Brutality of market forces. For a people who went through a devastating war that impoverished and reduced them to basically a survival mode, the principle of willing-buyer-willing-seller certainly cannot apply.
On Saturday May 26, I was hosted on Mega FM in Gulu to discuss land and investment questions in Acholi. I was on the show with local and national politicians, some of whom I presume understand very well the critical importance of land as a resource to rebuilding Acholi as a community after more than 20 years of a devastating armed conflict.
The land question in Acholi and Uganda as a whole, and the controversy it elicits, is deeply embedded in the lack of trust the people of Uganda have in their government. This lack of trust has a solid foundation in the rampant land grab cases orchestrated by the NRM government. A government is only as good as its word. It can thus, only be trusted basing on its record. The record of the NRM government in as far as land is concerned is seriously tainted.
For example, Lands minister Betty Amongi was recently accused by the Justice Catherine Bamugemereire-led commission of inquiry into land matters for using her ministerial office to fraudulently acquire, through her company AMOBET, government properties in upscale suburbs of Kampala. As if that was not enough, a few weeks later, a Ugandan woman based in the UK, Ms Lillian Akullu, took Amongi to Lira High Court, accusing her for grabbing 3.5 acres of land in Lira District.
Ms Amongi is just one of the many examples of top government officials being accused of grabbing land. In Acholi, there are several top government and military officers who have fraudulently acquired huge tracts of land from poor, illiterate and vulnerable people. They take advantage of the poverty and vulnerability of the people disguised in the willing-buyer-willing-seller principle to dispossess people of square miles of land for peanuts.
For a people who went through a devastating war that impoverished and reduced them to basically a survival mode, the principle of willing-buyer-willing-seller certainly cannot apply. If the NRM government cared one bit about the plight of the people of Acholi, it would foremost put in place a Marshall Plan to resuscitate the economic life of the people of Acholi before subjecting them to the rigours and brutality of the market forces.
So when we are discussing the land and investment questions in Acholi, we should place it in its proper context. Our situation is a bit unique. It can’t be generalised. If the people of Acholi trusted the Government of Uganda, I am more than certain that they, like all other Ugandans, would not have any problem giving land for private and government investment projects. In fact, the people of Acholi need private and government investments more than anybody else. But, with ministers such as Ms Amongi, how can we entrust government with our land? If government wants the people of Acholi to cooperate with them over land for investment and development issues, it should remove its hands from our land.
Currently, Mr Government, your hands are so deeply mired in land controversies in Acholi that we can’t trust you with an inch of our land. Stay away from forcefully and controversially giving land for sugarcane growing to the Madhvani Group. Stay away from grabbing Aswa Ranch from the people of Acholi. Stop evicting people forcefully in Apaa. Stay away Mr Government, from forcefully grabbing land for the establishment of so the called military barracks in Orom.
If you genuinely want, Mr Government, to rebuild the lives of the people of Acholi as you claim, please empower them to optimally utilise their land. You can do this by organising them into cooperative societies. Also, build a farmers’ bank that can avail credit for large scale, meaningful, commercial farming. The cooperative societies should in turn provide advisory services, add value, avail markets and shield farmers from middle men and price fluctuations.
If, Mr Government, you can seriously and practically do these two things: one, stay away from land controversies in Acholi and two, empower Acholi people through cooperative societies to engage in large scale, meaningful, commercial farming, then the people of Acholi and Uganda for that matter, can restore trust and confidence in you.
This may create a basis for a new relationship, built on mutual trust and understanding, between you and the people, which may ultimately, facilitate successful engagement in investment and development projects.