In Summary
  • Divisions. While a section of residents and legislators are in support of giving away land to establish a sugar factory, some are against the move and have gone ahead to demonstrate.

KAMPALA. A planned survey to secure 10,000 hectares of land for Madhvani Group to establish sugarcane plantation and sugar factory in the northern Amuru District aborted last week following nude protest by enraged women.
Here is a guide to the nuts and bolts of the protracted dispute.

Where is the land located?
The land is located south of the Zoka Forest in Amuru District, Acholi sub-region, and approximately 130Kms north-west of Gulu Town.

Who owns the land?
One account identifies it as customary land while another viewpoint supported by Agago North MP Ogenga Latigo is that the land is a freehold.
According to Prof Latigo, the said land used to be part of the Aswa-Lolim-Kilak game corridor and part of Kilak. During the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) war, he says, the government used an Italian construction company to open up roads in the area.
When the insurgency ended, people settled on the land, claiming it as their customary land. Others obtained ownership titles through the district land board.

Why is the government involved in acquisition of the land?
The Madhvani Group initially showed interest in the land to establish a sugar factory, but local resistance forced the company to pull out.
It sought the assistance of government to acquire the same. In the process, the government decided to bring the community on board.
In 2008, then MPs Livingstone Okello Okello (Chwa County), Michael Ocula (Kilak), David Ochieng Penytoo (Gulu Municipality) and others sued Madhvani Group, Gen Julius Oketta and former district employee Ms Christine Atimango, and ex-Amuru Land Board Secretary Christine Atimango for wrongfully allocating communal land to private investors.
High Court Judge William Musene, however, ruled in favour of the investor and ordered the land be given to Madhvani Group.
In 2015, the government signed an agreement with the Lamogi community of Kilak County, Amuru District, to withdraw the pending case at the Court of Appeal and pave the way for the establishment of the sugar factory by the Madhvani Group.
President Museveni witnessed the signing of the agreement at his home in Rwakitura, Kiruhura district.
The then Attorney General Peter Nyombi represented government while Mr Jackson Obalim and more than 60 other members of the Lamogi community, signed on behalf of their people.

What is the difference of opinion on the matter?
There seems to be agreement across the divide on the need to use the land for development.
The disagreement, however, is mainly on who owns the land and what use it should be put to.
Some politicians and other local leaders are also accused of taking advantage of the situation and inciting the people to blackmail and intimidate government and the investor to accept their demands.
For example, minister Amongi has accused some of the legislators involved in the protests of demanding for Sh1.5b payment as a pre-condition to support the project.
MP Olanya and his Aruu counterpart Odonga Otto, on the other hand, insist that the land in question belongs to the community and individuals pushing for its takeover by Madhvani cut an under-the-table deal with the investor.

Former MP Okello Okello in an open letter to minister Amongi, raised some poignant issues:
“In Acholi, people hold their parcels of land scattered in several places. Even the parcels of those who have ‘consented’ may not be adjacent in one block. They may be mixed with the parcels of those who have not consented. How will the survey proceed in such a situation? How will the parcels of those who have declined to welcome the project be excluded?” he asked.

Who are the key players?
The key players include Lands minister Amongi acting on behalf of the government and Madhvani Group. She has the support of Acholi leaders such as Prof Latigo, Democratic Party president-general Norbert Mao and outgoing Gulu University Vice Chancellor Nyeko Peny-Mogi as well as owners willing to sell their land. On the other hand, residents opposed to the land gifting are being mobilised and defended, among others, by MPs Olanya, Odonga Otto, Lucy Akello and Lucy Aciro and Anthony Akol.

What is likely to happen?
Minister Amongi said the survey will go on, without putting a specific date.
For the opening of the boundary to commence, the government will require to mass troops and place the place under security lock-down.
Another option is for the President Museveni to intervene and guide on the matter since the minister Amongi is acting on behalf of the government, and the matter could trigger unexpected and unpleasant political ramifications.
Alternatively, Madhvani Group can back out for now.
A forcible survey exercise overseen by security forces and resistance by residents will likely explode in a confrontation, and result in bloodshed.
Some of the dissenting leaders have proposed that the land owners form a Trust under which they will act as out growers and directly supply sugarcane to Madhvani Group, thereby earning constant income instead of mortgaging their land to the investor for a one-off compensation payment.