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Aswa-Lolim land: The brewing conflict between Acholi, Jonam



Contested. Casual workers weed a maize plantation on one of the farms within the contested area at Obira East Village, Gotapwoyo Sub-county in Nwoya District on April 20. PHOTO | TOBBIAS JOLLY OWINY  


An upsurge in wrangles over land between the Jonam and Acholi communities in former Aswa-lolim Game Reserve in GotapwoyoSub-county, Nwoya District, has claimed at least 10 lives and left scores injured in the past one year.

On May 21, Uganda People’s Defence Force (UPDF) soldiers shot dead Kerukadho Ocaka, Socrate Onenrach, Walter Piwun and Innocent Taban at Obira South Village, Gotapwoyo Sub-county in Nwoya.

The incident occurred when an unidentified number of locals armed with machetes, bows, arrows and spears allegedly attacked a UPDF detach on a disputed piece of land within the former game reserve owned by Lt Gen Charles Otema Awany, the UPDF Reserve Forces commander.

On June 8, police at Pakwach Central Police Station blocked a group of more than 100 demonstrators from crossing Pakwach Bridge as theyattempted to show grievance over the killings and mistreatment of their colleagues.

The district police commander, Mr Frank Muzura, said the demonstration was against the presidential directives on Covid-19, which prohibit gatherings of more than 10 people.

Efforts to reach Gen Otema via his known telephone contact over the issue have proved futile.

However, Mr Richard Todwong, Gen Otema’s brother, told Daily Monitor that his brother rightfully acquired the land.

“On behalf of the Awany family, we have never grabbed any land there, he (Gen Otema) has not even cheated any landowner of a penny, we paid for all we have there, including buying others’ interests there,” Mr Todwong said.

Mr Todwong claimed Gen Otema had leasehold titles from the district land board for the contested land including that at Obira Village where the shooting happened.

Although survivors claim they had gone to Gen Otema’s farm to negotiate for release of their properties that had been confiscated by the soldiers who ordered them to vacate the land, police said the victims were armed and intended to attack the soldiers.
The incident brings to 10 the total number of people killed over land contests within the area between May 2019 and May 2020.

Mr Ben Latim Openy, the Gotapwoyo Sub-county chairperosn, said of 14 incidents of attacks, members of the Jonam community that crossed from Pakwach District had committed 12.

Mr Openy said members of Jonam community strongly believe and treat the former reserve as their customary-owned land.

“The claimants ignore our offices and that of the sub-county land committee, and instead report to Pakwach authorities accusing Acholi of displacing them,” Mr Openy added.

Although Gen Otema reportedly possess at least 10,000 acres within the former game reserve, we could not independently verify this from the district land office.

“Several mediations in the past by the political and cultural leaders have not helped. The Lands ministry must come to the ground and declare the status of this land so that the matter is sorted out once and for all,” Mr Openy said.

In 2014, a meeting convened by Mr Todwong (then Minister without portfolio) to resolve the dispute between the Acholi community and Jonam people over ownership of land turned rowdy when the Jonam accused theleadership of Nwoya of threatening to evict them from an area they once occupied for decades before fleeing to West Nile for safety when the Lord’s Resistance Army war intensified.
Mr Todwong then prematurely closed the meeting.

Last year, the two tribes were embroiled in a heated conflict over a compensation scheme by Uganda Electricity Transmission Company Limited (UETCL) for a 9sqkm stretch of land at Yagopino, in Gotapwoyo Sub-county, Nwoya.

UETCL assessed 45 project-affected persons reportedly of Acholi origin but a new group of 65 project-affected persons turned up fromPakwach demanding compensation since they are the rightful owners of the land.
Leaders speak out
Mr Ruoth Moses Ogenwrot Omach, the leader of Paroketo Parish in Pakwach, on Monday warned that unless the two tribes urgently sit and mediate the matter, the situation could get out of hand.

“We don’t want to be pulled into the situation of Madi or Acholi in Apaa because some parties failed to play their cards rightly. After the insurgency, people resettled there again and the land board needed to act impartially,” Mr Omach said.

On Tuesday, Mr Emmanuel Ongiertho, the Jonam County Member of Parliament in an interview with Daily Monitor, blamed the protracted conflicts over the land on the Nwoya District Land Board whom he said had failed to act impartially and objectively in issuing out the land.

“We have records of so many of our people whose application documents for the land have never been validated from the time whthe land was still under Amuru. That problem has persisted, the land board considers more those from the Acholi side,” Mr Ongiertho said.

Because of delayed consideration of their applications, Mr Ongiertho said many Jonam people settled on the land although it was never inspected.

He added that the same land was allocated by the district to other developers, sparking conflict.

“Unfortunately, the Acholi chief, Rwot David Onen Achana is still out of the country, otherwise we would have held a meeting to seek solutions” Mr Ruoth Ogenrwot said.

He added that thousands of Jonam people are peacefullysettled in Amuru District because their land board allowed them to apply for the land they previously occupied.
But Nwoya District authorities insist that there was no need to inspect the land priorto leasing whether occupied or not since the settlers encroached and settled there illegally.

“It is unfortunate that these victims are fronting customary claims over this land. Instead, our brothers and sisters from across the Nile (Pakwach or Nebbi) come with letters from their districts to claim land there, that is unacceptable,” Mr Zeru Abukha, the chairman Nwoya land board, said.

Mr Abukha said whoever does not have titles to justifyownership of land in that area is occupying it illegally.

“For example, the attackers who were shot dead trespassed into a property owned by Gen Otema. Fortunately, Gen Otema possess a title for the piece of land in question,” Mr Abukha said.

Land status
Aswa-Lolim Game Reserve
Nearly 95 per cent of Gotapwoyo Sub-county land falls under the former Aswa-Lolim Game Reserve (measuring approximately 46,000 hectares in size).

When the colonial government declared the area a game reserve in 1952, the evacuated people were compensated by relocation to safer areas in Gulu, Pader, Lamwo and Amuru while the Jonam were resettled insidePakwach and Nebbi districts.

The status remained so until 1972 when it was degazetted as a wild animal sanctuary and handed to the respective local governments (district land boards).

As early as 2008 following an end to the LRA war, people started to return to the area to settle or do farming, the same period wrangles began to escalate.

However, members of both Jonam and Acholi communities rushed to occupy plots or chunks of land within Aswa-lolim area basing on customary claims.

But any land deal done on a former public land without the involvement of the district land board becomes null and void since one must go through the board to process and possess a deed title, so that they can own the land.

Original Post: Daily Monitor


Six cattlemen opposed to the Tilenga oil project-related forced land eviction have been granted bail but will remain in prison…



By Witness Radio team

A magistrate court sitting in Hoima City in mid-western Uganda has granted bail to six cattlemen but, will remain in prison due to other criminal charges framed against them.

The six cattlemen are part of a group of over 20 cattlemen that have been slapped with multiple criminal charges by the Hoima City resident state attorney for opposing an illegal land eviction that is taking away their grazing land for the Tilenga Feeder Pipeline Component.

They are part of a larger community of 2500 people that have legally occupied and cultivated their land measuring 1294.99 hectares at Kapapi North, Kapapi Central, Waaki North, Waaki South, and Lunga villages in Kapapi and Kiryatete sub-counties in Hoima District since the 1950s, which is gazetted as public land.

This follows Witness Radio – Uganda’s intervention with its legal team to provide criminal defense to victims of irresponsible oil investment. The majority of the cattlemen in prison were arbitrarily arrested, maliciously charged, and sent to prison a few days before a violent and forceful land eviction.

On 10th February 2023 at 1:00 am, Hoima District Police, soldiers from Uganda People’s Defense Force (UPDF), with the assistance of security guards from Magnum, a Private Security Company descended on the community violently and illegally evicted them without a court order.

Kataza Samuel is granted bail on both charges of malicious damage to property and stealing cattle; Mulega Eria on both charges of criminal trespass and stealing cattle, Karongo Stephen on both threatening violence and stealing cattle; Rangira Stephen on both threatening violence and stealing cattle; Karongo Edward on both charges of theft and stealing cattle while Mbombo Stephen has been granted bail on threatening violence charge.

On a sad note, the six plus other cattlemen in prison cannot get out and enjoy their freedoms because they are still facing many criminal charges namely assaulting Tilenga Feeder Pipeline Component workers, new charges of threatening violence, and malicious damage to property among others.

Each of the victims was granted a cash bail of one million shillings (1,000,000=) about 273.9 US dollars on their first charge while on the second charge, each was granted a cash bail of three hundred thousand Shillings (300,000=) about 80.43 US Dollars. Sureties were conditioned to a noncash bail of twenty million shillings about 5,479.4 US dollars.

According to the 2022 bail guidelines, if an offense is triable by both the High Court and Magistrates Court and the accused person has been on remand for 60 days before the commencement of trial, the person shall be released on bail on such conditions that the court considers reasonable.

Bail conditions; court ordered the six to report back for their bail on the 20th of June 2023.

However, bail applications for other criminal charges have been fixed to be heard on the 2nd of June 2023 by different trial magistrates.

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Persecution: The prosecutor’s office is turned into a tool to harass locals for opposing land grabs to give way to the oil project in Mid Western Uganda.



By Witness Radio team,

Mr. Karongo Edward, a smallholder farmer in Kapapi village, is one of the dozens of local farmers slapped with multiple criminal charges by the Director of Public Prosecution’s office in Hoima district, Western Uganda because they are resisting an illegal eviction to give way to Tilenga Feeder Pipeline Component.

Arbitrarily arrested on the 25th of January 2023 between 15:00 and 15:30 EAT at Kapapi trading center by two armed police officers attached to Kigolobya police station under the command of one Ndahura Gafayo, now he faces three separate criminal files from criminal trespass, assault to stealing cattle and he’s likely to face more charges resulting from his opposition to an illegal land eviction to give way for Feeder Pipeline Component of the Tilenga Project.

According to his family, Kalong was not informed about the reasons for his arrest instead, he was grabbed, handcuffed, and bundled into a private car with registration number UAT 135J.  He was driven to Kigorobya police, where he spent a night before being transferred to Kitoba police station on the 26th, the following day.

Karongo is one of the 2500 people that have legally occupied and cultivated their land at Kapapi village, Kapapi Sub County, in Hoima District since the 1950s, which is gazetted as public land. No sooner had Karongo and other local farmers been imprisoned than their land was grabbed at gunpoint in the wee hours of the night without a court order.

According to the locals, as soon as the news started circulating that Kapapi North, Kapapi Central, Waaki North, Waaki South, and Lunga villages’ land had been identified as suitable for the oil project, people masquerading as landlords emerged and started ordering and threatening locals to vacate their land.

On the 10th of February 2023, over 2500 locals were forcefully and violently evicted from 1294.99 hectares of their land with no compensation or resettlement.

The eviction was spearheaded by Ndahura Gafayo, Aston Muhwezi, David Mpora, Monica Rwashadika, one Agaba, Wilber Kiiza, and Moses Asimwe with full backup from the area police, soldiers from Uganda People’s Defense Forces (UPDF), and security guards from Magnum, a private security company.

Many adults and children were severely beaten and wounded, women are alleging being raped, and houses were set ablaze. In contrast, others were destroyed, animals were slaughtered, and others were looted. Evictors and their agents looted properties worth millions of Uganda Shillings.

As Witness Radio writes this report, dozens of local farmers opposed to forced land evictions to benefit the Tilenga oil project are facing multiple criminal charges and currently remain at Hoima government prison.

Below are tables drawn to showcase files, names of prisoners (locals from Kapapi opposed to forced land eviction to give way for the Tilenga oil project), court file numbers, and their charges;

File No. 1

Name Court File Number Charge
Kataza Samuel 237 of 2023 Malicious damage to property
Mulega Eria 237 of 2023 Criminal trespass
Karongo Stephen 237 of 2023 Threatening violence
Rangira Stephen 237 of 2023 Threatening violence
Karongo Edward 237 of 2023 Theft

File No.2

Name Court File Number Charge
Kataza Samuel 77 of 2023 Stealing cattle
Mulega Eria 77 of 2023 Stealing cattle
Karongo Stephen 77 of 2023 Stealing cattle
Rangira Stephen 77 of 2023 Stealing cattle






File No. 3

Name Court File Number Charge
Karongo Stephen 238 of 2023 Assault
Karongo Edward 238 of 2023 Assault
Rangira Stephen 238 of 2023 Assault

File No.4

Name Court File Number Charge
Rubyogo David 241 of 2023 Threatening violence
Twinobigezo Edrine 241 of 2023 Threatening violence

File No. 5

Name Court File Number Charge
Mbombo Stephen 60 of 2023 Malicious Damage to property

File No. 6

Name Court File Number Charge
Mbombo Stephen 64 of 23 Threatening violence
Kamugisha Enock 64 of 23 Threatening violence
Murungi John 64 of 23 Threatening violence
Musinguzi Peter 64 of 23 Threatening violence

Witness Radio – Uganda provides criminal defense to victims and has filed bail applications.


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Profiting from misery: A case of a multimillion-dollar tree project sold off before resolving land grab and human rights violation claims with local communities.



By Witness Radio team

In 2002, Global Woods Limited allegedly acquired a 49-year lease on 12,182 hectares where thousands of local communities were deriving their livelihood, forcefully and violently evicted them, and later turned the land into a commercial tree plantation. Before resolving land grabbing, human rights violations and abuse issues with the victim community, the company is sold off. Witness Radio – Uganda has learned.

The monoculture (pine and eucalyptus) tree plantation was certified by the CarbonFix Standard in January 2009, which enables global woods to sell certified carbon credits to interested buyers.

Leveraging on its contacts, the plantation attracted many financiers namely, the British International Investment under the GEF Africa Sustainable Forestry Fund LP managed by Global Environment Facility and Africa Forestry Fund II from Criterion Africa Sustainable Forestry Management, DANIDA, and the European Union among others supported the cause.

Kikonda tree plantation located in Kyankwanzi district has been a beneficiary of the 16 million Euros (over 65 billion Ugx) Sawlog Production Grant Scheme (SPGS) III implemented by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the Ministry of Water and Environment.

The five-year project was designed to meet long-term industrial and market demand for sawlog products by establishing commercial plantations and ensuring downstream processing and utilization efficiency of forest resources.

With all resources at its disposal, Global Woods Limited overlooked standards of responsible investments. The company never consulted the pastoralist and farming community occupying the land as they were unaware of the project.

Instead, with support from government security forces including the Uganda Police Force, over 10,000 people were forcefully and violently evicted from their land.

Cries and grief locked more than 30 villages namely; Kakindu, Neeme, Nakibizi, Ngando, Kalungu, Kiwamirembe, Kachwamango, Bulaza, Kyebajojjo, Rwenkonge, Kyambogo, Mbari, Kikonda, Kasambya, Kyiryakye, Kiyigikiwa, Ndaga, Kiteredde, Kyakabuga among others as locals faced extreme violence with no alternative settlement in the then, Kiboga district.

The local population lost homes, and family fields to the company, and dozens of local people were reportedly arrested and slapped with trumped-up criminal charges. Other locals claim that the company workers and their agents looted dozens of animals and different types of grains found in people’s granaries.

Global Woods Limited is also accused of destroying a water dam worth millions of Uganda Shillings at Kigando village constructed in 1992 to provide water to animals of the local farming communities. The construction of the water dam was financed by the Irish Aid from the Irish tax Payers’ money. Land bordering the plantation is allegedly grabbed at gunpoint too. One of the victims who never wanted his name to be mentioned here due to fear of reprisals, reported that he surrendered his 6.879 hectares of land on a private Mailo land tenure to the company without compensation. He further narrated that, as the plantation continues expanding on other people’s land, he fears losing the remaining piece of land too.

Additionally, the neighboring communities claim that they continue losing their animals as a result of chemicals used on the plantation. “Some animals usually come out blind, while others tend to have miscarriages. And at the end, they die.” One of the herders told the Witness Radio team. He further claims that in 2017, he lost over 30 heads of cattle, calling for the regulation of chemical use on the plantation.

Without resolving the harmful impacts caused to the local communities as some highlighted above, Global Woods Limited plantation in Kikonda has been sold to Nile Fibre Board Limited at a cost not yet established by Witness Radio – Uganda.

Global Woods AG is a Germany-based Company founded by a former Green politician from the European Parliament, Mr. Manfred Vohrer. The company has different tree projects in Paraguay and Argentina. Global-woods International remains assisting the Kikonda project in promoting and selling carbon credits.

Recently, Witness Radio – Uganda landed on a document indicating that Criterion Africa Partners, Inc. (“CAP”), a private equity firm investing in the forestry sector in Sub-Saharan Africa, announced that its portfolio company Global Woods AG (“GW”) had completed the sale of its Uganda timber plantation to Nile Fibre Board Ltd. (“NFB”).

“The sale of Global Woods’ plantations to Nile Fibre Board represents a successful outcome for all stakeholders involved,” said Jim Heyes, CAP’s Managing Director responsible for East Africa. “CAP is pleased to hand the reins to a family-owned local company.”

The Nile Fibre Board Limited (NFB) is a subsidiary of Nileply Woods. NFB now holds the FSC Chain of Custody (COC) and FSC Forest Management certificates upon taking over 12,182ha of Kikonda Forest reserve from Global Woods AG.

The Nile fibreboard has a processing plant in the Nakasongola district in Central Uganda, which produces Melamine Faced Boards (MFB) used in the furniture and construction industry. The two companies (Nile Fibre Board Limited and Nile Plywood Board) are owned by the Sarrai Group of Companies.

The Sarrai group owns more than ten (10) other companies. Some are Kiryandongo Sugar Limited, Kinyara Sugar Works Limited, Hoima Sugar Limited, and Tulip properties and others are mentioned in land-grab scandals, causing tens of thousands of indigenous and local communities to landlessness and homeless.

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