President Yoweri Museveni is set to make his first visit to Okidi Parish in Atiak Sub-County, Amuru District, with the specific aim of addressing the escalating crisis involving migrant cattle keepers, commonly known as Balaalo, in the Acholi Sub-region. This visit is a significant departure from his usual itinerary and has raised eyebrows among local leaders in the region.
A History of Conflict
Local leaders in the Acholi Sub-region have repeatedly accused President Museveni of contradicting his own decision to evict the Balaalo from the area. Tensions have been mounting as conflicts between the locals and cattle keepers intensify due to the controversial acquisition of substantial tracts of customary land.
Executive Order and Changing Deadlines
In response to these concerns, President Museveni issued Executive Order No. 33 in May, which aimed to ban the illegal presence of cattle keepers from Northern Uganda by the end of June. He cited the illegal presence of cattle keepers, their manipulative land acquisition methods, and their failure to enclose their grazing land as reasons for this decision. However, the eviction deadline has been extended multiple times, most recently to November 15, to allow for verification and address emerging complaints.
A segment of legislators from the Acholi Sub-region has expressed skepticism about these extensions, fearing that they may offer the cattle keepers more time to permanently settle. They argue that the President’s decision to expel cattle keepers from other areas was executed promptly, but the evictions in Acholi have dragged on for years. They maintain that the vast land currently occupied by the cattle keepers was acquired illegally and should not be tolerated any longer.
Verifying the Situation
To assess the situation, the government formed a select committee led by Prof. Jack Nyeko Pen Mogi, the chairperson of the Uganda Land Commission, to verify the cattle keepers in the region. Another technical committee was recently established to evaluate the compliance of cattle keepers with the President’s directives on land acquisition and land fencing.
Phillip Polly Okin Ojara, the Chua West County legislator, suspects that leaders overseeing the eviction have been providing inaccurate information to the President. He contends that the plights of locals living in areas occupied by cattle keepers have been ignored, with many suffering from crop destruction and land encroachment.
Legislators Take Matters into Their Own Hands
Some legislators from the Acholi Sub-region, under the Acholi Parliamentary Group (APG), began a campaign to forcefully expel the cattle keepers in response to the deadline extensions. This action was motivated by their frustration with the ongoing crisis. They visited Pader and Amuru Districts, adding to the mounting pressure on the cattle keepers.
President Museveni’s Planned Intervention
In response to the increasing pressure, President Museveni, who met with leaders from the Acholi Sub-region on October 20, announced his visit to the Sub-region on November 3. He plans to meet with both the landowners and the cattle keepers to find a way forward, taking into account their perspectives.
Skepticism and Accusations
As the President prepares for his visit to Okidi Parish in Atiak Sub-County, Amuru District, there are mixed opinions on whether it will lead to a lasting resolution of the Balaalo crisis. Some leaders believe that cattle keepers, who are reportedly composed of high-profile individuals, are attempting to influence local leaders into providing positive reports to the President. They claim that the situation on the ground does not reflect the harmonious coexistence portrayed in these reports.
Anthony Akol, a legislator and member of the technical committee, suggests that the government should consider relocating cattle keepers to government ranches in areas where there are no land conflicts with locals. On the other hand, Santa Okot, an Aruu North County legislator, blames President Museveni for extending the eviction deadline, believing that it may not bring a solution to the crisis. She insists that the President should adhere to his executive order on cattle keeper expulsion to avoid further conflict in the region.
The Amuru Resident District Commissioner, Stephen Odong Latek, points out that the lack of unity among leaders speaking on the Balaalo issue could undermine the President’s efforts. He emphasizes the importance of leaders presenting a consistent stance to achieve an amicable resolution.
The Land Situation
Recent verifications indicate that Amuru District alone has 194 documented cattle keepers, with 92 operating in Okidi Parish, Atiak Sub-County. While the exact number of migrant cattle keepers in the Acholi Sub-region remains unverified, local leaders estimate that there are nearly 2,000 of them with around 40,000 cattle in the sub-region, spanning the districts of Pader, Nwoya, Gulu, and Amuru.
Halted Land Sales
In an attempt to curb the acquisition of land by cattle keepers, leaders from the Acholi Sub-region unanimously decided to cease the sale of customary land. This decision was reached during a meeting in Gulu city, where leaders discussed solutions to the growing issue of large land acquisitions for cattle grazing by outsiders.
President Museveni’s unprecedented visit to address the Balaalo crisis has generated various reactions. While some believe it may lead to a resolution, others remain skeptical about its effectiveness, citing concerns about the cattle keepers’ influence and the lack of unified leadership. The situation remains complex.