Lands minister Betty Amongi on Monday evening launched the forceful surveying of 10 000 hectares of land in Kololo Amuru district set to be given to Madhvani Group of Companies for sugar cane growing amid tight security.
Police, army and crime preventers were on Sunday evening deployed, following reports that another group of local women were planning to undress themselves in protest not far from where the land is situated.
According to Amongi, the surveying exercise will be preceded by a two-day verification exercise. She was in the company of surveyors from her ministry in Kampala led by Robert Kyoko and Amuru district land technical officers.
She insisted last Thursday’s nude protest (an extreme form of protest expressing profound sadness or anger in Acholi) was stage-managed by some area politicians opposed to the residents’ desire to have their land surveyed.
A group of elderly women stripped naked before Amongi and her team last Thursday when they went to launch the survey exercise.
The minister, while addressing journalists at Payot a village where the surveyors and security have camped, said the team will only survey land of those interested for now. In the meantime the government is continuing to negotiate with those who are yet to endorse the exercise.
The minister and a delegation of some Acholi notables led by the Paramount Chief, Rwot Onen David Acana II, with some representative of land owners are expected to meet President Museveni at State House Entebbe this afternoon over the same issue.
Several MPs and opinion leaders in the sub-region are vehemently opposed to the manner of the takeover which is being likened to a land-grab in a place where mass poverty is rife, having been ravaged by two decades of civil war.
They say that while they are not opposed to investment, the Acholi people should be allowed to enter into equal partnerships bringing in their land holdings as equity.
Others claim that Madhvani is merely a front for more powerful forces that are hungrily looking at what lies beneath Amuru’s land – possibly large deposits of crude oil.
Meanwhile, Assistant Inspector General of Police in charge of Operations, Asuman Mugenyi, who travelled with the minister, said the deployment is purely to guarantee the security of the surveyors as well as to protect people who have offered their land to be surveyed. Some politicians have incited the public to attack them, he said.
“If it means bringing more police officers to secure lives and property, we will not hesitate to do that,” Mugenyi said.
However, Amuru district leaders led by MPs Gilbert Olanya (Kilak South), Lucy Akello (Amuru woman) and Michael Lakony, the district chairperson, have protested the security deployment in the area, saying the forces are intimidating their people.
On Monday, scores of unarmed locals, including women and children were reported to have been cornered and brutally beaten up up by soldiers and policemen in the disputed area.
Last week, Aruu North MP Odonga Otto in the company of bare-chested women held a protest over the government’s push for Amuru land.
The protests, a re-enactment of the 2015 scenario when former ministers Daudi Migereko (lands) and Gen Aronda Nyakairima (internal affairs) were subjected to angry and mournful protests by naked women over demarcation of the contested Apaa land at the border between Amuru and Adjumani, were this time aimed at Amongi.
The minister, together with her team, were kept waiting for over four hours on the road to Kololo as residents blocked them from accessing the land.
In Acholi culture, it is considered a curse for women to stage a nude protest, with traditionalists arguing that such a curse would usually affect the person to whom the bearing of a woman’s sacrosanct body is directed.
Madhvani Roup wants 10,000 hectares of land in Kololo, Lakang, Bana, Omee, Lujoro, Lwak Obita and Pailyec in Amuru Sub County, Amuru district to set up Sugar cane plantation coded as “Amuru Sugar works Project