Residents Seek UN Intervention Over Land Evictions in Amuru

 

from the UN Department of Safety and Security meet land owners from Lakang and Kololo in Amuru district over land disputes between them, the government and investors. Photo by Sam Lawino

from the UN Department of Safety and Security meet land owners from Lakang and Kololo in Amuru district over land disputes between them, the government and investors. Photo by Sam Lawino

Land evictions and related disputes in Amuru district is furthering more miseries among the population, with some even vowing to put their lives on the line in order to survive it.

The Chairman of Lakang Parish David Oyet Owila on Tuesday warned Security Field Officials from the UN High Commission for Human Right not to ignore their dispute with the Madhvani group of companies and the government because it is going to cause bloodshed.

“The blame will be directed to you because you abandoned us in our time of need,” Owila said.  “You need to intervene and avert bloodshed,” he added.

The UN officials had gone to the ground on a fact finding mission with regards to the evictions among them protection of civilians by the government.

The Madhvani group of companies is seeking to acquire 40,000 hectares of land in Amuru sub-county for Sugar cane growing.

This has never gone down well with local residents who continue to accuse Madhvani of using statehouse and underhand methods.

The Group’s Director of Agriculture Kakira Sugar Works Mr K. G. K Rajar wrote to Amuru Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) Mr Martin Kisule requesting him to begin surveying the allocated land by July 27th but this directive failed due to threats from the locals, after it had been foiled.

“You are kindly requested to write to Chief District surveyor to authorize the Amuru Sugar works Ltd for the survey and mapping of the 10000 hectares of land,” the letter read in part.

But the letter has since fuelled anger among residents in the area and neighbouring sub counties. The communities say they are ready to put their lives on the line if Madhvani insists on using unorthodox methods in wanting to acquire land in the area.

“We are not against development but we hate their methods, they see us as aliens on our land,”  “We shall stop any development until they listen to us,” Owila said.

During the 40 minutes meeting with the UN team at Lakang trading centre the residents also accused the government and investors of not being transparent in the activities in the region.

On July 13, Amuru district officials including the LCV Chairman Anthony Omach Atube, RDC James Mwesigye, Chief Administrative officer Martin Kisule, and Secretary to the District Land Board Kitara J. P Layoo; met with Kakira Sugar Works Director Rajar in Kampala as a committee that was set up by the residents.

They were given shs131.1million to kick-start the survey process.

“A committee cannot be formed until the president pronounces himself on the court ruling that the land is communal,” Punga-Toke 74 said.

section of community leaders that attended the meeting

section of community leaders that attended the meeting

Those who met the Madhvani officials acted on their own interest and not that of the affected communities.

The committee in Kampala resolved that for the survey to start, the Madhvani group should engage the Land Ministry and office of the President to facilitate the survey to its end within one month.

They also agreed to add more security personnel to Lakang and Kololo to keep law and order.

The Resident Judge Wilson Masalu Musene of Gulu High Court declared in his February ruling “that the land is a public land.”

He said the first respondent (Amuru Land Board) was right to allocate land to Maj Gen Julius Oketa, Christine Atimango the former Land Board secretary and the Madhvani Group of Companies.

The judge said the petition lacked merit and dismissed it with costs. However the verdict attracted anger and outright rejection by the communities.

On May 9th President Yoweri Museveni told residents in Lakang that it was the government that wanted the 10,000 hectares, not Madhivani and asked them to set up a committee to discuss it.

However, the residents see this as treacherous way to evict them from their land.

“We want everything in writing to authenticate his (Museveni) truthfulness so that we can believe what he says,” Punga-Toke 74 said.

He said the President must first pronounce himself on the “flawed” court ruling which gave communal land to Madhivani, Maj Gen Julius Oketta and Christine Atimango.

The communities have applied for an appeal but a date for any hearing has not been fixed since February

Uganda has four land tenure systems – The Mailo, Free Hold, Lease Hold systems. Northern Uganda falls under the communal system where land is owned by the clan.

In early February Gulu district Resident Judge Wilson Masalu Musene ruled that the land in Amuru district is a public land.

Justice Musene said “the district land Board had acted lawfully to allocate the land to the respondents.”

If the government goes ahead with its plan to acquire the land for investment, over 18000 people will become landless.

This development comes less than two years when the government declared an end to internment camps in 2007 when the war subdued and people started resettling back to their villages.

Meanwhile the UN Officials who spoke to Acholi Times after the meeting said that the complaints will be forwarded to their head office in Kampala.

“We have no answer to your questions but we shall forward them to our bosses in Kampala” one source who didn’t want to be named said.

Land in Amuru and Nwoya districts in northern Uganda have been at the centre of land evictions and acquisitions since the announcement of oil finds in the area.

The UN Security Council recently passed a precondition resolution to its member states to protect communities from land evictions and acquisition by multinational corporations.