Acholi elite demand cancellation of fraudulent land titles

Acholi elite demand cancellation of fraudulent land titles
Samuel Odonga-Otto, the former Aruu County Member of Parliament

Gulu, Uganda | URN | A think tank pressure group comprised of indigenous elite Acholi political and social change activists has demanded the cancellation of all titles acquired through fraudulent sales of customary land in the region. 

This group, known as Ribbe Pi Paco – RPP, loosely translated as “Unity for Home Safeguard,” includes former Members of Parliament, current legislators, lawyers, academics, religious figures, cultural leaders, and civil society representatives.

Their primary argument is that customary land, governed by the customary land tenure system in the country, is not for sale. Therefore, any titles acquired under such arrangements are considered null and void, and they insist that these land sales must be reversed to leasehold status.

Out of the total land area of approximately 28,316,000 square kilometers in Acholi, only 21.5 per cent is registered land with titles, while the remaining land is classified as customary land. Additionally, government-controlled land, managed by the National Forestry Authority (NFA) and Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA), amounts to 2,488 square kilometers.

The group disclosed that there are currently 5,494 land titles in Acholi, comprising titled land spanning 610,110 acres. In contrast, there are only 3,419 leasehold titles, with durations of 49 and 99 years, across all the districts in Acholi, including Gulu, Kitgum, Pader, Agago, Lamwo, Amuru, Nwoya, and Omoro. Freehold land titles amount to 2,070, while Certificates of Customary Ownership (CCO) total 11,080, with Nwoya having the largest share at 8,000, followed by Agago with 1,820, and Pader with 1,260, among others.

Samuel Odonga-Otto, the former Aruu County Member of Parliament, spoke on behalf of the group, highlighting that several individuals, including high-ranking government officials, have irregularly purchased customary land in Acholi and obtained titles in violation of Article 237 of the Constitution and Sections 1, 2, and 3 of the Land Act, 1998.

The group coordinates its activities through a WhatsApp group, and one of its top priorities is urging the government to expedite interventions to resolve a decade-long dispute over land ownership in Apaa, which has resulted in deadly conflicts between the Acholi and Madi ethnic communities.

Odonga-Otto explained that he was invited to a meeting in Nwoya District by Gen. Salim Saleh, the Director of Operation Wealth Creation, to discuss their demands. Regarding the Apaa conflict, he criticized President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni for declaring the disputed area as part of the Adjumani District.

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The group is also calling for the immediate removal of the Balalo pastoralists who have invaded Acholi districts for years to graze their livestock without permission, posing security threats. Despite numerous presidential directives for the nomads to leave the region, they have remained. Odonga-Otto stated that if the pastoralists failed to vacate the region after the expiry of the three-month extended Executive Order, the RPP would mobilize the masses to protest.

Former Democratic Party (DP) Spokesperson Mwaka Emmanuel Lutukumoi, currently based in the U.S., emphasized that the social injustices occurring in the Acholi sub-region necessitate a comprehensive meeting to address emerging socio-economic and political concerns within the post-war community.

The think tank is actively raising financial resources to convene an assembly of all 56 clan chiefs of Acholi, led by the Paramount Chief, Rwot David Onen Acana II, to collectively address the emerging issues and devise appropriate remedies.