14 June 2017

Uganda: Apaa Land Conflict Divides Acholi, Madi Communities

Photo: Julius Ocungi/Daily Monitor
Residents of Apaa Trading Centre in Zoka Village, Amuru District attend a meeting.

What started as a small misunderstanding has escalated to reach deadly levels with several locals blaming government for turning a blind eye to this nearly century-old conflict, writes ABALO IRENE OTTO.

Paul Olyel, 47, lay unconscious at the intensive care unit of St Mary's hospital Lacor. His head was bandaged and he could only breathe with the support of oxygen tubes through his nose and mouth.

Olyel, a resident of Oyanga village in Apaa parish, is one of the many victims of the latest wave of attacks on the Apaa community in Amuru district by the Madi from Adjumani.

During a visit to the area last week, The Observer learnt that Olyel was hacked with a machete on the head, neck and hand in the attack that left four people dead and 27 injured.

Hellen Joyce Akello, the nurse on duty, told visiting leaders from the Acholi parliamentary group that Olyel was among the survivors brought under critical condition.

She noted only God could save Olyel. At the other end of the hospital, surgeons were seen busy removing arrows from other victims. Olyel and others are victims of an escalating tribal clash between the Madi and Acholi. The recent altercation, however, started on June 4, 2017 between the communities of Apaa and Adjumani.

HISTORICAL

According to elders, in 1911, the British government drew administrative boundaries between West Nile and Acholi [current day Adjumani and Amuru districts respectively].

The area around Apaa was by then infested by tsetse flies and the communities in the area that owned land communally, part of which were hunting grounds, vacated it for health reasons.

However, in 1963, the Uganda Game Department amended statutory instrument Number 17 and gazetted Kilak a hunting area for licensed gun holders. On March 30, 1972, President Idi Amin's government issued a decree revoking the hunting grounds status of the area.

This later led to the passing of a resolution in 1973 allowing residents of Apaa to return and occupy their ancestral land. But the 20-year Lord's Resistance Army war forced many people off this land and they settled in camps.

In 2002, while these people were in camps parliament gazetted the area as a nature reserve to promote tourism north of Murchison Falls national park. This followed a resolution of the Adjumani local council designating the area for tourism and wildlife conservation.

When the LRA war ended, the new legislation affected the resettlement process as Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) blocked people from returning to the gazetted area.

Today, residents of Apaa parish blame the clashes between the Madi and the Acholi on the government for gazetting the land without consulting the locals. The new demarcations by government have left some leaders from Adjumani claiming that the boundary between Adjumani and Amuru extends about 8kms into Apaa parish from Juka bridge.

Venancio Ocan, 79, 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. The area around Apaa now has over 10,000 residents.

Lives and property have since been lost as communities defy orders to vacate land for wildlife. In July 2015, elderly women held a protest in the nude before government officials who had come to demarcate the boundary between Amuru and Adjumani. The women claimed that government had violated the initial British boundary and encroached on Amuru district.

Conflict between the two communities has since become a hindrance to development and productivity of residents in Apaa parish. The intensity of the recent deadly clashes attracted the attention of leaders from Acholi parliamentary group to rush to Apaa last week.

ANGRY COMMUNITY

At Apaa trading centre, thousands of residents gathered to listen to the leaders that included Gilbert Olanya (Kilak South), Anthony Akol (Kilak North) and Lucy Akello (Amuru Woman).

Olanya asked residents to prepare to defend themselves should government not intervene and prosecute the perpetrators.

"We know that Gen Moses Ali is behind these attacks on our innocent civilians. Why do you attack civilians while the police [officers] you deployed here are from Adjumani spying on our people to report to you?" wondered Olanya.

Francis Adupa, the Adjumani DPC, told the leaders that police had not yet arrested any suspect in connection to the attack.

"We are still following up on the matter to find suspects," Adupa said.

His comment, however, angered the people, forcing members of parliament to agree that they would not return to parliament until government pronounced itself on the matter. Prime Minister Ruhakana Rugunda flew to the area and urged locals to calm down as government prepares to find a lasting solution to the problem.

Anthony Akol (Kilak North) wondered why the police had failed to do their work to bring the perpetrators 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 is professional... if you cannot investigate to find out what happened to our innocent civilians," he said.

Pader Woman MP, Lucy Achiro, tasked police to make sure the suspects are produced before court within one week or face the human rights committee of parliament.

TENSION

By Sunday evening, around four people had been discharged from the hospital while others were still in Pabo and Atiak health centres. Margaret Lamwaka, the Kitgum Woman MP, tasked the office of the prime minster to deliver food aid to the people of Apaa within one week to save children from malnourishment since they could not access food from their gardens due to fear of being attacked again.

"We, the 20 members of the Acholi parliamentary group, will not enter parliament to deliberate if food relief is not brought for the people of Apaa," she warned.

Lyandro Komakech, the chairperson Greater North Parliamentary Forum, who also doubles as the Gulu municipality MP, said the Apaa incident would be forwarded to Human Rights Watch for investigation to have perpetrators prosecuted.

The community of Apaa accuses government of turning a blind eye whenever people from the Madi community attack them. Chanting the slogan 'Apaa our land', the community demanded that the Acholi parliamentary group rein in Moses Ali, whom they accuse to be behind the attacks.

James Leku, the Adjumani LC-V chairman, however, rubbished claims by the community that the clashes are incited by Amuru leaders.

"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.

He added that the question of territorial integrity needs to be addressed so that political leaders stop inciting civilians to conflict. Acholi parliamentary group leaders are scheduled to meet the president on June 16 about finding a lasting resolution.

GOVT DELIVERS RELIEF TO CLASH VICTIMS

This week, government delivered food to Apaa's displaced people. The consignment of beans, rice and maize flour arrived at Amuru district stores. While delivering the consignment, Olanya said the six tonnes will be distributed at Apaa trading center.

Michael Lakony, the Amuru LC-V chairperson, said the food relief will benefit more than 1,000 people. Hillary Onek, the minister for disaster preparedness, asked Amuru authorities to ensure equitable distribution of the food relief.

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