The police yesterday Aug 11, 2017 fired live bullets and tear gas to disperse angry residents in Amuru district who tried to block the Minister of Lands Betty Amongi from touring the land which the government wants to allocate to sugar manufacturer Madvani to expand his agricultural business.
This came as group of local women removed their clothes exposing their breasts, rolled in dust and sat in the road for over four hours to block the minister from proceeding to commission a lands surveying exercise. The minister never left her car as the protest continued.
It is estimated that a number of people were injured in the scuffle as people fled bullets and tear gas. But Police later said that only two people were hospitalized with nose and hand injuries at St Mary’s Hospital Lacor.
Undressing before someone in the open is a taboo and a sign of bad luck in Acholi tradition.
The protesters were led by a group of seven Parliamentarians from Acholi including Lucy Akello Amuru Woman MP, Lucy Aciro Aruu North MP, Lyndro Komakech Gulu Municipality MP, Samuel Odonga Otto Aruu South MP, Gilbert Olanya Kilak North, Anthony Akol Kilak South. The MPs were supported by Amuru district Chairman Michael Lakony.
It is alleged that about 110 people entered into an agreement with government to sell their land to Madvani for sugarcane growing, something the community and leaders refuted yesterday as they blocked the minister.
Michael Lakony, the Amuru LCV chairman told our reporter that sugar cane project is not the only investment government can bring to Amuru land that belongs to the community.
“Why is government insisting on bringing Madvani here yet our people do not want the project. Amuru people will give land for development to other investors but not Madvani because their approach to our people in acquiring land is wrong. See how they are using teargas and shooting our people with live bullets?” Lakony wondered.
Museveni’s direct involvement
The legislators said they have tried in vain to get in touch with the president to stop the project that has remained sticky since 2012.
Lucy Akello, the Amuru Woman Member of Parliament, Amuru is almost a war zone characterized by heavy military deployment in Kololo. The planned give away of 10,000 hectares of land on which some 15,000 people reportedly live, has been rejected.
She 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 Principle Private Secretary (PPS) of the President, Madam Polly Kamukama. But she told me, ‘We are tired of these issues of Amuru. Whatsoever will happen will have to happen. We have already released money.” So for me this is a clear indication that the Commander in Chief knows about all this,” Akello said.
She added that Acholi leaders were seeking to reach out to the president to withdraw his soldiers from Kololo for fear of violence on the local community.
Lyandro Komakech, Gulu Municipality Member of Parliament says that government needs to adapt a conflict sensitive approach to handling Amuru land question especially Madvani acquisition of Land in Kololo.
“Gunshots are used on people instead of teargas, were used on the people who were supposed to be protected. 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,” Komakech said.
He added that 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.
“Atiak Sugar works brought on board the entire community and there is full participation. There is equity in the whole process but Madvani’s approach is a model that cannot be accepted in Uganda today. If you went to Jinja, I don’t think Madvani has made all the Basoga rich, no.”
Komakech urged the President to take the Madvani land acquisition as a matter of national concern to respect the land rights of the local community.
Meanwhile, the Lands Minister Betty Amongi, rubbished claims that Amuru people have rejected the Madvani project, saying the only matter left between the community and government is payment.
“The Attorney General then, (2015) Peter Nyombi signed an agreement for a settlement out of court 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 claimants know government has communicated to them on how that is being handled,” Amongi explained.
She told our reporters that she is implementing a decision from government to have those who can give their land have it surveyed and so that they are paid.
“What I am implementing is to only deal with those who want to sell their land on willing seller, willing buyer to constitute the 10,000 hectares,” she added.
She says her mission to have 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 Hon Mao and Ogenga Latigo supporting the project. Let us accept that there are Acholi leaders who support the project. But let us not shift blame. It is you the Acholi people, if you want to have a common position, to agree on that common position.”