Heavy Deployment as Amuru Land Survey Finally Kicks Off

3970 Views Gulu, Uganda

In short
Government has finally commenced the verification of land owners in Amuru Sugar Works Project area in Amuru district. The Sugar works project is a joint venture between Madhvani Group of Companies and the government of Uganda. The project has stalled for at least eight years due to a bitter ownership dispute with locals who claim the area as customary land.

Government has finally commenced the verification of land owners in Amuru Sugar Works Project area in Amuru district.
 
The Sugar works project is a joint venture between Madhvani Group of Companies and the government of Uganda.
 
Lands Minister Betty Amongi says the three weeks exercise will culminate into compensation of the project affected people in the area.
 
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Amongi led a team of surveyors headed by Gulu district Surveyor Robert Kioko to Payot Community School to undertake the survey on Monday evening.
 
They were escorted by heavily armed Police personnel under the command of Asuman Mugenyi, the Director of Police Operations. Amongi told the surveyors to only verify the borders of 101 land owners who have accepted to grant their property for the project.
 
An atmosphere of fear and helplessness hangs over more than three villages in Amuru Sub County in Amuru district following commencement of the verification exercise and heavy deployment of Police personnel in the area.
 
Kololo Trading Centre
 
The personnel from the Field Force Unit (FFU) are heavily armed with tear gas canisters, tear gas launchers, pepper spray, anti-riot gears and automatic weapons. They are stationed at Payot Community School in Bombay sub ward, Pailyec Parish in Amuru Sub County where they arrived on Monday night.
 
By day break on Tuesday, the battle ready troops had taken positions in and around Kololo Trading centre where they mounted road blocks at Ocibi River Bridge and another barely five meters to Kololo Trading centre.
 
Most shops remained closed as residents who seem to be in deep contemplation congregated in groups of five and ten under shades and at verandahs. Their fear was visible as they sat without engaging each other in any conversation as Police personnel keenly observed their activities.
 
Some of the personnel sat in silence on top of a waiting highway patrol vehicle parked under a giant thorn tree at the centre while some patrolled the trading centre on foot. One of the officers aboard a parked vehicle threatened to arrest a URN journalist who attempted to photograph the vehicle.
 
Florence Lalam, a 57-year old woman said the presence of the Police has made it categorically clear that their land will be forcefully taken without their consent.
 
She said many residents have fled the area for fear of being arrested.
 
AIGP Asuman Mugenyi, the police Director of Operations, says leaders who are against the project will not be allowed to disorganise the verification exercise. He says they will ensure that such leaders are kept out of the project area until the exercise is completed.
 
Mugenyi assured journalists that the residents should not live in fear since they are not being targeted.
 
Bosco Otim, the Aswa River Region Police Commander told URN that the road blocks are being used to identify those who incited residents to engage in nude protests in front of lands Minister Betty Amongi last Thursday.
 
According to Otim, Police has so far picked up four people to help in investigating last week's incident. He however declined to name the suspects adding that they are all safe in Police custody.
 
It was the second time in two years that the women in Amuru were stripping in front of government officials. In April 2015 they undressed when then lands minister Daudi Migereko and his Internal Affairs counterpart, General Aronda Nyakairima tried to survey the land.
 
Aronda died in September 2015 while Migereko is nolonger in cabinet.
 
Delays
 
The project has stalled for at least eight years due to a bitter ownership dispute with locals who claim the area as customary land.
 
Five individuals including Michael Ocula, Concy Aciro, David Penytoo, Uma Zakeo and Obalim Jack Weleya led the claimants to court against four respondents. The four include Amuru Land Board, Amuru Sugar Works, Gen. Julius Oketta then working in the Office of the Prime Minister and Christine Atimango, then Secretary to Amuru district land board. Oketta died in November last year.
 
Essentially, the applicants sought two things: a declaration that the allocation of Lakang land to the respondents by the Amuru District Land Board "is null and void and should be cancelled and/or stopped"; and that the said allocation violated the Constitutional Rights of Customary Owners of the land as they were not given a hearing and that it amounted to trespass and deprivation of their rights to own property.
 
The Respondents in turn presented affidavits "that the land in question is not customary land but public land," available for allocation by Amuru District Land Board. They argued that the allocations made by the Board did not deprive the Applicants or anybody of their Constitutional Rights.
 
On February 2, 2012, the High Court sitting in Gulu presided by Justice Wilson Masalu Musene delivered a 45-page Judgment against the five individual applicants who acted on behalf of other residents.
 
The applicants then filed an appeal challenging the manner in which the High Court of Gulu handled the matter. They secured a court injunction preventing Madhvani Group of Companies from forcing out residents from the area until the appeal was disposed of.
 
In 2016, a section of the applicants led by Michael Ocula and David Penytoo agreed to an out of court settlement of the matter on condition that government declares the land a customary land; compensates those living on the land; processes titles in the names of individual land owners and the affected land owners granted shares in Amuru Sugar Works.
 
Minister Betty Amongi told residents in Amuru district on Monday that government has agreed to some of the proposals while area Members of Parliament have tabled fresh proposals.
 
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Last week, the first attempt to verify the land ended in a nude protest as supporters of Aruu South MP Odonga Otto and his Kilak South counterpart Gilbert Olanya confronted the Lands Minister and Police.
 
On Monday Olanya told URN that they have reached a consensus with government over some critical issues including compensation of land owners. He said they were consulting on whether the compensation will be through a land trust or not.
 

 

About the author

Peter Labeja
Peter Labeja has been a practicing journalist for the last 13 years during which he has covered part of the brutal conflict which bedeviled Northern Uganda as well as the painful transition to Peace thereafter. Emerging post conflict issues such as land rights of under privileged widows and orphans, challenges of access to social services in the immediate aftermath of Lord’s Resistance Army conflict in Northern Uganda.

Labeja is now the Northern Uganda Bureau chief in Acholi Sub Region since 2014 - Gulu, Amuru, Nwoya and Omoro districts as well as South Sudan falls within his areas of jurisdiction. He previously worked with The Vision Group for four years.

Labeja’s major career interests are in Climate Change; Agriculture and Environment - natural resources such as Water, Oil and Gas; Transitional Justice; Human Rights, Democracy and Governance as well as South Sudan’s humanitarian crisis. In 2013, Labeja was awarded a prestigious Pan African Journalism Award for excellence in journalism at United Nation’s UNEP headquarters in Nairobi, Kenya for Climate Change and Health Reporting.