Acoliland has always been the envy of foreigners. If today’s Acoli fail to protect their land, that will be their final undoing. My Uncle use to tell me; ‘Son, without land you are a beast, and without a wife you are a stunted child!’.
The scenery was very fine; to the east and southeast, masses of high mountains, while to the west and south were vast tracks of parklike country of intense green. …. The grass on the side of the pass was full six feet high. .. the rain fell in torrents and soaked to the skin. On arriving at Shooa (Chua!)at Latitude 3.25 degrees N, on 13 January,1864, Baker had this to say.
“Shooa was ‘flowing with milk and honey’; fowls, butter, goats, were in abundance and ridiculously cheap; …………The cultivation in this country was superior to anything that I had seen farther north; large quantities of sesame were grown and carefully gathered….”.
It is reports like this, about the abundance of flora and fauna, large game and livestock, healthy climatic condition and general wealth in Acoliland that brought explorers, travellers, invaders, slavers and eventually colonizers to this land.
Many people have been eyeing Acoliland, which now stretches from approx. 3.5degrees N to 2.25degrees N, and from the River Nile to Longitude 32.5degrees E.
Sir Winston Churchill, then the British Secretary for colonies, on his journey through Africa in 1907, and as he sailed down the Nile at Pakuba and Pakwach, looked east into Acoliland, mused and marvelled at the beauty and richness of the land, and wondered why that land could not be settled by a ‘superior race’ to make better use of the this land. Acoliland is coveted. The first British colonizers made attempts to concentrate the Acoli in certain areas.
Under the pretext of controlling tse tse flies, large Acoli population from the Nile region (the Koc, Payira, Alero Bwobo) was moved to a designated strip of land that lay along a projected road which was in a straight line from Atura through Keyo hills to Nimule. The Acoli were to help build the roads on the basis of forced labour (luroni). Colonial administration was also made the easier as people crowded together. The land they left behind was soon gazetted as game reserves and parks.
In 1939, there was a colonial conspiracy to settle some 30,000 Nubians in a district of their own carved out of Acoliland. This was not to be. The Nubians themselves rejected the idea, obviously fearing an expected Acoli hostility, given their recent history as part of Muno Kuturia, which plundered and destroyed Acoliland and enslaved the Acoli until they were routed from Acoliland in 1890, and their return in 1912 as a British colonial force (The Kings African Rifles, KAR) to suppress the Lamogi Liberation War. It disarmed and robbed the Acoli of some 5000 guns, several turns of ivory and tens of thousands of cattle.
By end of World War 2, the Jewish question, to found their own State of Israel in their ‘promised land’, was high on the international political agenda. Rumours abounded that the Nile was being considered as an alternative to River Jordan. Acoliland was to be suitable for Jewish settlement as it was sparsely populated.
The Zionists fortunately rejected the Nile and Acoliland. The Acoli have twice successfully rejected an attempt at Land Tenure based on the family or the individual. They insist that land is and must be communally owned and inherited through the clan system.
The people of Acoli have a lot to learn about the importance of land from the Zimbabweans. If you let your land go, it is extremely difficult to get it back. Without land you are condemned to a pauper in perpetuity. When the White Americans wanted to keep the black Americans (freed slaves) in a continued state of slavery, they denied them two things; land and education. Some Acoli join in the Western governments and media condemnation of President Mugabe’s actions to retrieve some land for the true owners of Zimbabwe, quite oblivious that some day it could be their turn to cry over confiscated or stolen Acoliland! There are so many questions to ask.
In the sixties a South African Tobacco company called Rothmans surveyed an area in Acoliland, which was suitable for tobacco growing. The strip starting from Paminyai, and continued through Keyo hills and Alero, skirted the foot of Mt.Kilak, and continued down to Attiak Abalokodi. Nothing came out of the project.
Could the Rothmans project be revived soon? If this is the case, then the Acoli labourers who will work the farms must learn to be good squatters on white farm land. The rest of Jo Alero, JoLamogi, Jo Pabbo and Jo Attiak must prepare to be transferred to a new reservation. The most serious and perhaps the more immediate is the question of the Game Park and madhivani.
If some Mexicans today should fancy Kabalega Falls Park for whatever reason and has the money to buy it, President Museveni will be hard pressed to say ‘No!’ Under the Free Market and Globalization policies, which he advocates, anybody should be able to buy and own property in any part of the world, be it a building, a mine, park, forest, mountain or a part of a sea.
What does all this mean? It means that the Acoli must wake up and quickly attach modern economic value to their land and come up with a viable policy for land tenure that must be protected by the Uganda Constitution.
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