Parliament starts fresh investigations into Apaa land dispute

The committee of Parliament conducting fresh investigations into prolonged Apaa land dispute has started investigations.

The MPs will on Wednesday inspect evidence of old settlement in the area in view of establishing whether humans occupied the area in the 1970s after President Idi Amin de-gazetted it for human settlement.

Agnes Ameede, the vice chairperson of the Parliamentary Committee on East Africa Community is heading the six-member select committee. She says that they are interested in uncovering evidence of settlement as well as ownership of the area.

Ameede says they are looking for evidence such as ancestral graves, graduated tax tickets of those claiming to have occupied the area and land registration certificates amongst others.

Ameede says the committee commenced its investigations from Kampala by speaking to amongst others the Prime Minister Dr Ruhakana Rugunda, the Ministers for Lands and tourism as well as members of the civil society organizations and the Acholi and Madi Parliamentary caucus.

This is the second time Parliament is trying to investigate the Apaa land conflict which has lasted for 17 years with at least 18 casualties and scores of properties destroyed in a series of spates of forceful evictions. In the ninth Parliament, a similar investigation was crippled by a court injunction sought by leaders and residents of Apaa Township.

Residents told the committee that last week Uganda Wildlife Authority-UWA issued fresh eviction notice seeking to demolish their market where they trade with their Madi neighbours to escalate the conflict.

Ameede says it is regrettable that parallel eviction orders are being issued in the area from parallel institutions as Parliament probes into the conflict. She says they will write back to Speaker of Parliament to prevail over such evictions until the committee concludes its investigations.

The other members of the committee constituted on March 3rd are Workers MP Margaret Rwabushajja, Makindye Ssabagabo Municipality MP Emmanuel Ssempala Kigozi, Kyaka South MP Jackson Kafuuzi Karugaba, Mukono County South MP Johnson Muyanja Ssenyonga and Sizomu Gershom Rabbi Wambede (Bungokho County North).

Early this year, a presidential committee consisting of 16 representatives of the affected communities probed three proposed options for resolving the dispute outlined by President Yoweri Museveni. Their report prompted Cabinet to opt for 10 Million shillings Compensation to each of the affected residents and resettlement to another area.

MP Ameede says her committee is independent to the Presidential Committee which concluded its work recently. She says the findings of her committee will directly inform Parliament on the developments in Apaa Township after the government and members of parliaments from the affected areas lied to Parliament about the dispute.

On Monday the Committee interfaced with more than 200 residents of the affected area alongside Amuru district leaders from Amuru Community Hall in Amuru Town Council. They interviewed several residents about the conflict, its causes and their proposals to resolve the conflict.

The Committee heard that Parliament gazetted the area wildlife conservation while its occupants were in camps for internally displaced persons’ camps. They then probed the residents on the probability of government formalizing the acquisition by way of fresh negotiation, to which residents refused.

Michael Lakony, the Amuru district chairperson asked parliament to prevail over the government to have the area as an agriculture industrial park rather than a conservation area.

Lakony said the establishment of wildlife conservation will disenfranchise residents of the area from lucrative economic potentials for propelling the country to a middle-income economy.

Geoffrey Omony, the Labala Parish LC3 Councillor presented a memorandum of the residents to the parliamentary committee. In the Memorandum, the residents rejected any planned move to compensate and relocate them from the area.

Agnes Linda Auma, the Amuru resident district commissioner told the committee that Amuru district local government is stuck with three consignments of assorted drugs for Apaa Health centre II in its health department after UWA evicted health workers from the area.

The select committee has already heard testimonies from members of the Acholi Parliamentary Group, West Nile Parliamentary Group, Office of the Prime Minister as well as the Ministry of Lands, Housing and Urban Development and that of Tourism from Kampala.

The major disputes around Apaa Township relate to its ownership, economic land use for settlement or wildlife conservation, geographical boundaries of Amuru and Adjumani districts after the area measuring about 287 square kilometres was controversially declared a conservation area in 2002.

UWA claims that Parliament gazetted the area, a Wildlife reserve, after Adjumani district local government declared it as part of East Madi Game Reserve. Amuru district challenged the decision in Court.

Local government Minister Tom Butime also declared the area part of Adjumani district in October 2017. Since then inter-district boundary mark stone has been erected heavily guarded by soldiers of Uganda People’s Defense Forces (UPDF) and personnel of Uganda Police Force – UPF.