The statement by Gen Charles Otema Awany that the Acholi opposed to the the illegal invasion and occupation of the sub-region by the Balaloo are backward is disturbing.
This statement was unprovoked and uncalled for and nearly ruined my party mood as NRM Secretary General Richard Todwong marked his golden anniversary of life at Fontis Hotel in Nakasero, Kampala, on Friday. But I quickly recomposed myself as I remembered I was there to rejoice with my friend Todwong, and no one would ruin my party mood.
Gladly, no one reacted and our amiable host, after all, stayed clear of any such controversy.
It was a non-political event he hosted for mainly family and friends.
In my opinion, Gen Otema should allow his younger brother to exercise his own agency in navigating the current complex political terrain he finds himself in than complicating matters by such wild statements.
Gen Otema should have calculated that such controversial statements complicate Todwong’s already precarious political position. Mr Todwong is at the helm of NRM political party, which is precariously balancing on a tilting board and is on the brink of losing support in Acoli, his own backyard, on account of the divisive Balaalo land invasion and occupation.
Gen Otema, who commands the UPDF Reserve Force, should have weighed his words, knowing that votes will always be the metrics of success of any high-placed political party administrator such as Todwong, the Secretary General of NRM.
The Acholi customary land tenure being defended against the nomadic Balaalo incursion is a creation of the 1995 Constitution after a spirited and protracted debate by a group of smart Constituent Assembly delegates led by the framers of the law who included Alfonse Owiny-Dollo, now the Chief Justice; Dr Yafesi Okullo-Epak; and Prof Senteza Kajubi.
These minds in the Constituent Assembly were redressing historical problems and were alive to the exigencies of posterity which they declare in the preamble to the 1995 Constitution.
The full understanding of customary land tenure requires one to be grounded in the anthropology of these societies so as to unpack the customary constitutional antecedents required. Without this grounding, someone can erroneously declare that there is vacant land in Acholi oblivious of the Acholi customs and practice of land rights and use.
Gen Otema should, therefore, be enlightened that this landholding was given parity with the mailo system. This system has also captured well our egalitarian land holding culture into modern laws. He should know that the antecedents of this land holding, according to the Constitution and subsequent land legislation is customs, and customs too are recognized under the 1995 Constitution and anybody defending customary land and customs is not backward but defending constitutionalism.
Finally, Gen Otema should stop peddling blackmail because he knows that the Acholi co-exist with all well-intentioned people. Without a doubt, Gen Otema is well aware that we have all other ethnic lot running thriving businesses in Gulu and all over Acholiland. Our small and big towns and city have the Baganda, Basoga, Bagisu and other ethnic shades who are doing all forms of brisk businesses, including wholesale and retail as well as street and roadside vending and other businesses in the nooks.
My plea to Gen Otema is that he should sober up, stop being a neo-Balaloo comprador in Acholi and team up with his sane compatriots to provide leadership as a decorated General to his community that has borne the brunt of war and is in short of supply of elders.