15 June 2017

Uganda: Madi and Acholi Leaders Should Resolve Boundary Issue Amicably

Photo: The Observer
MPs and officials listen to one of the victims at St Mary’s hospital Lacor.

I have followed the raging land dispute between the Acholi and Madi and listened to the statement that Gen Moses Ali issued on NBS TV on June 13. The statement by Gen Ali is unfortunate because as a leader, he should have issued a conciliatory message, especially since the perpetrators of the attacks in Apaa are reportedly from his home district of Adjumani.

For many of us who were involved in the peace process between the Lords Resistance Army (LRA) and the government of Uganda, it is not a secret that the infamous exercise of forcing the Acholi into IDP camps, caused untold suffering to the people in the sub-region.

Otherwise, before the LRA insurgency started, the people in the contested land in what is Amuru District today, lived peacefully with each other.

Today, the stretch of land in Nwoya District between Purongo westward to the River Nile and northward to Amuru, more than 1000sq km, looks like the prairies of North America with 100 per cent mechanised agriculture with farms run by companies and individuals from Germany, India, and elsewhere. Combine harvesters are in common use. Nwoya District derives little, if any, revenue from these exploits. Likewise, the district derives little, if any, revenue from the oil wells near Lake Albert. In fact, even the MPs from the area have little access to these oil wells.

In a recent visit to the area, I discovered that, as in Karamoja, "investors" within and closely tied to the government, now own all the mineral rights in Nwoya and Amuru districts. In other words, the Acholi are being exploited by distant schemers, including some opportunistically married or who have children from women from these areas. The district boundaries created by the British defining Acholi, Lango, Madi, Bunyoro, etc, have never changed. East Madi is now Adjumani District. The boundaries created then and now do not prevent an Acholi or Madi from living on either side of the border. As such, what was the purpose of the border demarcation exercise of September 2015?

I believe this is the exercise that created the current problem because it artificially created a boundary defined by ethnicity. Many people in Adjumani and Amuru have relatives from both ethnicities. There are large areas of Gulu inhabited by the Madi and these have lived peacefully with the Acholi for almost 100 years. Alobo, my paternal grandfather's mother, was a Madi.

In a meeting with President Museveni in 2004 at the UNAA Convention in Seattle, USA, the author led a delegation of prominent Acholi in the USA and Canada to the meeting at which it was resolved, among others, that the government must resettle those in the IDP camps to their homes.

Thereafter, if the government wanted to use the land, it must seek equal partnership with the rightful land owners who were displaced for a better part of 20 years by the LRA insurgency.

I appeal to the leadership in Madi and Acholi to resolve this issue amicably and avoid further bloodshed.

This should start by negating the ill-conceived border demarcation of 2015 and allowing residents to return to their ancestral land across the borders. The affected families should also be properly compensated, provided medical treatment, and resettled.

Dr Latigo is an academician from Uganda currently based in the United States.

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