Did Acholi leaders outsmart Museveni over Balalo eviction?

(Last Updated On: 12 November 2023)

Amuru I The amount of pressure that came from Acholi leaders some say ‘forced’ President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni to direct Balalo with non-fenced land to leave Greater Northern Uganda (Acholi sub-region).

During his visit to the sub-region many days ago, Museveni met Acholi and Northern Uganda Minister, including the UPDF bosses on the influx of Balalo cattle keepers.

During his address, the President directed the 4 Division Army Commander of the UPDF, Regional Police Commander (RPC) for Aswa River Region and State Minister for Northern Uganda to take charge and ensure some Balalo exit within three weeks.

“Three weeks ultimatum comes after emotional concerns by Acholi leaders who had raised key issues and tabled before the President how indisciplined Balalo are, how they are threatening the lives of the communities by grazing their animals in the gardens among other bad behaviours against the host-communities,” tndNews Lil Roy Okot reports.

Michael Lakony, the Amuru district LC5 Chairperson said the people of Northern Uganda gave Museveni over 64 percent of votes in the 2021 election. “Why do you panic them by allowing your own people [Balalo] to destroy our land and property?”

“This is not a matter of jokes Mr. President. Other people are joking knowing that the people of Okidi sub-county and the entire northern Uganda cannot farm due to the overflow of Balalo, it is only you who have the power to stop it,” part of Lakony’s bitter messages to Museveni.

Also read: What to know as Northern Uganda Cancer Institute starts partial operations 

After Museveni announced that he was visiting Okidi sub-county (Amuru), Lakony said “a lot of money was exchanged by Balalo to convince some poor locals to say Balalo is good; we have no problems with them”.

“Swimming in of money also confused your assessment move,” he told the President.

“For many years, we have suffered in the war between your government and LRA rebels, for over 25 years. We have not yet recovered. The Balaalo is adding up more wounds and trauma.”

Rwot Santo Apire is the chief of the Atiak clan. He commented that the President should withdraw the power of land management and supervision from local leaders like LCI, LC2, and LC3 because many of them do not know customary land meanings.

He asked for strengthening the capacity of cultural institutions to own and manage land.

“If you fail to implement your executive order number 3 on the Balalo, then this is likely to cause insecurity to the country, we do not want such to happen under your leadership,” Rwot Apire told Museveni.

Also read: Corruption among area land committees escalating land wrangles in Acholi, Lango and Buganda

Rwot advised the President to cancel all land titles that have been acquired on customary lands. “Central authorities to repay the Balalo because ignorance drives local people to sell their

“The Balalo are behaving immorally, disrespectfully and wrong to our people, they are destroying our cultural sites where we used to play and have jokes. They take off their clothes before our children at water wells, this is against our culture.”

Anthony Akol is the chairperson of Acholi Parliamentary Group, doubling as MP Kilak North, Amuru district. Akol said before the President left for Amuru, he had a meeting with the eight affected people of Okidi sub-county.

During the meeting, he was told that more than fifteen acres of gardens were already destroyed by Balalo and their animals. The APG chairperson later appealed to the President to supply food (relief items) to rescue the situation faced by the affected families.

Akol announced that Balalo are “manipulating our locals using their vulnerability to buy land at the cheapest price of shs 200,000-400,000 per acre”. “For the last 20 years, over 36% of the land has been grabbed by Balalo. What of the next ten years to come?” he asked.

“For many years, the people of Acholi have been claiming that your government wants to grab land in Acholi, this is the sign, this will cause treason to the country,” Akol said before Museveni.

A story of a 36-year-old resident of Okidi sub-county was told by MP Akol. It explained how Balalo frustrated the man’s life after his neighbours sold off their land to some Balalo. “It left him in a dilemma being in the middle of Balalo, their animals destroyed his gardens and he was forced to sell his 400 hectares of land at the lowest price ever – at shs 200, 000.”

“But again, they denied paying that amount of money demanding him to exchange it (land) with animals. They valued each animal at shs4 million. After the exchange, he could not sustain and feed the animals, he sold them at only shs1 million,” Akol narrated the story to the President.

Akol is now prophesying that the issue of Balalo will affect Museveni’s 2026 election in northern Uganda if not handled well.

Akol wonders why President Museveni is failing to handle the Acholi matter which is a security issue yet he is good at protecting other countries like Somalia, Sudan and DRC.

Also read: UPDF Majors sentenced over “Cowardice in Action” in Mogadishu 

“Only land issues in Acholi can defeat you?” he asked, adding, “Some army officers are the ones grabbing land with their power to access land title.”

Grace Freedom Kwiyucwiny, State Minister for Northern Uganda told the President that he should channel ways of eradicating poverty in the region, adding, “It is the one fueling conflicts.”

 She told the President that many government land and properties including Lakang, and Aswa Ranch, among others have been occupied by Balalo for grazing their animals. “Acholi sub-region is the most common ground where communities have been affected by reckless acquisition of land titles, the government needs to improve and strengthen the project of certificates of customary land ownership to address customary land issues being destroyed by individuals,” she said.

According to the Minister, the government needs to put complaint desks in every parish and sub-county, saying many local communities have their issues but they do not have where to report and get the answers.

“This would help to address some other minor issues within the local community immediately without giving headache to the central government to run after the minor matters across.”

After listening to many emotional concerns over Balalo by Acholi leaders, President Museveni issued an ultimatum, but started by cautioning the people of Acholi in the Greater North to stop the issue of land fragmentation and challenged the cultural leaders to adjust laws governing clan land.

“Why do you bring many cows in a small area of land which does not accommodate your animals?” he asked Balalo.

At least two things continue to discomfort many Acholi leaders. One, that the President only sees  indisciplined Balalo and two, the government properties. “He left a lot of issues including demands to order cancellation of land titles and the Apaa land saga,” Lil Okot noted.

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