West Nile land wrangles: Acholi write to Bamugemereire over Maj Gen Otema

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UPDF Reserve Force Commander, Maj Gen. Charles Otema Awany

Ker Kwaro Acholi committee has written to the Chairperson, Land inquiry commission, Justice Catherine Bamugemereire, protesting the questioning of UPDF Maj. Gen. Otema who is accused of grabbing land from Jonam-Alur ethnic groups.

Here is the full letter copied to His Excellency the President of the Republic of Uganda, The right honorable prime minister of Uganda, The minister of Security, His highness Rwot David Onen Acana, The Chief of Defense forces, UPDF and The inspector general of police, Uganda Police.

Re: ESCALATION OF LAND CONFLICT BETWEEN WEST NILE COMMUNITIES AND ACHOLI COMMUNITY ALONG RIVER NILE.

We bring you greetings from Ker Kal Kwaro Acholi and compliment from his highness the Lawirwodi Acholi.

Sometimes ago, we made a presentation as Ker Kal Kwaro Acoli on the specific and peculiar customary tenure system in Acholi in which we put a caution that it should be handled with care to avoid creation of fresh conflicts.

Victoria University

Recent disturbing press reports have proved us right as various institutions have grappled with the land issue in Acholi and caused misery to the people. Apaa land is the case in point and it now has to take the president of Uganda to intervene and forge on amicable solution.

We are now again seeing the dark cloud rising over Acholi, this time coming from the land inquiry commission.

As we understand it, some persons led by a former town Clerk of Paidha Town Council (Nabbi District) called Jathim Pierino claim that Maj. Gen. Otema evicted them from their customary land in Purongo Sub-County, Nwoya District.

As we know the accusers belong to the Jonam-Alur ethnic groups which are geographically inhabitants of Nebbi District West Nile region. The immediate question is why are the Jonam-Alur claiming to have customary land in Nwoya District in Acholi region? Why are they singling out Maj. Gen. Otema? As the custodians of the Acholi heritage, Ker Kal Kwaro Acholi cannot afford to be a bystander on a matter that threatens Acholi heritage and identity.

Because of this, we now bring to you very disturbing factors which is misinforming the commission and is opening old wounds which may precipitate fresh violence.

  1. a) We are wondering whether the commission is being influenced by somebody who has personal interests in the matter and is sympathetic to the cause of Jonam-Alur ethnic group. We are aware that this is a conspiracy to intimidate the Acholi because if Maj. Gen. Otema is isolated, it becomes easier grabbing land belonging to other less high ranking Acholi in Nwoya.
  2. b) We recall that towards the end of insurgency, Gulu Distsict Local Government erected a sign post at the Nile Bridge near Pakwach welcoming travellers to Gulu district as it then was. The leadership and the people of Nebbi district (Jonam-Alur)came across the Nile and destroyed the sign post claiming that their district extends up to Got Apwoyo Area in Purongo Sub-county, Nwoyo county (now Nwoya district). The belligerent approach by the people of West Nile led to a standoff at the bridge and it took the intervention of the office of the prime minister to diffuse the tension. The prime minister had to tell the Jonam-Alur that the boundary of Acholi and West is on River Nile.
  3. c) During this period, the Jonam-Alur of Nebbi district remodeled their agitation to allege that they have cultural sites in Nwoya district and the government should create for them Pakwach district curving out Got Opwoyo area to join it to Pakwach/Jonam county to form Pakwach District, This demand was rejected government right.
  4. d) From the above, it is clear that the claim isn’t merely to assert land rights but to create a land mass sufficient for the Jonam to break away from West Nile to create their own District.
  5. e) To back their claim, Jonam-Alur have attempted over several occasions to lay claim on land across the Nile in Nwoya based on two legs;

(i)            That they were forcefully removed from the area by the colonial government in 1912 or there about because of Tsetse flies

(ii)           That they were displaced by the creation of Murchison falls National Park and attached game reserves.

  1. f) Indeed much of the eastern part of River Nile was gazzeted as a park and game reserves and there were no human settlements. This is because the area is a known animal migration corridor, mainly elephants. The elephants still travel between Murchison falls Park and East Madi Game reserve and up to Sudan. It is therefore fictitious for the Jonam to claim that they are customary owners of the land, What kind of customary interests is still there if it was terminated in 1912 and the land gazetted by government? What about the area they were resettled in?
  2. g) We also invite the commission to revisit the famous fable of Labongo and Gipir, the ancestors of the Acholi and Alur-Jonam respectively. It is told in the history books of Uganda that the two were brothers who squabbled over a spear and beads leading to the death of a child of Labongo, The two brothers split and Gipir had to migrate across the River Nile and made a covenant with God to return across the Nile where his brother remained. It is true up to now and, if you inquire, it is still the tradition in Alur that their chief does not cross River Nile. Just recently, they had to perform some rituals over the Nile to enable him travel outside West Nile. These also clearly show that the claim of customary land in Nwoya by the Alur is false.
  3. h) In the history of the claim of Jonam-Alur on the eastern banks of River Nile, it has been stated by the in several letters that in the LEGCO in the 1950s, their representatives raised it to the colonial government to allow them settle on the eastern banks of river Nile. It was rejected. Again in 1960s, their representatives in parliament moved a motion in parliament to be allowed to settle on the eastern banks of river Nile. It was again rejected by the government. The Hansard of 1963 bears this record. So even as recently after independence, the Jonam-Alur was still seeking government’s approval to settle in that area. Where does this leave their claim of customary ownership?
  4. i) The official record of the government of Uganda is that the area was de-gazzetted in the 1970s and people applied to Uganda land commission for leases, which were granted and they occupied their respective farms. Currently those with legitimate claims are applying to the respective land boards. Those who find disputes have gone to court to assert their rights, if any. There are several cases pending in the courts of Amuri, Nwoya and the high court in Gulu, Whoever proves their claim, the court would declare their resettlement. Why has Jathim Pierino and his co-conspirators not filled any case against any person interfering with their fictitious claims?
  5. j) I can state with good information that there is no single case filled by any of the Jonam-Alur community against Maj. Gen. Otema Charles over any land in Nwoya District.
  6. k) I am aware that there is a case before the High court between the Jonam community and one Dr. Oola Fred and an eviction order was fully executed. The same people who were evicted have turned in the wrong direction to accuse Maj. Gen. Otema of evicting them. Why are they not suing to assert their rights instead of petitioning the commission? Why is the complaint against Maj. Gen. Otema who did not participate in the case and the eviction instead of Dr. Oola Fred? Our understanding is that the commission of inquiry has a clear mandate which does not include adjudication of matters that can only be settled by court. We still have confidence in the commission and we hope these petitioners will not fill the commission with misinformation that undermines the good work being done.
  7. l) Since the end of the war, many Jonam-Alur have continued to trek across the Nile, sometime by boats to work in gardens and farms found in Nwoya District, eg, Oola Lolim farm, prof, Ogenga’s farm, late Col. Ochara’s farm, and most of all Gen. Otema’s farm. They come as casual workers and each time they all go back to Nebbi District. Even up to now, all those complaints in court or before the commission live in West Nile and not Nwoya.
  8. m) In recent there was a violent influx of Jonam-Alur into Nwoya District to forcible settle on any piece of land they find space without checking if there are any claimants. This led to fights and violence and there are several cases reported to police.

Our concern now given the trend of the events before the commission is that Maj. Otema is targeted to push the agenda of the Jonam-Alur to lay claim on land which lie in Acholi in their grand scheme which started in the 1950’s and 1960’s. This will surely lead to more violence and it is for that matter that we are copying the various security agencies on this.

We feel that the matter before the commission is much bigger than the allegations against Maj. Gen. Otema and it cannot be conclusively resolved by signing out Maj. Gen. Otema, rather it should be looked at as inter-tribal conflict which has been simmering for some time and, again we advise here, if not handled well, will participate another Apaa scenario or worse.

We recognize that the constitution allows any Uganda to settle anywhere in Uganda but this does not mean you can do so without regard to the cultural establishments and tenure system in place. A settler must through the proper channel to acquire land and must respect the subsisting jurisdictions. The Jona-Alur’s claim on the eastern banks of river Nile directly infringes on the rights of Acholi as a whole. We are very concerned that the petitioners are not recognizing the jurisdictions of Nwoya district and Ker Kal Kwaro Acholi, Where were they when the district Land Board was issuing title to Maj. Gen Otema and the others.

Apart from Major Gen. Otema, there are many people (some are ethnic Alur) who applied to Nwoya district land board and were granted leases. What will be the effect of this allegation to the leases already in their hands? Why are the petitioners not challenging to the actions of Nwoya District Land Board? Are their claims genuine or they are taking the commission for a ride?

Acholi as a region is currently hosting many ethnic including the Langi, Madi, Chope, South Sudanese, Banyoro and Alur most of whom are leaving peacefully with the host communities. We question why those before you are taking the path of belligerence.

We therefore request that you look at this matter as a bigger matter and involve more stakeholders into the discussion. As Ker Kal Kwaro Acholi, We support all peaceful efforts to resolve the problem and we urge you not to do things that will escalate the conflict. You should look at Gen. Otema as an Acholi with legitimate interests in the land, not as a soldier.

As Ker Kal Kwaro Acoli, we shall be engaging the concerned authorities to join us in looking for a lasting solution and we as well look forward to closely working with the commission on this.

Again let me assure of the good wishes and regards from his highness, The Lawirwodi of Acholi Rwoti David Onen Acana II.

Thanks

Sincerely

Ambrose Olaa

Prime Minister Ker Kal Kwaro Acholi.

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