AMURU—Acholi leaders have asked President Museveni to stop keeping his cards close to his chest on the disputed Amuru land, drug saying it is time the head of state told the people of Amuru what goes.
The resolution of the Acholi leaders comes as Amuru women again went bearing their chests naked in protests over the government’s push to give acreage of land in Kololo, more about Amuru sub-county, to Madhvani Group for sugarcane growing.
The protests, a reenactment of the 2015 scenario when former ministers Daudi Migereko (lands) and Gen Aronda Nyakairima (internal affairs) were subjected to angry and mournful protests by women over demarcation of the contested Apaa land at the border between Amuru and Adjumani, was this time aimed at Lands minister Betty 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 they had come to survey as part of the process to give way for takeover by Kakira Sugar Limited owned by sugar barons Madhvani Group.
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.
However, Amongi, who remained in her car throughout the time, is adamant such cultural beliefs are obsolete and that, in any case, she is not an Acholi to be affected by their traditional belief.
The residents, who sat on the road, claimed that they did not want Madhvani Group to be given their land without proper agreement beneficial to ancestral owners.
Michael Lakony, the Amuru District chairman, told this news website that the proposed sugarcane project is not the only investment government can take to Amuru land that belongs to the community.
“Why is government insisting on bringing Madhvani here yet our people do not want the project? Amuru people will give land for development to other investors but not Madhvani because their approach to our people in acquiring land is wrong. See how they are using teargas and shooting our people with live bullets?” Lakony said.
Unconfirmed numbers of people were injured as Police lobbed teargas and fired live bullets to disperse the protestors and clear way for the minister to access the land for survey.
However, Minister Amongi rubbished claims that the Amuru people have rejected the Madhvani project, insisting that the only matter left between the community and government is payment.
“In 2015, then Attorney General Peter Nyombi signed an agreement for an out-of-court settlement with the litigants. It means that the clients know what this means. What we are left with now is payment and the government has communicated to them,” Amongi said.
The minister told PML Daily that she is implementing a decision from government to have those who can give their land have it surveyed and paid up.
“What I am implementing is only dealing with those who want to sell their land on ‘willing seller’ basis, to constitute the 10,000 hectares,” she said.
MPs demand president’s intervention
Seven legislators from Acholi Parliamentary Group demanded that President Museveni explains why, despite being aware that Acholi people in Amuru have no interest in giving land to Kakira Sugar Limited, has continued to push for the demarcation of the land. They say the demarcation would pave way for the government to acquire a title through which the land can be sold and given to Madhvani Group.
The legislators seeking Museveni’s direct intervention in Amuru land question that has dragged on since 2012 are Amuru Woman MP Lucy Akello, Aruu North MP Lucy Aciro, Gulu Municipality MP Lyandro Komakech, Aruu South MP Samuel Odonga Otto, Kilak North MP Gilbert Olanya, and Kilak South MP Anthony Akol, as well as district chairman Lakony.
According to MP Lucy Akello, there has been heavy army deployment in Kololo since the planned move to survey the over 10,000 hectares of land in which over 15,000 people live in Amuru sub-county.
She says efforts by Acholi leaders to seek the president’s consideration of withdrawing soldiers from the area has proved futile as Museveni’s handlers continue to frustrate all avenues to reach him.
“We tried to reach the president throught] the PPS [principle private secretary], Molly Kamukama. She told me, ‘we are tired of these issues of Amuru. Whatsoever will happen will have to happen. We have already released money.’ So for me this is a clear indication that the commander in chief knows about all this,” Akello said.
Hostility on the Amuru land issue resume on the back of the government’s push to amend the land law in a way that give the government powers to take over private land it deems is needed for development projects without question and compensate the owners later.
The government claims that the controversial Land Amendment Bill is necessary because many development projects are frustrated by private land owners who take long to give up authority of their land.
However, the majority members of the public insist the controversial land law, if passed, will only give government the leeway to grab private land as and when it wishes.
MP Komakech said government needs to adopt a conflict-sensitive approach to handling Amuru land question, especially Madhvani Group’s interest in acquisition of land in Kololo.
“Bullets and teargas were used on the people who were supposed to be protected. I don’t think even the British [colonial era] used this kind of high-handness on our people but here we are in 2017. This is barbaric; it is not a good approach for development,” Komakech said.
He advised the government to go back to the drawing board to involve the community in the investment process and land acquisition if the project is to benefit the locals.
“Atiak sugar works brought on board the entire community and there is full participation. There is equity in the whole process but Madhvani’s approach is a model that cannot be accepted in Uganda today. If you went to Jinja, I don’t think Madhvani has made all the Basoga rich, no,” the MP added.
Komakech urged the president to take the Madhvani land acquisition as a matter of national concern to respect the land rights of the local community.
But Minister Amongi is adamant the Amuru people will have to step back and pave way for the sugarcane growing project. She said her mission to have the land will not be disrupted by Acholi leaders who are using their positions to manipulate the local community to accept their ideas.
The minister claimed that at least 10 people had already entered a memorandum of understanding with the government so their land is set to be surveyed and they will receive their payments thereafter.
“I have been in the field with [Norbert] Mao (Democratic Party president and Acholi leader) and MP Ogenga Latigo both of whom support the project. Let us accept that there are Acholi leaders who support the project, let us not shift blame. It is you the Acholi people, if you want to have a common position, to agree on that common position,” Amongi said.
This news website could not independently verify the claims that some land owners in Amuru had agreed to part with their land.
How the land issue has panned out
The issue of Amuru sugar work project started in 2006 when the then Amuru District Land Board deemed that Land as a Public land and allocated to Madhvani Group.
Kololo residents, through their representatives, dragged Amuru District Land Board and Madhvani to court seeking declaration that land is customary and revoke the allocation of of the said land to Madhvani Group.
On February 2, 2012, the High Court in Gulu presided over by Justice Wilson Masalu Musene rendered a 45-page judgment against five individual applicants – Michael Ocula, Concy Aciro, David Penytoo, Zakeo Uma, and JAck Obalim Weleya – in favour of four respondents, two institutional – the Amuru District Land Board and Amuru Sugar Works Ltd – and two individuals, Maj Gen Julius Oketa and Christine Atimango
They then appealed the decision in Court of Appeal that same year which is still in court up to now and ruling was due to made in few weeks time.
The residents also since secured interim court injunction barring any activity from taking place there but it has never been respected since then
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”
Additional reporting by Willy Chowo