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Acholi leaders challenge Museveni to tell truth on their land

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MP Odonga Otto in confrontation with police in Amuru

Acholi leaders want President Museveni to come out clearly on his interest in Amuru land, especially why he is pushing a sugarcane growing project down the throats of a community that has rejected it.

For several days, Amuru district locals and their leaders have protested government efforts to acquire land for a sugar factory belonging to the Madhvani group of companies, with some stripping naked to deter a minister and officials who had gone to survey the land.

The Amuru LC-V chairman, Michael Lakony, told The Observer on Friday the sugarcane project is not the only investment that government can take the Amuru land, which otherwise belongs to the community.

“Why is government insisting on bringing Madhvani here yet our people do not want the project? Amuru people will give land for development to other investors but not Madhvani because their [government] approach to our people in acquiring land is wrong. See how they are using teargas and shooting our people with live bullets!” Lakony wondered.

It is alleged that about 110 people entered an agreement with government to sell their land to Madhvani for sugarcane growing, a claim the community and their leaders refute.

The Madhvani group of companies has industrial settings in several East African countries and is one of the largest diversified private-sector groups, employing more than 10,000 people. In Jinja, they already have a sugarcane plantation that has lasted for decades.

On Thursday, Lands Minister Betty Amongi, and her team sat for more than four hours on the road to Kololo in Amuru sub-county, as residents blocked her from accessing the land. Amongi never came out of the car for fear of being attacked by angry residents.

The residents, who defiantly sat on the road to block access to the land, claimed they did not want Madhvani on their communal property. Hundreds of women, some with children, then got up from among the crowd and protested in the nude, saying they are not willing to sell their land to Madhvani.

Unconfirmed numbers of people were injured as police used teargas to clear the way for the minister to access the land, which has been at the centre of a dispute that has dragged on since 2012.

ACHOLI MPs SPEAK

On Friday, seven legislators from Acholi Parliamentary Group demanded that President Museveni pronounces himself on the matter to prevent loss of life. The legislators said Museveni is aware that the Acholi community in Amuru district has no interest in giving land to the sugar baron.

The legislators who are calling for Museveni’s intervention are Lucy Akello (Amuru Woman), Lucy Aciro (Aruu North), Lyndro Komakech (Gulu Municipality), Samuel Odonga Otto (Aruu South), Gilbert Olanya (Kilak North), and Anthony Akol (Kilak South).

According to Akello, there has been heavy army deployment in Kololo since the planned move to survey over 10,000 hectares of land in which over 15,000 people live to be given to the investor for sugarcane growing and eventual setting up of a sugar factory.

Akello says efforts by Acholi leaders to seek the president’s consideration of withdrawing soldiers from the area met resistance from staff at State House.

“We tried to reach out to the PPS of the president, Madam Molly Kamukama. She told me, ‘we are tired of these issues of Amuru. Whatsoever will happen will have to happen. We’ve already released money.’ This is a clear indication that the commander in chief knows about all this,” she claimed.

Akello adds that Acholi leaders were seeking to reach out to the president to withdraw soldiers from Kololo for fear of violence on the local community. On Thursday, soldiers fired live bullets in the air and threw tear gas canisters to disperse protestors. This led to the hospitalization of two people who had sustained injuries.

MP Komakech said the government needs to adapt a conflict-sensitive approach to handling the Amuru.

“Gunshots are used on people instead of teargas. I don’t think even the British used this on our people but here we are in 2017. This is barbaric; it is not a good approach for development,” he said.

According to Komakech, the government needs to go back to the drawing board to involve the community in the investment process and land acquisition if the project is to benefit the locals.

“The Atiak Sugar Works brought on board the entire community and there is full participation. There is equity in the whole process but Madhvani’s approach is a model that cannot be accepted in Uganda today.  If you went to Jinja, I don’t think Madhvani has made all the Basoga rich, no.”

Komakech urged the president to take the Madhvani land acquisition as a matter of national concern to respect the land rights of the local community.

MINISTER SPEAKS

Meanwhile, Amongi rubbished claims that the people of Amuru have rejected the Madhvani project. She said the only matter left between the community and government is payment.

“The attorney general then, (2015) Peter Nyombi, signed an agreement for an out-of-court settlement with the litigants. It means that the clients know what this means. What we are left with now is payment and the government has communicated to them. The clients know how government has communicated to them on how that is being handled,” she said.

Amongi told reporters that she is implementing a decision from government to have those who can give their land have it surveyed and they are paid.

“What I am implementing is only dealing with those who want to sell their land on willing seller, willing buyer basis to constitute the 10,000 hectares,” she added.

Amongi said her mission to acquire the land will not be disrupted by Acholi leaders who are using their positions to manipulate the local community to accept their ideas. There are so far 10 people whose land is set to be surveyed and they will receive their payments thereafter.

“I have been in the field with [Democratic Party president] Hon [Norbert] Mao and [Agago North MP] Ogenga Latigo supporting the project,” she said. “Let us accept that there are Acholi leaders who support the project. But let us not shift blame. It is the Acholi people, if they want to have a common position, to agree on that common position.”

THE OBSERVER

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