President Museveni is set to visit Apaa County in northern Uganda following tribal clashes in which several people have been killed.
Presiding over Thursday’s plenary sitting, the Deputy Speaker, Jacob Oulanyah, said following a discussion with the President, he resolved to visit the area after the Easter holidays.
Oulanyah said it was unfortunate to see leaders including MPs from the area arguing over the issue instead resolving it as a team.
“We need to discuss and come out with a proper solution for the people in the Apaa area because it benefits all of us,” he said adding that “We need to weigh our priorities as leaders and make sure that we create a peaceful environment for the people we represent; we must put an end to the problems of Apaa.”
Apaa is located on the border between Adjumani and Amuru districts, a position contested by the locals, the Madi and Acholi and their leaders, which has led to clashes in which lives were lost and property destroyed.
The Deputy Speaker said he had talked to the President who promised to visit and settle the problems there.
“The President said if the people in Apaa had land rights before the land was gazetted and that inhabiting the area has no impact on the environment, he would direct that the land is degazetted for them,” Oulanyah said.
Oulanyah added that it was a shame to see disagreements coming from leaders yet the people had been living in harmony for years.
A day earlier, legislators from northern Uganda condemned the government’s move to evict people settled in Apaa, which was gazetted as a national park reserve and forest reserve for Zoka forest.
The MPs said that people were being tortured, their property destroyed and some killed by security forces including the army and police – all in attempt to drive the people off the land.
The debate was in response to a Ministerial Statement by the Minister of Defence and Veteran Affairs, Hon. Adolf Mwesige, affirming the gazetting of Apaa land and clarifying the circumstances around the death of Paipus Okello, a resident of the area during an altercation between the people inhabiting the area and security forces.
Mwesige said that Okello was shot by Tibaikana in self-defence. He however said that Tibaikana was arrested since the incident is under investigation.
“There is a joint force that comprises the Uganda Police, the Army, National Forestry Authority (NFA) and Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) rangers that were attacked by a gang of 18 people while on patrol in the area,” he said, adding that, “The scuffle led to the shooting of Okello.”
Mwesige further noted that before Apaa was gazetted as a forest reserve in 2017, it was used by UWA as a hunting area.
The MPs however, disagreed with the Minister saying that the people who had been staying in Apaa left in 1994 to live in Internally Displaced People’s camps due to the Lord’s Resistance Army insurgency.
Hon. Reagan Okumu (Ind., Aswa) said the matter was not new and that the government needs to give accurate information about Apaa.
“It is misleading to say that people were not living there; people left that place because of the war and came back after the government said it was safe for them to return to their homes,” he said.
Kilak North MP, Hon Anthony Akol added that there is a court injunction stopping the eviction, destruction and confiscation of property belonging to the people occupying the land.
“People were moved from their homes to IDP camps in Adjumani …then government tells them to go back to their homes after the war …and now you tell them that their land is gazetted!” he exclaimed, “government should either give these people alternative land or allow them settle there,” he said.
The First Deputy Prime Minister, Gen. Moses Ali, suggested a meeting with all leaders to discuss the disagreements in Apaa.
“We have many problems so we must come together to solve them,” he said.
He added that part of present day Apaa was gazetted before Uganda’s independence as hunting zones and therefore “gazetting this area is not new”.