Six days ago, in Northern Uganda, members of the Acholi and Madi ethnic groups had another round of a bloody clash that left several murdered, many severely injured, hundreds of homesteads set ablaze while thousands have fled their homes. They are conflicting over a 40 square Km piece of land in Apaa at the border between the Acholi district of Amuru and the Madi district of Adjuman.
The Acholi belong to the Nilotes while the Madi belong to the Central Sudanic tribes mostly found in West Nile region of Uganda. They are closely related to the Lugbara. The Acholi and Madi also have ancestral lands in the South Sudan's Eastern Equatorial Province that borders with Uganda. Before Museveni swung in with his Divide and Rule policy, the Acholiland in Uganda was comprised of Gulu and Kitgum. The Madi are found in Adjuman and Moyo. The Madi speak Acholi language but the Acholi don't speak the Madi language. Actually, some of the South Sudanese Madi trace their ancestry to the Acholi of Uganda. There are Acholi speaking Madi clans in the Pakele area of Adjuman.
The Madi of South Sudan spearheaded the original Anyanya uprising that metamorphosed into the SPLA. Anyanya is a Madi language word to mean snake poison. During the initial Anyanya rebellion in the 1960s and early 1970s, both Madi and Acholi of South Sudan fled to Uganda as refugees. The Uganda government was supporting the rebelling South Sudanese.
The exiled UPC/Obote group set up anti-Iddi Amin military bases in the South Sudanese dominated Madi and Acholis and notably around the Owiny Kibul area. Following the 1972 Addis Ababa agreement between Uganda and Sudan, the Sudanese Acholis returned to Sudan and settled around the Owiny Kibul, Opari and Lyii.
The Sudanese Madi who claimed that the above areas were their ancestral land, felt deprived of by the Acholi and a conflict ensued. As the Anyanya movement faded, the Acholi of Sudan allied with its heir, the SPLA to the disadvantage of the Madi. There has always been friction between the two ethnic communities in South Sudan. Around 2011, the friction erupted into an open bloody clash over land in Moli village, Magwi county of Eastern Equatorial Province where two people were killed.
To the annoyance of the Madi, the Acholi allied regional administrator, Brig. JJ. Okot, simply removed a Madi and replaces him with an Acholi as the Commissioner of Magwi County. The matter was only resolved through the mediation of the church led Acholi Madi Peace Conference that came up with a Joint Madi-Acholi Peace and Reconciliation Committee that has successfully ensured harmony between the two ethnic communities in South Sudan.
In Uganda, the Madi and Acholi clashed for two years (1924 - 1926) over the boundary under question before it was finally settled on Ruver Joka. The colonial authorities evacuated people from the disputed area to save them from epidemics and disease. Later the same area was made a hunting area and the evacuated people lost ownership. However, over the years both Madi and Acholi returned and settled in the same area. During the 1970s, the Madi were more identified with the Iddi Amin regime. After the overthrow of Iddi Amin, a Madi, Moses Ali formed an armed rebel group, the Uganda National Rescue Front (UNRF) with bases in Sudan.
In August and October 1980, the Acholi dominated UNLA carried out reprisal attacks against the Madi, Lugbara and Kakwa communities. In particular, the February - March 1981 attack by Acholi militias on East Madi led to an exodus of Madi to the UNRF bases in South Sudan.
When Museveni overthrow the government in 1986 and bundled all the 'northerners' as Anyanya, the Madi and Acholi set their differences aside as the grappled the deliberate humiliation that ensued. The Acholi were trotting between Sudan and Uganda under the rebel LRA. Zoka Forest that is near the disputed Apaa land was a major LRA base.
The army's 11th Batallion occupied Zoka Forest as the residents of Apaa were boarded into Internally Displaced People's (IDP) camps. While the residents of Apaa were away in IDP camps, the government leased out part of Apaa land to a South African investor, Bruce, for Sport Hunting. That is why the Minister of Tourism is in the company of the PM, Rugunda during the visit to Apaa now. At the end if the 20 years of the northern Uganda insurgency, people reoccupied Apaa area. The new occupants, both Acholi and Madi, often clashed over ownership of the land. One such clash in 2011 affected about 1,500 households.
In January 2012, 200 Amuru residents attacked and displaces 20 families of Madi. During the same year, Uganda Wildlife Authority in collusion with the army evicted 6,00 residents if Apaa to make way for a wildlife reserve. The affected people were hoarded into Pabbo Sub-county. In northern Uganda land is communally owned but a 2012 study report by Makerere University's Refugee Law Project into Apaa land could not clarity whether that land was either a game reserve or customarily owned.
The government planned to give land in Amuru to the Madhvani Group of companies for sugarcane growing. In April 2012 women from Amuru district undressed in protest over their land. This followed Museveni's visit to Apaa where he told residents that they would soon have to hand over their land to a multinational company for sugar growing.
To ease the land grabbing, the Museveni regime had created the district of Amuru from its mother, Gulu district. Convinced that the Acholi in Amuru had now been weakened, it moved to redraw the border between Amuru and Adjuman so that Apaa land could be moved to the friendlier Adjuman district. However, when it came to the two communities, each of them wanted Apaa to be incorporated into the district where the tribesmen were the majority.
The Madi wanted to be part of Adjuman district while the Acholi wanted to remain in Amuru district. In 2015 the government deployed to army to occupy the disputed land in Apaa in preparation for demarcating the boundary between Amuru and Adjuman districts. The army went on rampage arresting, detaining and destroying property belonging to Acholi. The government claimed that the army was providing security to officials who were demarcating the land between Acholi and Madi. The Acholi resisted and removed the mark stone that had been 'illegally' places by the officials.
Two weeks later, on 16th April 2016, the Minister of Internal Affairs, Aronda and Lands Minister, Migereko made a visit to the area in the company of Surveyors with an intention of erecting a mark stone for the boundary. The two were welcomed to a humiliating welcome by public protests by naked women. The area M.P, Gilbert Olanya was violently arrested, detained and charged with inciting violence. The Ministers left the venue after ordering the army to withdraw from the area, set free the Acholi they had detained and promised to compensate destroyed property.
Instead, four months later in September 2016, the army and police returned to Apaa and opened fire on villagers who were protesting the alleged government ploy to steal their land. It is alleged that a number of people were killed and their bodies taken to the Adjuman side of the border, several were injured and many were arrested. The mostly women with children on their backs who were peacefully protesting at Apaa Trading centre were met by anti-riot police and their armored cars and the army. 31 of the arrested were charged with inciting violence and remanded in Gulu.
The religious leaders from Acholi led by the Vice Chairman of the Acholi Religious Peace Initiative, Sheikh Musa Khelil, together with Gen. Oketta organised a meeting with the victims. Evidence of bodily wounds from gunfire and beatings by security forces were displayed and a demand for the withdraw of security forces from Apaa was presented.
The victims went ahead to accuse Gen. Oketta of betrayal and connivance with the government in grabbing their land. Shortly after the country witnessed the mysterious death of Gen. Aronda followed by Gen. Oketta.
In a March 2016, ethnic clashes in Apaa left one person dead, several injured and more than 130 homesteads burnt to ashes. In a March 2017, ethnic clashes in Apaa, two people were injured, one was reported missing while 13 were reportedly kidnapped following an alleged attack that left 35 homesteads set ablaze.
For years now, the army, Police and other regime officials have been involved heavily involved in illegal timber logging in Zoka Forest. The Adjuman Woman M.P brought the matter to the attention of government on the floor of parliament in August 2016. Consequently, the Prime Minister appointed a four-member ministerial team led by Karoro Okurut to investigate the matter but the findings have never been made public.
In October 2016, the State Minister for Lands, Namuganza told a press conference that the government was to degazette part of Zoka Forest to give way for sugarcane growing as an alternative to Busoga as a way of mitigating food security there. Gen. Moses Ali organised the people of Madi in a protest conference where they invited the lands Minister, Betty Amongi. She disputed her junior Minister's earlier assertion and instead disclosed that government was to acquire land in Amuru district near Murchison Falls National Park. During the same conference Mises Ali denied allegations that he was working with government to destroy Zoka Forest.
The army's 4th Division in Gulu also instituted a probe committee headed by the then Division Commander, Brig. Muhanga to investigate the army officers involves in illegal logging. Despite the overwhelming evidence of military trucks from the Pabbo barracks, the army probe found no one culpable. In April 2017, while presiding over the handover/takeover of 4th Division, the Commander of the Land Forces, Gen. Elwelu implored the incoming Division Commander, Brig. Kanyesigye to stop the illegal logging carnage in Zoka Forest.
The 13 square Km forest is mainly located in Adjuman district's southern part of East Madi Wildlife Reserve and part of it is in Amuru District. Together with its adjacent areas like Apaa, the forest is part of the game corridor between Murchison Falls National Park in Uganda and Nimule National Park in Sudan. Museveni has repeatedly referred to environmental conservation as 'conservation of poverty' in his strong advocacy for giving out forest lands to the so called 'investors'.
It is against the above-mentioned developments that the Apaa land conflict erupted into bloody clashes last week. It is reported that the Police and the army visibly backed the Madi during the attacks thus humiliating the Acholi. The army has come out to vehemently deny ever taking sides in the conflict even when the evidence is overwhelming. An NBS Television Journalist was manhandled and threatened with harm before he was forces to delete the video footages he had captured. The government has sent the Prime Minister, Dr. Rugunda to the area on a fact-finding mission. The police have not yet held anybody responsible claiming that no complaint has been lodged yet.
The Acholi and Madi comprise the frontier tribes with the trouble stricken South Sudan. It is public knowledge that Ugandan youths are sneaking into South Sudan to join the SPLA-IO. For Museveni who does not favor a stable South Sudan for fear that they may aid their oppressed cousins (Acholi and Madi) back in Uganda, must be equally having no trouble with disharmony between the Acholi and Madi of northern Uganda.
The two communities have also been jointly vocal in opposing the systematic invasion of their region by armed Bantu pastrolists commonly referred to as Balalo. With this disharmony, the Balalo must be smiling. Regrettably, the worst is yet to come unless the two communities style up.
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