Uganda: Concern As Land Disputes Turn Violent in the North

30 September 2019

Disputes over land ownership in northern Uganda are escalating into violent episodes as more population scramble for the scarce resource.

As Lango and Acholi sub-regions continue to recover from the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) rebel insurgency, former internally displaced persons are beginning to return to their home villages. This has seen the region continue to experience increased competition over land ownership, resulting in violence.

The most recent incident occurred in Amolatar District on September 24 where Bako Olang clan members killed Jimmy Opio in Barayom Village, Agwingiri Sub-county.

The district police commander, Mr Samuel Amedi, said Opio was stabbed with spears over four acres of land, which has for long been claimed by clan members.

"We recovered three spears with blood stains at the scene of crime, arrested one female suspect and we are still hunting for seven other suspects who are on the run," Mr Amedi said.

Episodes

In Lira District, workers at Aromo Health Centre III in Aromo Sub-county are currently living in fear following a land conflict between a family and the facility.

Some elders donated the land for the establishment of a health facility in a bid to bring services closer to the community some decades ago, according to Mr Fabius Otike, the district environment and natural resources officer. "But the issue at hand now is that we have a lady, who came back from where she was married and was influenced to settle on the land that her late father once donated to the facility," Mr Otike says.

Today, nearly half of the cases that end up in court are land-related, according to data at both the magistrate's court and the High Court in Lira.

"There is evidence that land conflicts are not only a challenge in northern Uganda, where people are recovering from the effects of a 20-year civil war but are also destabilising the rest of the country," Saferworld, an international civil society organisation working to prevent violent conflict and build safer lives, says in a report. Mr Caesar Alaju, the former chairperson of Bala Sub-county in Kole District, warns that unless the government comes up with a policy that controls individual land use, Ugandans shall be at war over land.

"We are facing shortage of land because people are misusing it. On a daily basis, a huge chunk of land is wasted on burials since one grave alone consumes about 2x3 metres and if 1,000 graves are dug every day, how much land shall we be left with in 50 years to come?" he says.

Other disputes

In Oyam District, a group of parents at Wanglobo Primary School killed Charles Keny, a retired UPDF soldier, in a land dispute between the institution and the deceased's family in February 2014.

Currently, many grabbers target school land, according to the former Oyam District Education Officer, Mr Norman Okello.

"They cannot go to prisons' land because there are guns there. Everybody looks at that soft target, which is the school land," Mr Okello says.

In August 2018, one Tonny Ongiro was again killed in Awei-bura Village, Loro Sub-county in Oyam District following a land dispute. Local leaders and police said the deceased was cut with an axe on the right side of the head. Ongiro's body was found dumped in a sunflower garden near his home.

In Kwania District, four family members died after an assailant set their house ablaze in Barlwala A Village in Inomo Sub-county in March.

Francis Aloka, his wife Robinah Aloka and their two children all died in the incident, which police believed was triggered by a land dispute between the family and relatives.

In Agago, 180 people were displaced and three primary schools temporarily closed following clashes between a section of Acholi and Lango tribal groups due to a dispute over 10,000 acres of land in April 2015.

In that incident, local leaders said, 64 houses and 15 granaries were set ablaze while 105 chicken, 75 goats and 15 heads of cattle were looted. A three-year-old pupil of Lira-based Montessori Nursery School was also killed in the attack while 15 others sustained severe injuries, according to police.

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