in 2006.

The area around Apaa was by then infested with Tse-Tse flies and the communities in the area that owned land communally and had hunting grounds vacated the area for health reasons.

In 1963, Uganda Game Department amended statutory instrument Number 17 gazetted Kilak Controlled Hunting ground for licensed gun holders.
On March 30, the regime of Idi Amin issued a Legal Order No. 54 of 1972 revoking the decision on the Kilak Controlled Hunting Area in what came to be known as Kilak Hunting Area Revocation Order of 1972. This later led to the passing of a resolution in 1973 allowing residents of Apaa to return and occupy their ancestral land.
Government blamed

Today, residents of Apaa blame the government for the constant conflict between Uganda Wild life Authority and Madi from Ajumani clashing with the Acholi from Amuru because of a 2002 Act of Parliament that gazetted the area without consulting the locals.

This has led to clashes between the community and Uganda Wild Life Authority and leaders from Adjumani, who claim that the boundary between Adjumani and Amuru extends about 8 kilometres into Apaa Parish from Juka Bridge.

Vinancio Ocan, a 79-year old-resident of Apaa, says the bridge on Juka River was given its name after elders sat at the river bank and mediated to stop conflict between the Acholi and Madi over boundaries in 1922.

In 2005, the area around Apaa that now has over 10,000 residents was gazetted for wild life conservation after President Idi Amin had degazzeted it considering the growing population in the area. Apaa Parish was then a village under Gulu District.

While in camps in 2002, Parliament again gazetted the area into a nature reserve to promote tourism north of Murchison Falls National Park after a resolution of Adjumani local council designating as such.
This affected the resettlement process after over 10 years in the camps where residents were not allowed by UWA to return to the gazette area as a nature reserve.

Lives and property have since been lost as communities defy orders to vacate their land for wild life.

Recent clashes

In July 2015, elderly women held a nude protest before government officials who had gone to demarcate the boundary between Amuru and Adjumani, claiming that they had violated the initial British boundary and extended into Amuru District.

Conflict between the two communities has since become a hindrance to development and productivity of residents in Apaa parish.

Beginning June 4, attacks by Madi community on the Acholi in Apaa have led to the death of four people with over 27 injured.

Two dead bodies were discovered from the bush by district leaders and taken to Gulu regional Referral Hospital for post mortem with three injured victims battle for their lives at St Mary’s hospital from bows and arrow wounds.

Paul Olyel, 47, was hacked with a machete on the head, neck and hand during the latest wave of attacks on Apaa community by the Madi. Olyel is a resident of Oyanga Village in Apaa Parish. By the time our reporter visited St Mary’s Hospital Lacor yesterday afternoon, Olyel was lying unconscious and on oxygen under intensive care.

Hellen Joyce Akello, the nurse on duty, told leaders form Acholi parliamentary group who were on a situation assessment visit that Olyel was among the survivors brought in critical condition.

The intensity of the violence has forced Members of Parliament and leaders from Acholi Parliamnetary Group to rush to Apaa Parish to try to diffuse tension and reassure the residents. The leaders hope they can finally find a lasting solution to the conflict and resettle communities that have left their homes for fear of being attacked.

At Apaa trading centre, thousands of residents gathered to listen to the leaders, Gilbert Olanya (MP Kilak South), Anthony Akol, (MP Kilak North), Lucy Akello (Amuru Woman MP), Peter Okot (MP Tochi County), Margaret Lamwaka, (Kithum Woman MP ), Lucy Aciro (MP Pader), Betty Aol Ochan (Gulu Woman MP), Lyandro Komakech, (Gulu MP), Micheal Lakony, (Amuru LCV), among other local leaders.

Lakony during a meeting with community at Apaa trading centre on Friday. Irene Abalo.

Gilbert Olanya, the Kilak South MP, drew emotions from the crowd whenever he mentioned names of those who died and in the mortuary and stocked feelings of revenge “should the Government fail to intervene and prosecute the perpetrators.”

“We know that a senior government official is behind these attacks on our people. Why do you think the police deployed here are from Adjumani? They are spying on our people to report to him” Olanya said.

Francis Adupa, the Ajumani District Police Commander, told the leaders that police had not yet arrested any suspect in connection with the attack.

“We are still following up on the matter to find suspects. We have not yet arrested any suspect. However, let’s cooperate with police and bring any evidence available so the suspects can be arrested,” Adupa said.

His appeal, however, did little to appease the restless Apaa community members, with the area legislators declaring that they would not return to Parliament to deliberate until Government pronounces itself on the matter.

Anthony Akol, the Kilak North MP, wondered why Police had failed to do their work to bring the perpetrator to book.

“How can you say that all 27 people are injured and four dead yet not a suspect has been arrested? I don’t think the police are a professional force then if you cannot investigate to find out what happened to our innocent civilians,” Akol said.

Lucy Achiro, the Pader Woman MP, told the police to make sure the suspects are produced in court within one week or the DPC would be summoned to answer to the Human Rights Committee of Parliament.

“If you don’t do your work, we shall have to bring you before the human rights committee in which I sit so that you answer for these lives lost and our people still battling their lives in hospitals,” Achiro said.

By yesterday afternoon, around four people had been discharged from St Mary’s Hospital Lacor after surviving with arrow wounds while others were in Pabo and Atiak health centres.

Margaret Lamwaka, the Kitgum Woman MP, asked the Office of the Prime Minister to deliver relief to the people of Apaa to save children from malnourishment since they cannot access food from their gardens due to fear for being attacked again.

Lyandro Komakech, the chairperson of Greater North Parliamentary Forum, who also doubles as the Member of Parliament for Gulu District, said the Apaa incident will be forwarded to Human Rights Watch for investigation as an independent body to have perpetrators prosecuted.

The community of Apaa claims that the four attacks that have spuriously been carried out by Madi community on them is because the Government has been lax on seeking justice for the victims.

But James Leku, the Adjumani LCV chairman, however, rubbishes claims by the community, saying the clashes are incited by Amuru leaders who mobilise their community and attack the Madi living around Zoka where the disputed boundary lies.

“This conflict is a historic question that the leaders from both sides have to sit and resolve together. We in Adjumani don’t mind settling with any tribe,” Leku said, adding that the question of territorial integrity needs to be addressed so that political leaders stop inciting civilians to conflict.

The Acholi Parliamentary Group leaders are scheduled to meet President Museveni on June 16 to discuss issues surrounding the fate of the Apaa community on land ownership and boundary demarcation.




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