Amuru land protest: Leaders should not inflame a volatile situation

For generations, the Acholi and Madi co-existed as neigbours, intermarried and, in some instances, shared the indignity of living in the filthy internally displaced camps during turbulent times in northern Uganda.
But this co-existence is threatened by a conflict over Apaa, a remote area claimed by both Amuru and Adjumani districts.
Apaa is one of the numerous resource-based conflicts that have either exploded or are simmering in northern Uganda.

A chronology of the conflict published in the Journal of Peace and Security Studies, an academic publication of Gulu University’s Institute of Peace and Strategic Studies (Volume 1, Page 69, December 2013) states that ‘‘latent conflict’’ over the disputed area began in 2006 and early 2007. This was when displaced persons began leaving the camps.
The article authored by Dr Lioba Lenhart, a German anthropologist who has researched and taught at Gulu University for several years, observes that ‘‘confrontation and progressive use of violent means’’ began in 2010 when ‘‘game rangers burnt down more than 170 huts in order to force people to leave Apaa.’’

Therefore, in its recent history, the conflict over Apaa began as one between locals and Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA), which claims the land is part of the East Madi Wild Reserve in Adjumani District.
On Thursday last week, Internal Affairs minister Aronda Nyakirima and his Lands counterpart Daudi Migereko were ‘‘welcomed’’ in Apaa by naked protestors. In an address, after calming from the rude shock, minister Migereko is reported to have told locals that they had come to the area to stop the dispute between the Acholi and the Madi (Daily Monitor, April 18).

A week before the protest in Apaa, a controversial cultural leader was in the area where he reportedly told locals that Kony had told him way back that if he (Kony) leaves northern Uganda, Acholi land will be grabbed. This explains why protestors were holding placards with messages like LRA come and ‘‘save’’ our land. To the naive, Kony comes off as prophetic, but it is well known that secondary conflicts such as over land, will always emerge after the end of the primary conflict.

Post traumatic stress, suicidal tendencies and depression have been found to be common in northern Uganda. One study by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and Gulu University found that of 1,210 victims of war in the region – 54 per cent – showed symptoms of post-traumatic stress.
What this means is that it is not as difficult as it may seem to trigger people to demonstrate naked because there are several cases of undiagnosed mental-related illnesses as a result of traumatic experiences suffered.

While I don’t dispute that it is the legitimate role of elected leaders to push the interests of their constituents, in the case of northern Uganda, this must be sensitive to the aforementioned rampant psychiatric conditions.
No mother or grandmother in her right state of mind in this age would strip naked before, among others, school kids, however dire the situation. Certainly not the mothers of the politicians.
The State and its agents have been very brutal in its raw display of power in Apaa. True. But equally true is that residents in the area have been fed on toxic populism by their leaders. Cumulatively, the two factors explain last week’s strange protest.

It is not rocket science to know that to dart about naked won’t alter the demarcations of colonial border. Actors in the conflict must listen more to each other. I am glad this is now going to happen under the chairmanship of the patient and honourable Prime Minister Ruhakana Rugunda. That is the way to go. Not the use of gun butts and display of naked bodies.
Mr Odokonyero has interest in media development and communication. modokonyero@gmail.com

SOURCE: Daily Monitor

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