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Are Balalo ‘vagabonds’ or an extension of land grabbing?

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“We resolved that the invaders (Balalo) should leave the area on 18th.  The communication was made to them but their leader, James Mushabe instead called the Brigade Commander, the DPC, the DISO, who are all Balalo from the west who mobilised the police and the army and started arresting people.  We are not going to allow our land to be grabbed; it is clear that the Police, army, GISO, DISO, RDC and other authorities are all inclined towards defending the Balalo”.

Resolution by MPs from northern Uganda –  February 2017.

In Nov 2016 the L.C V Chairman Gulu district issued a two days’ ultimatum for the Balalo to leave the district and return to where they had come from.  In October 2016, these same Balalo led by the L.C

III Chairman of Kyankwanzi, Fred Mpora after he hired land for two years from a local resident of Palaro S/county at 7.5M shillings and two bulls.  Earlier in August 2016, the district Executive Committee had passed a resolution for the same arrogant and armed Balalo who were destroying locals’ gardens to leave the same S/county.


In March 2011, residents of Kotch-Goma and Puranga Sub-counties demanded for a by-law stopping land owners from leasing out land to the Balalo following destruction of crops by their cattle.  The RDC Nwoya District, Semei Okur and M.P Richard Tadwong warned residents against attacking Balalo.

In September 2016, across the River Nile in Nebbi district, locals accused the RDC, Ms. Ajilong of not doing enough to stop land disputes involving Balalo.

In 2010, 50 Balalo families were evicted from Arua district.

In February 2012, 30 Balalo together with their 2000 heads of cattle were forcefully evicted from Ubongi S/county, Moyo district to the border with Yumbe district.  This followed the expiry of a one month ultimatum.

In Kitgum district, around October 2016 members of the Koppi clan Evicted the Balalo with their 150 heads from Orom S/county who were destroying locals’ gardens and had fenced off the communal water dam.

In May 2015, elderly women stripped naked before government Ministers who had gone to Angara and Atang S/counties to oversee the surveying of land for purported government projects.  They suspected that the Museveni regime had sinister plans of ferrying Balalo and Bakiga from western Uganda to take their land.  The army was accused ferrying armed Balalo at night to into northern Uganda.  Aru county M.P, Odong Otto called on Acholi leaders to prepare for resistance warning that;

“if the Acholi people keep begging Museveni to remove the army from land disputes, he will keep on humiliating the Acholi community”.  In 2007, local residents in Apach district attacked and killed some Balalo and 25 locals were consequently arrested.

In Bunyoro sub-region, there were serious clashes between the invading Balalo and indigenous Bagungu.  The former claimed to have bought land from the Bagungu in 2003.  Fearing the backlash owing to the oil drilling in the area, Museveni withdrew his backing of the Balalo by ordering Gen. Ssejusa to forcefully evict them from the oil rich Block 2 of the Albertine area.  The evictees went to court where in 2013 they were granted a refund of 2M they had used to purchase the land by each of the 158 Balalo families.

In October 2009, clashes between locals and migrant Balalo in Panyandole Parish, Kiryandongo S/county left one Acholi man killed, 17 Balalo huts burnt down and several cows killed.

In Kibaale district, locals clashed with Balalo who invaded Kasambya S/county around 2007.  In Hoima district, residents of Kigorobya petitioned the then Minister of Internal Affairs for intervention in land conflicts between the indigenous Alur cultivators and the migrant Balalo.

In Teso sub-region, the Balalo had encroached on wetlands notably Tsai island, Ongin S/county in Kumi district.  In 2004, Museveni vowed to punish Balalo by ordering the local authorities to sternly deal with them before describing them as vagabonds who had sold their land elsewhere before moving to Teso and other regions.  Muse Echeru who is now a Minister was pictured canning some of them.

In Jan 2017, Balalo were evicted from Amolatar district after one of them stole a cow and were accused of arrogance and having no respect for humanity.

Balalo is a term used to refer to those Bahima and Rwandese Tutsi who go out to work for other non Hima/Tutsi owning cattle.  For decades the Balalo left their traditional homeland in Ankole and ventured into Buganda, Acholi, Lango and Teso sub-regions.  Before 1979 Balalo in Lango and Acholi who were referred Olari worked for Acholi and Langi as herdsmen. They were paid in cash and sometimes in kind (cattle) from which some of them accumulated own herds and separated from their masters to settle in the region.

During the 1979 chaos following the overthrow of Iddi Amin, the Langis and Acholis looted the Balalo of all their cattle in Lango and Acholiland.  The Balalo fled to Bunyoro, Buganda, and Busoga.  It was not long before the Luwero Bush war displaced them again some fleeing to Teso and Ankole.  However, they played a vital role in sustaining the Bush War in the original Luwero Triangle.  Interestingly, they were not targeted by the so called Obote soldiers in Luwero and their skulls are not among those on display at different spots.

North-western Tanzania region of Kagera was another sanctuary for these Balalos before the government of Tanzania became hard on them.

However, with the advent of Museveni and Kagame into power in Uganda and Rwanda, these so called Balalos also changed character and form.  It’s no longer the other poor pastoralist Hima/Tutsi in search of casual labour but rich people in terms of cash and herds of cattle.  They are a bunch of beneficiaries of the newly minted wealth of the past three decades using their connections with the powerful political and military elites thus why they are armed.  Their efforts to look for new territories outside the traditional cattle corridor is part of the wider scheme to strengthen their positions within the closed ranks of wealth and power.  It is a well designed conspiracy from political actors as manifested by a systematic stealth movement of animals to the affected areas.

There is no doubt the Museveni regime is behind the coordinated movement of the so called Balalo in search of new territories.  It facilitates them by providing both legal and physical protection.

Through a well designed scheme, specific government officials like RDC, DISO, CAO, District Veterinary, Forestry, and Land officers, are posted in the target districts.  In some instances, locally elected leaders are compromised for fear of being DE campaigned and at worse framed.  The purported establishment of a military installation in a particular target area has been used as an advance party not only for the Balalo incursion but also for land grabbing.  The regime has degazetted national parks and other public lands to provide settlement of the Balalo.  Security has been another excuse for giving away public land to the Balalo.  When Gen. Kalekyezi was the PPS to Museveni, he cited insecurity as the reason for the directive to have Hima pastrolists occupy Katonga Wildlife Reserve and as of now they have taken over Kyaka county.  It was the same case for the Congolese Hema immigrants in the Semuliki Game Reserve.

With their privileged economic position, the so called Balalo have what it takes to acquire land in any part of Uganda.  They are now exploiting the economic deprivation of northern Uganda.  This partly explains why the regime undermined the post-insurgency northern Uganda reconstruction schemes.

Museveni will not intervene in the Balalo land conflict in northern Uganda the way he did in Bulisa and Teso because he feared the Bagungu backlash on oil and the Iteso withdraw of support on Karamoja disarmament respectively.

On the absence of Balalo skulls in Luwero, may you add: “Baganda landlords were stunned to see their herdsmen turn into NRA guides and commanders and they now own big chunks of land in the Luwero Triangle.


Change of Guards Blog #Uganda – Are Balalo ‘vagabonds’ or an extension of land grabbing?

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