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Fresh verification of pastoralists kicks off in Acholi

Emmanuel Orach, Nwoya district LCV Chairperson scrutinizes documents presented by Benon Nabimanya, a Livestock at Atiak Town council. PHOTO URN

Gulu, Uganda | THE INDEPENDENT | A select committee from the Acholi sub-region has started fresh verification of all pastoralists commonly known as Balaalo in the region in a bid to ascertain their rightful numbers, location, and particulars of land they are occupying. The four-day exercise which kicked off on Monday will cover all areas occupied by the pastoralists.

The move comes nearly a month after President Museveni extended the implementation of an executive order for the eviction of the nomadic pastoralist pending an investigation by Gen Salim Saleh, the Chief Coordinator of Operation Wealth Creation (OWC).

The verification exercise commenced in Atiak Town Council, Amuru District where the committee members met over 35 pastoralists operating in the area. They were tasked to produce documents on land acquisition, and compliance with set policies from the Ministry of Agriculture, Animal Industries and Fisheries (MAAIF), and the National Agricultural Research Organization-NARO.

Overseeing the verification exercise is Anthony Akol, the Chairperson of Acholi Parliamentary Group and representatives of District Chairpersons led by Nwoya District Chairperson Emmanuel Orach. Others are the committee secretariat led by Stephen Odong Latek, the Amuru Resident District Commissioner, Lamwo Resident District Commissioner Geoffrey Osborn Oceng, and the representative of Operation Wealth CreationZerubbabel Abuka.

Latek told Uganda Radio Network in an interview that the verification committee seeks to obtain credible data on land sales, ownership of land, and compliance with the set guidelines, especially for the cattle keepers. He notes that the verification will be undertaken in the districts of Lamwo, Gulu, and Nwoya which have a significant presence of the pastoralists.

“We are going to have a boardroom session where an analysis will be done on these documents to ascertain the level of compliance on the transaction. Was it really a valid transaction or not, if it does, does it have a consequential effect in the future”, Latek said.

Latek says a final report of the verification will be handed over to the Office of the President through Gen Salim Saleh on August 8, this year.

Zerubbabel Abuka, the representative of Operation Wealth Creation says they have so far identified issues concerning ownership of land where people ranging from 28 to 35 years are claiming to be owning over 500 acres of land. He says there could be the possibility of land grabbing, and eminent cheating of land owners by the brokers and local leaders among others.

Abuka also notes that their interaction, they have got preliminary reports pinning LCI and LCII chairpersons of identifying land for sale and taking the lion’s share from the sale of land to the cattle keepers.

“The local leaders are making millions from the land sale, cheating the landowners, who in some instances cheated the community because they sold communal kraal or hunting ground. In such cases you don’t even know who to sympathize with, because a lot of irregular things happened during the whole process of procuring the land,” Abuka says.

Benon Nabimanya, who owns Praise Farm Uganda Limited, in Okidi South, Atiak Sub County says the verification exercise will hopefully put to rest the persistent threats of eviction and blames against them. He says while they are referred to as foreigners, they are Ugandans venturing into modern farming with the aim of making their lives and those of the community members surrounding them better.

Before buying land, we do a survey to know and confirm that the area they are buying is not a communal hunting or grazing ground so that they don’t enter into conflict with the community members and the local leaders,” he said.

In a July letter addressed to Gen. Salim Saleh, President Museveni extended the implementation of Executive Order No 3 till September 30 when all matters have been clarified.

Leaders in the region accuse the pastoralists of fueling land grabbing and rampant sales of land, destruction of sacred areas, and fueling crimes among others. Although there are no official statistics on the number of herders in the region, it’s estimated that 2,000 pastoralists are occupying the districts of Amuru, Gulu, and Nwoya.