Statement To Parliament On The Issues Of Acholi Land
From Hon. Okello-Okello John Livingstone
Chairman, Acholi Parliamentary Groups (Apg)
- Mr. Speaker Sir, over the last couple of weeks, Acholi land has become very topical. It is being discussed in various fora such as meetings, the media - both print and electronic, including the Internet and so on, from morning to evening, Sunday to Monday. It has attracted much attention not only here within the country, but overseas as well.
BACKGROUND TO CONTROL AND MANAGEMENT OF LAND IN UGANDA.
- In 1900 the Protectorate Government signed an agreement with the Kabaka of Buganda - the Uganda Agreement, which was in 1909 amended to read Buganda Agreement. Under this agreement, land in Buganda was shared out among the Protectorate Government, the Kabaka, Chiefs and notables. The unit of measurement used during this land settlement was a square mile. Those who were allotted square miles of land started calling their percels "Mailo", a word which was given legal recognition by The Land Law, 1908, hence Mailo Land. Mailo Land tenure is found in the districts formerly known as East Mengo, West Mengo, Masaka, Mubende and the former lost counties now Kibale District.
- In 1900 and 1901, the Protectorate Government replicated similar arrangements, but on a much smaller scale, in the Kingdoms of Ankole, Toro and also in Kigezi and Bugisu. Land was given out to the Kings and Rulers in freeholds instead of Mailo. In Bugisu, only the colonial Chief Administrator, Semei Kakungulu, was given ten (10) square miles. In the North and East, people rejected the idea of sharing out the land between their leaders and the Protectorate Government. Any land that was not allotted to the Kings and other rulers automatically fell under the control of the Protectorate Government - i.e under the Crown of England - and became known as Crown Land till Independence in 1962. Anybody who wanted to lease land would apply to the Governor in Entebbe.
- After Independence, the UPC Government decided that the control and management of the former crown Land should be returned to the respective districts. There were sixteen (16) districts at Independence. District Land boards were formed and land within the boundaries of their districts was vested in them.
- In 1969, the Government decided that the control and management of land should be re-centralised in order to speed up development. Parliament accordingly passed a law, the Public Lands Act, 1969, which abolished district Land Boards and established Uganda Land Commission (ULC) to hold in trust, for the people of Uganda, the whole country, minus Mailo Land and freeholds.
- The military regime of the late Idi Amin in 1975 promulgated the Land Reform Decree, No. 3 of 1975, which abolished all interests in land greater than 99 years. Freehold and Mailo interests were reduced to 99 and 199 years for individuals and public bodies, religious organizations and other charitable organizations, respectively. This was nationalization of property without compensation. The actual conversion of Mailo and freehold titles to conform to the decree never happened for reasons I cannot go into here.
THE 1995 CONSTITUTION
- The 1995 Constitution vests land in the citizens of Uganda. Articles 237 (1) refers. Clause (3) of the same Article provides for the tenure systems under which land should be owned, namely; Customary, Freehold, Mailo, and Leasehold. This means the majority of land in Uganda is now private property and is no longer under the control or management of Government.
- The position of land in the Constitution did not originate in the Constituent Assembly (C.A). it was demanded by the people of Uganda. Please refer to the Report of The Technical Committee on Land Tenure Law reform, June 1993.
- When one flies over Acholi land, the entire country-side is just a dark jungle. It looks like land just created by God yesterday and God is still thinking about creating human beings to occupy it. The owners of the land are for the last ten years interred in squalid Internally Displaced Persons' (IDPs) camps, dotted along the roads and trading centres. The entire rural land now belongs to wildlife. It is sad.
- Mr. Speaker Sir, for the last twenty years, we have talked about peace in the North; we have prayed in churches and mosques; we have held meetings, seminars and conferences without tiring. This is because peace has eluded that part of our country for so long. In the same vein, we have talked about Acholi land for more than a decade now. We shall continue to do so until there are completely no more threats over that land. Mr. Speaker Sir, there have been real threats over Acholi land as the following incidents will prove:
- In 1992 the Government of Uganda signed a protocol with the Government of Libya giving away the following large chunks of land:
- Bukaleba Beef Ranch 4,000 hectares
- Aswa Ranch 46,000 hectares
- Maruzi Ranch 16,376 hectares
- In 1999, a company called Divinity Union Limited came up with a proposal to turn Uganda into what it called the Bread Basket of Africa. The land targeted for this proposal was basically in Acholi sub-region. Acholi Parliamentary Group (APG) fought this and it never took off.
- In the same year 1999, Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) moved to acquire Lipan Controlled Hunting Area and turn it into a national game park. UWA dealt with the then chairman L.C. V of Kitgum and the technocrats without involving other elected leaders such as Members of Parliament, District Councilors or even the District Land Committee. As a Member of Parliament for the area then, I was contacted when the matter was about to be tabled in cabinet for approval and subsequently to Parliament. I stopped it.
- In May 2003, a programme entitled Security and Production Programme (SPP) was produced. The author of this programme is difficult to pin-point. The implementing agents were, however listed as: Ministry of Defence (MOD), Ministry of Agriculture (MOA), Ministry of Water, Lands and Enviroment (MOWLE), Ministry of Education (MOE) and Ministry of Health (MOH). The proposal was to plan and turn Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) camps into permanent settlements. The three districts of Acholi then - Gulu, Kitgum and Pader - convened a meeting of about 380 selected people in Kitgum in October that year and the proposal was unanimously rejected, save for two or three people who supported the idea.
- Again, in December 2005, as presidential election campaigns were gaining momentum, the Office of the Senior Presidential Advisor on Reconstruction of Northern Uganda, Luwero and the Rwenzori came up with yet another project called "Food Security First 2006 - 2010, Gulu, Kitgum & Pader". The senior Presidential Advisor was none other than Gen. Salim Saleh. The project was to cost Shs. 92,181,230,000/=.
This project proposed to allocate two (2) acres of land to each family in the three districts of Acholi. Each family would then choose two crops to grow from among the list of crops given. The list of crops does not include millet, which is the main staple crop in Acholi. The question is: If the Acholi are on their land, who was to allocate them two (2) acres per family? What would happen to the rest of the land? How does one provide food security in Acholi without millet? And so on so forth.
- During the recent tour of Acholi sub-region by APG, we received report that some unknown people had surveyed a huge chunk of land measuring ten (10) square miles under the protection of UPDF at a place called Got Apwoyo in Purongo sub-county, Nwoya County, Amuru District. APG went to this area and walked the thick grass looking for markstones. One freshly planted markstone was found. It was photographed and recorded on video by the journalists accompanying APG. APG also saw two large farms being guarded by UPDF soldiers. One was reported to belong to Col. Walter Ochora, RDC Gulu, and the other to Col. Charles Otema Awany, the 4th Division Commander. In addition, APG had received reports of a serious land dispute between a lady called Harriet Aber and Hon. Maj. Gen. Julius Oketta in Amuru sub-county, Kilak County Amuru District. This matter is now before court and I can not say much about it. The cultural leader of the area also put an announcement over radio MEGA F.M. appealing to the parties to the dispute to stop using UPDF soldiers and the gun.
- The scenarios listed at paragraph 10 above are some, but not all the attempts that have been made to grab land in Acholi. In view of all this, APG met here in Kampala before the commencement of its tour of Acholi, which ran from 23rd November - 2nd December, 2006, and resolved on the issues of land as follows:
- That it is wrong for anybody now to start acquiring large chunks of land in rural areas under the pretext of investment when the entire population of Acholi is still interred in squalid IDP camps. They should wait until the people have returned home and peacefully settled on their land. We think this is a reasonable demand, which any reasonable person should support.
- We shall welcome investors, who wish to assist our people develop the land. However, such investors must go direct to the people, when they are already back home and should never go through the state or state agents.
- That the investors should partner with the land owners where land will be used as equity in the intended investment so that the profits can be shared between the investors and the land owners. Such profits should not be carried wholesale back home by the investors.
- Outright sale of land or long leases such as 49 or 99 years to investors are not acceptable, because our people have been made destitutes, and are not capable of negotiating fair deals with the investors. The idea is to avoid landlessness to our people or another Kibaale situation.
- That those investors who may not want to partner with our people should hire/rent the land on short-term basis of between 5-10 years renewable.
- That when we talk about land, we do not mean plots in urban areas. Those may be acquired by any investor any time. We mean the farm land in rural areas that can be acquired in large chunks -- "the land that feeds us".
- That land grabbers, who use force or tricks to acquire the land will be fought in all possible ways. They are not different from any bank-robbers. Land is the only asset that the people of Acholi are left with. It should not under any circumstances follow the livestock.
- That Government pays compensation to people on whose land IDP camps, Army barracks, Army detaches and any other Government projects have been established without their consent. The fertility of such land has been completely destroyed and will take years to restore.
- APG put its position on land as above to the people at all the rallies it addressed during the tour. The people enthusiastically and unanimously approved APG's proposal on land. Anyone who doubts can go and find out.
OUR BROTHERS AND SISTERS IN HIGH POSITIONS IN GOVERNMENT
- We appeal to our brothers and sisters who hold high Government posts, including ministerial posts, to really go slow. They should use their high positions to rescue our people who are being exterminated in IDP camps. Calling us names, insulting us or abusing us will not help our people. For whether they like it or not we are currently the elected leaders of the Acholi people at the highest level - Parliament. Remember, there were many like you before. Some of them are now like us. You will also one day be like us.
- When we first saw in the Daily Monitor of Wednesday 29th November, 2006, that my brother, Hon. Daniel Omara Atubo, Minister of Lands, Housing & Urban Development had called a meeting in Gulu to sensitise Acholi leaders on land issues, we were at breakfast table in one of the hotels in Gulu. I straight away called the Minister and tried to persuade him to call off the meeting. The Minister insisted that it was a cabinet directive that must be implemented. APG met on the same day and wrote to the Hon. Minister.
- The meeting went ahead, but in the end it was a big flop. Many categories of the invited leaders boycotted the meeting, namely; MPs, all the District Executives, religious leaders (except 3) and cultural leaders (except 4). This is the reason why the meeting had to be hurriedly shifted by radio announcement from its original venue at the World Vision Centre to Ker Kalkwaro (Lawirwodi's Palace). First, to make it appear that Lawirwodi was now in support of the meeting. And secondly, by tradition no one can be sent away from Ker Kalkwaro, unless one has committed a crime there.
The attendance of the meeting was 90% NRM(O) people.
- It is absolutely false to say that Lawirwodi blasted APG members for boycotting the meeting. He could not have done that and at the same time told the meeting that no one should think the "MPs are fools. There is no smoke without fire". His statement is on tape. APG warns politicians who cannot convene their own meeting to steer clear of Lawirwodi. Please do not soil him with your dirty politics. He is for every body.
- The Minister of state for Lands, Hon. Dr. Kasirivu Atwooki invited APG to meet with officials of the Ministry of Lands, Housing & Urban Development in that Ministry's Boardroom last Friday. However, when we pointed out the inappropriateness of that venue, they kindly accepted to meet us in Parliament. The meeting was called off mainly for two reasons:
First, the Rt. Hon. Speaker had granted permission for this statement to be made on the floor of this August House. Second, the notice of the meeting was received when most members of APG had already committed themselves elsewhere and could not attend the Friday meeting.
- As things stand today, we do not consider it feasible any more to meet Hon. Daniel Omara Atubo, Minister of Lands, Housing & Urban Development on this particular matter of Acholi land, because of the following reasons:
- Stakes have now been raised to much higher levels than that of the Minister
- The minister has no olive branch to offer as illustrated by:
- Stopping publication of my interview on Acholi Land Issues in the Rupiny volume No. 9, November 29 - December 5, 2006.
- Blasting APG members on MEGA FM radio talkshow of Monday 4th December 2006.
- Ordering the management of radio MEGA FM not to host APG at the end of its tour of the Sub-region.
However, if Government still thinks that the matter should be discussed further after this statement, we shall be willing to attend a meeting convened at a higher level than that of the Minister responsible for Lands. For example, if such a meeting can be convened by the Rt. Hon. Prime Minister/Leader of Government Business, but we are demanding it.
- Governments all over the world must own some land. There must, however, be proof of that ownership. APG has been requesting those who claim that Government has a lot of land in Acholi Sub-region to come up with clear proof. They must, however, know that land owned by parastatals is not Government land. Parastatals are legal entities, which own land in their own rights. The current saga in the National Forest Authority (NFA) proves the point. Constitutionally, the only body that holds Government land is Uganda Land Commission (ULC).
- After the inauguration of the current Constitution on 8th October 1995, there was some confusion as to which was now Government land. It will be recalled that at the inauguration of the Constitution, H. E. President Museveni did not hide his dissatisfaction with the position of land in the new constitution. Subsequently, a management meeting was convened in the Boardroom of the Ministry of Lands and Surveys, where I was the Commissioner of Land Administration, to discuss land and agree on a common position. It was agreed that Government land was : (a) that land with land title in the name of ULC, and (b) any land that had already been gazetted as Government land before 8th October, 1995.
THREAT TO LIFE
- Mr. Speaker Sir, we have been receiving some reports of unfortunate statements being made by irresponsible leaders in Acholi Sub-region. These careless and reckless leaders reportedly make statements to the effect that those us who are educating the people about their land rights do not know the forces behind the land grabbing in Acholi. That we shall be arrested or killed. We have no means of stopping anybody killing us. We place our lives in the hands of the Almighty God. But our message to such people is this: there is no better cause to die for.
WORKING WITH GOVERNMENT
- It is a fact that, for the time being, NRM(O) Government is in-charge of the country. Therefore, all law-abiding citizens must work with it to deliver the much-needed services to the people of Uganda. On our part, as APG, we pledge our commitment to work with Government to particularly restore dignity, freedom and human rights to our dehumanized people in Acholi sub-region, Eastern Region and elsewhere in the country.
- We appeal to Government, likewise, to work with us to serve our people. For now, we are the leaders of our people. A fact no one can wish away. In particular, we appeal to the Rt. Hon. Prime Minister/Leader of Government Business to crack whip on some of his ministers who seem to regard those in opposition as less human beings.
- Mr. Speaker Sir, we decided to treat this matter in great details, because it was, for no reason, becoming contentious. I sincerely thank you for giving us this opportunity. I thank the Honorable Members for listening to me.