Lira — A recent meeting convened by ActionAid Uganda in conjunction with the Lango Parliamentary Group, attracted over 2,000 locals who thronged Lira Technical College.
They came from far and near. From Oyam, Kole, Apac, Alebtong, Otuke, Dokolo, Amolatar and Lira municipality. Some walked on foot while others rode bicycles and motorcycles in the hot sweltering heat to attend what they called Kacoke Madit, literally meaning the big meeting.
Some sat, others stood while others scrambled to peep through the windows to follow the proceedings of the meeting conducted in Lango. Not even the food that was served for lunch could distract the attention of the participants.
Their message was unanimous, clear and loud; "Go and tell government that the Langi have rejected the proposed amendment of Article 26 and call for its immediate withdrawal from parliament," they unanimously said.
The Constitution (Amendment) Bill, 2017 seeks to amend Article 26 of the Constitution to allow government take over land for development without compensating the owner first.
The locals said if enacted into law, the proposed bill will lead to more land grabbing and evictions in the country instead of helping government acquire land for development.
Thumping their feet, jeering and hissing like spitting cobras, they hurled insults with their closed fists, they warned the Lango parliamentarians to listen to their concerns, and not to send the wrong message to government.
With anger and hunger written all over their faces, they said: "Whoever betrays or is planning to betray the Langi should tell us now or else... ."
Jacob Olaka from Oyam told The Observer: "We grew from the land, developed from the land and the land is us" he said.
"We welcome the idea of government programmes, but we must also be given what is fair for us. We cannot accept a law which is against its people," said Anna Akello, a retired civil servant.
While presenting the bill, Denis Hamson Obua said: "Government can be given the power to acquire land. But any attempts to change the bill weakens and renders the entire article redundant."
Charles Angiro Gutomoi, the shadow minister of Lands, Housing and Urban Development, added: "Today, my aspirations of requesting government to withdraw the land amendment bill has been done by the people of Lango."
However, the crowd booed Lira municipality MP Jimmy Akena and one irate individual grabbed the microphone from him.
They blamed Akena for allegedly betraying them by supporting the bill. Akena pleaded in vain with the audience to allow him explain the bill and put his point across. He was shut down. He was eventually allowed to address the gathering.
He said: "I will not and I cannot betray the concerns of the people of Lango. The law was written before us all. I am reading the law not according to Akena but according to what it says."
In response, Celina Akello, a retired nurse, told him: "My son Akena, one thing you should know is that we did not elect you as Akena, but we voted for you because of your father [Milton] Obote. Any betrayal you will bring to the Langi will deal a serious blow to you."
Finally, Tom Okello, the bishop of Lango, moved a motion to reject the land amendment bill. He was seconded by Dan Okello, a renowned UPC stalwart, and overwhelmingly approved by the gathering.