Revisiting The Amuru Land Debacle And The Apaa Land Conflict

The writer, Morris Komakech

Editor: This article was first published in 2015. With the ”Apaa land conflict” back i nthe news, we republish it again

Many people have identified some distortions by Prof. Morris Ogenga-Latigo on Amuru Game Reserves, which have profound implications on current Apaa debacle, if not corrected. In his article that was published in the Observer newspaper of April 29, 2015, the Prof asserted that “…when Aswa-Lolim-Kilak controlled hunting areas in Acholi were de-gazetted in 1973, East Madi Game Reserve was not”. (Re: Naked Acholi Mothers: Land or leadership gap?”). In fact, my research shows that this statement is inaccurate and insensitive to the tragic history of the People of Amuru.

This article intends to generate debate on whether the village of Apaa in the original position of things, belonged to Madi district; and whether Acholi settlers strayed and settled into Apaa by mistake after 1972 de-gazetting of these game reserves as claimed by Prof. Ogenga-Latigo.

Indeed, the history of the people of Amuru, their settlement patterns, and current land challenges are complex and intertwined with colonial injustices including forceful evictions, development of Game Parks, preserving Game Reserves, Disease (sleeping sickness), and now oil and land fertility.

To fully understand the timelines and the onset of the turbulent history of Amuru, one has to start from the turn of the century under colonial rule and Lamogi rebellion of 1911.

Precisely, the current land problems of Amuru can be traced back to 1911 when the British Colonial administration forcefully evicted residents of Amuru from their customary lands and forced them into squalid internments in Gulu at the end of the Lamogi rebellion. Researcher, Eria Serwajje revealed that the most affected in this displacement were people of the clans of Parabongo, Toro, Boro, Pagak, Pabbo and Lamogi.

The British claimed that the area was infested with Tsetse flies and small pox. However, administratively, the challenge of the Lamogi rebellion made it necessary to gather “insurgents” into close proximity for easy administration than when interspersed in large areas, and historians have viewed that displacement as part of divide and rule, given the challenges faced with Lamogi rebellion in 1911 (In Serwajje, 2012 and others).

It must be noted that the displacement and subsequent internment of the people of Amuru in Gulu town lasted for 25 years, from 1911 – 1936 (Serwajja, 2012). The evicted people were not allowed to return to Amuru in those 25 years and that partly explains why the Payira people are still spread everywhere in Gulu till this day and why the vast expanse of lands in Amuru remain uninhabited, or in the hands of few land owners Read: Moses Odokonyero in “Rich and Poor in Acholi moving at different pace on land”, Daily Monitor, May 6, 2015).

During the 25 years when they lived in IDP camps, the colonial administration converted the customary lands belonging to Lamogi, Boro, Parabongo, Pabbo and Pagak into game reserves with clear intentions not to allow those people back onto their lands.

Colonial injustice

According to a research by Eria Serwajje (2012), Murchision Falls National Park was established in 1936, the same year Gulu district was created. In the North of Lakang area, the British formed the East Madi Game Reserve, which covered the areas of Lakang, Kinene, the disputed Apaa, Anaka and Lamogi. All these territories belonged to the Acholi people who were evicted in 1911. The reason that evictees were relocated to Gulu and camped at present day Bar Pece area was because they were Acholi, not Madi. In fact, this same method of land usurpation was tried again by the NRM government when it proposed that IDPs be developed into urban centres so as to free Acholi customary lands that people were forced from in 1996 by decree from President Museveni.

The new game reserves were demarcated by the `galaya’ (shinny metallic saucers) that were hanged on trees to confirm the boundaries of these game reserves. Later, these boundaries became known as `Wang–galaya’ in Acholi language, not in Madi.

The East Madi Game Reserve did not last because it later became known as Kilak Controlled Hunting Area in 1936, the same year of its founding, perhaps upon the visit by British PM, Winston Churchill (See: Eria Serwajja, 2012, p.14). So, it is clear that when people from Lakang and other areas were evicted, their lands were converted into conservation areas to promote sport hunting. Hunting permits where exclusive to foreigners. This means that the indigenous people were denied access and hunting rights on their lands. This policy later ignited the onset of poaching by residents of Amuru because game hunting was their reliable source of food.

History shows that the first known legal consolidation of Amuru lands into game reserves was exacted through an ordinance called The Game (Preservation and Control) Ordinance No. 14 of 1959. This ordinance gazetted 15kms of migratory corridor for elephants, which later became known as Aswa/Lolim Game Reserve and separated from Kilak Controlled Hunting Area (formerly East Madi). Therefore, it is accurate to state that East Madi Wildlife Conservation idea ceased to exist in 1936, at least on paper, and it had no legal basis before independence in 1962. (Refer also to Dr. Michael Amone Liri’s “To the best of my knowledge, East Madi Game Reserve doesn’t exist”, Daily Monitor September 13, 2011).

At independence, the Obote I government reinforced these colonial policies and in 1963, The Game (Preservation and Control) Act, which contained the Game (Kilak Hunting area) Order was enacted by The Uganda Game Department. The Order contained Legal Notice (L. N.) 364 of 1963, thereafter amended by Statutory Instrument (S.I.) 17 of 1964. These laws effectively gazetted Kilak Controlled Hunting Area.

These Ordinances further alienated and dispersed the Amuru people who were slowly returning to their lands from internment.

Idi Amin came with rather radical land reforms in 1971. Some of them appeared friendly, but above all, he was of the view that land belonged to the government. However, on March 30, 1972 Amin’s Minister for Animal Resources, Hon. W.B Banage issued The Game (Preservation and Control) Abolition of Game Reserves Instrument, 1972 No. 54 which abolished the Katagati game Reserve and Aswa/ Lolim Game Reserves.

A separate Statutory Instrument 1972 No.55 was also issued in the same year, and it decreed that “The Game (Kilak Hunting Area) order is hereby revoked”. (I have copies of both).

It is, therefore, dishonest of Prof. Ogenga- Latigo to state that “when Aswa-Lolim-Kilak controlled hunting areas in Acholi were de-gazetted in 1973, East Madi Game Reserve was not”. Note that there was no de-gazetting ordinance issued in 1973 as Dr. Ogenga-Latigo claimed. Given that the Professor was in Parliament for at least two complete terms, he should have acquainted himself with the existence of Amin’s decrees to avoid this embarrassing misspeaking, however deliberate.

A good reading about these developments can be found in the works of Eria Serwajje that I have cited extensively. This is a paper presented at an International Conference on Global Land Grabbing II, at Cornell University, NY, in 2012.

Investor mounts pressure

The resurgence of the East Madi Game Reserve was actually easy to trace. I have the Statutory Instrument dated September 20, 2011 and signed by Prof Ephraim Kamuntu, the then Minister of Tourism, Wildlife and Antiquities. When I did further studies, I confirmed that the pressure being mounted on the people of Amuru is indeed arising from an investor.

My research shows that an Investor called Bruce Martin who owned Lake Albert Safaris/Lodge (Royal Uganda Outfitters; Lost Horizon Outfitters), was awarded the entire “East Madi Wildlife Reserve” since 2010. In the Hunting Report newsletter, The Reserve was described as “900 square-kilometers of unspoiled bush along the Nile River”, and that “there are no villagers on this land”. These revelations are contained in a paid Online Hunting Report Newsletter that can be accessed via Google search or URL: In conclusion, I have brought out some challenging perspectives and these are documented facts that are easy to verify since I have hard copies in my hands. It is incumbent upon you – Amuru, Adjumani and other stakeholders to now determine how to use this information to resolve the boundary issues amicably.

It is clear that Prof Ogenga- Latigo and government are partial, and are interested parties in Amuru’s land. It is only fair if Prof. Ogenga-Latigo were to exclude himself from future indulgences on the matter of Amuru and Acholi, as such. The truth be said, let us not subvert the peace that has returned to Northern Uganda by distortions. Let us also be mindful of the many Judas Iscariots who will go extra miles to sell the soul of the vulnerable post conflict Acholi without remorse. I am convinced that a proper appraisal of the matter of Apaa and future local government boundary disputes should be resolved amicably, and in a transparent manner by reverting to original colonial maps. The history of the people of Amuru has been that of distortions and displacement. The recent LRA/NRA war further alienated them from their land. We must, therefore, be just and locate the rightful boundaries of Amuru by going as far back in time as we can, else we shall be enforcing and perpetuating colonial injustices on these battered people.