Gulu. The Acholi cultural institution has warned the Justice Catherine Bamugemereire-led commission of inquiry into land matters against playing politics and warned that any attempts to use “politically-fronted facts” to isolate their leaders will open old wounds, which may precipitate tribal clashes between the Acholi and Alur-Jonam people.
In a hard-hitting letter to Justice Bamugemereire titled: “Escalation of land conflicts between West Nile communities and Acholi community along River Nile”, Mr Ambrose Olaa, the cultural institution prime minister, talked of “dark cloud rising over Acholi, this time from the land commission of inquiry.”
The Acholi Cultural Institution wondered whether the Commission is being used to play politics in the land-grabbing case against Uganda People’s Defence Force Reserve Force commander, Gen Charles Otema Awany.
The leaders have also reminded Justice Bamugemereire that the people who accuse Gen Otema of evicting them belong to Jonam-Alur ethnic group and are inhabitants of Nebbi District in West Nile.
“The immediate question is why are the Jonam-Alur claiming to have customary land in Nwoya District in Acholi [sub-region]?” “As the custodians of Acholi heritage, Ker Kwaro Acholi cannot afford to be a bystander on a matter that threatens Acholi heritage and identity.”
The letter, copied to the President and the Prime Minister, among other offices, is in response to Justice Bamugemereire’s order to arrest Gen Otema over land grabbing.
Gen Otema yesterday accused Justice Bamugemereire of having a personal grudge against him and that the order to arrest him seeks to humiliate him.
Speaking to Daily Monitor yesterday, Gen Otema said Justice Bamugereire acted upon emotion and baseless rumours to issue the order.
On August 3, Justice Bamugemereire ordered the arrest of Gen Otema after he failed to reappear before the Commission to explain accusations of land grabbing and violent eviction of more than 6,000 families in Purongo and Got Apwoyo sub-counties in Nwoya District.
Gen Otema explained that the land he is accused of grabbing or evicting people from is public land and decisions over it entirely rest on the district authorities.
It is alleged that between March and April 2018, Gen Otema deployed armed soldiers and forcefully evicted hundreds of families from their ancestral grounds.
However, the cultural institution now claims that by questioning Gen Otema, the Justice Bamugemereire Commission is seeking to push the agenda of the Jonam-Alur people to lay claim on land which lie in Acholi in an alleged grand scheme that started in the 1950s and 1960s.
“This will surely lead to more violence. We feel that the matter before the Commission is much bigger than the allegations against Maj Gen Otema and it cannot be conclusively resolved by singling out Gen Otema…” the five- page letter read, in part.
“You should look at Maj Gen Otema as an Acholi with legitimate interests in the land, not as a soldier. We are aware that this is a conspiracy to intimidate the Acholi because if he (Maj Gen Otema) is isolated, it becomes easier to grab land belonging to other less ranking Acholi in Nwoya, ” Mr Olaa states in the letter to Justice Bamugemereire.
Jonam –Alur speak out
However, speaking on behalf of the Jonam –Alur, the Pakwach District chairperson, Mr Robert Osteen Omito, said: “Where were the Acholi leaders in the past when our people were being displaced from their land and some tortured while others killed in violent evictions? Now we believe this is connivance by Gen Otema and the Acholi leaders to cast a bad image against a legitimate commission because he [Gen Otema] is facing it rough before the commissioners.”