By Okot Nyormoi, March 13, 2015
In January 12, 2015, a land agreement was signed between the government, Madhvani, Amuru Community leaders and lawyers who drafted the agreement. The signing of the agreement touched off a storm of opinions ranging from outright rejection to complete acceptance. Since the dust has now settled down a bit and the focus has shifted on Apaa, it is time to reflect on why people reacted to the agreement the way they did.
To appreciate the variety of opinions, it is important to understand the context in which the Amuru land agreement was negotiated and signed. There were competing interests including the President of Uganda, the Madhvani Sugar Estate, the Amuru Communal Land Owners and political parties. Since for a variety of reasons, the process leading to the signing of the Amuru land agreement was not completely transparent and because the signing of the agreement was deliberately staged in Rwakatura of all places, it could not escape from arousing intense suspicion and scrutiny.
Ordinarily, government is supposed to build and maintain infrastructures such as roads, medical facilities, schools, electricity, governance etc. However, for over 20 years northern Uganda witnessed the complete opposite. The NRM government marginalized the region in every way possible including war, looting of livestalk, incarceration of up to two million people in horrendous conditions in concentration camps, and misappropriation of funds intended for rehabilitation and reconstruction. When the NRM took over the government, President Museveni was reported to have vowed to teach the people of northern Uganda a lesson they will never forget. This is what appears to have given birth to marginalization of the north.
History informs us that this marginalization appears to be rooted in what President Museveni penned in his thesis in 1971 at the University of Dar-es-Saalam.
“To transform a human being into an efficient, uncostly, and completely subservient slave, you have, as a pre-condition, to completely purge him of his humanity, manhood, and will. Otherwise, as long as he has some hope of a better, free future, he will never succumb to enslavement. To become an efficient instrument of oppression, you have to radically de-humanize yourself by forgoing many qualities that are normally found in balanced human beings. You purge yourself of compassion, altruism, consideration of other people’s suffering and the capacity to restrain your greed….”.
Amuru very much mirrors the situation that the young Museveni envisioned in 1971. Having created conditions of abject poverty coupled with police restricted political freedom to organize, the Amuru community is rendered extremely vulnerable. Under such conditions, land vultures are convinced that Amuru communal land is ripe to be had. The NRM government tried different tactics to grab as much of the land as possible. It used the military in the 1987 forced evacuation of the land in the name of security, deception by General Salim Saleh’s 2003 proposed Security and Production scheme and the fraudulent allocation of 40,000 hectors of land to Madhvani for a sugar estate. Furthermore, the government via the Wild Life Authority used force to chase people off their ancestral land in Apaa. Government is also using the Ministry of Land and Urban Development to redraw the boundary between Amuru and Adjumani Districts allegedly to accommodate land sales to foreign investors. However, the Amuru community with the support of other communities found the resolve and strength to resist all these schemes to grab their land under the pretext of paying big money in land sales and promises of bringing quick developments to the under-developed area.
While the community’s resistance to the whole sale land grab has slowed down the process, a new political development has emerged since the NRM/A bush war of the 1980s. During the 5 year bush war, the NRA/M derived its support from southern and western Uganda. In contrast, because of the war, northern and eastern Uganda did not support the NRM government. However, as unfulfilled promises soared in the south and west, the NRM government began to lose substantial parts of its political support. Besides, when the Lord’s Resistant Army (LRA) relocated itself away from the north and east, it removed the element of fear that the government was using to extract support from the south and west. As a result, the 2011 election, as revealed by the likes of General Sejusa, the NRM lost to FDC, but was stolen by massive rigging by the NRM government.
The 2011 election sounded an alarm to the NRM government that it can no longer rely on the west and Buganda for holding onto power. Although the NRM government expected a massive support from the north and east as an alternative to Buganda and the west when the shooting war ended, it was disappointed by the low support it got in the 2011 election. Nevertheless, even if it is assumed that the NRM can always claim victory by bribing and rigging elections, the larger than life ego of the leader remains unsatisfied. It is still yarning for acceptance by people from the north and east, which so far has been justifiably denied.
Another important motivation for acquiring Amuru land is what may lie beneath the surface. It is believed that there is oil and other minerals in Amuru. Therefore, the scramble for large tracks of land may be fueld by the black gold and other minerals.
The government push to secure land for the sugar estate in Amuru is now being driven by both oil as well as a shift in the political fortune of the NRM government. This is why the government has adopted a somewhat softer approach. For example, it accepted to abide by the court injunction against any forceful eviction of people from Apaa in Amuru District, albeit temporarily. It also agreed to delay the construction of the Madhvani sugar estate pending the outcome of the court appeal of the 2012 ruling lodged by the Amuru land owners.
In spite of the softer approach, it is not hard for the people to see why the government is pushing so hard to secure the land for the sugar estate. As they say, bad habits die hard. The President has once more applied deceptive divide-and-rule tactics to extract an agreement. First, during the negotiation, the government announced plans to survey the land as if it was already a done deal, long before the community negotiators had a chance to report to the community. Expectedly, this backfired because it showed bad faith.
Worse still, the government employed a divide and rule tactic to lure 3 out of 5 community leaders to sign the agreement before negotiating the details of the conditions under which the land is to be provided for the sugar estate. Consequently, it raised the questions of legitimacy of the agreement. It is by knowing the political history of the NRM government that one can appreciate why President Museveni is pushing so hard to acquire large tracts of land in Amuru District.
By resisting land grabbing, the people of Amuru are showing President Museveni that they still have hope for a better and free future and that they will never succumb to enslavement. True and sustainable development can only occur with the consent of the people, not by force.