President Museveni recently visited Okidi Parish in Atiak Sub-county, Amuru District, ostensibly to hear directly from the locals whose land have been invaded and occupied by the Balaalo.
This visit, therefore, presumed that the President, despite his several layers of intelligence, needed an on-spot opinion – to hear from the horses’ own mouth.
But from what is now public knowledge, President Museveni visit was more or less choreographed as he engaged in a monologue and lectured the locals, and only heard from hand-picked elected leaders, not the typical villager whose crops have been trampled and grazed on, children defiled, and water points sealed off by the cattle herders. Even a team of other victims from close by Palabek County in Lamwo District, were blocked from accessing the venue. In the same way, an advocate, a lady from Palaro, with suspected contrary opinion, was intercepted and detained by the police.
The nearest President Museveni went to finding out from the affected persons was a tête-à-tête with some Balaalo in what could be mistaken for old-school chitchat.
Instead, President Museveni chose to drop the name of now-thriving Bweyale Township, a formerly vacant land that hosted war-displaced Acholi when their land was hostile. He then obliquely rebuked the Acholi for selfishness and hostility in not embracing the Balaalo. Mr Museveni also scolded Acholi cultural leaders for leaving what they should do and doing what they should not in supporting injustice against other ‘foreign’ communities that have come to occupy Acholi land.
Perhaps to calm tempers, President Museveni ordered that the Balaalo grazing cows in unfenced areas leave Acholi, Lango and West Nile immediately or be evicted after three weeks. He also said he would hold further discussions at a later date on the sensitive issue of ownership and renting of land in the sub-region. But the President’s order was vague on two key issues of purpose and timing of his 21-day ultimatum for the Balaalo to leave. It was also fuzzy on the type and manner of fencing the land occupied by the Balaalo.
Little wonder, two days after his Okidi declaration, the RDC and the Area MP were split on what the President exactly meant.
Similarly, the modality to manage the likely massive exit of the Balaalo was left with loopholes. It remained unclear how the Balaalo, who had by July, 2022, already occupied 25,416 acres of land and were grazing more than 13,000 head of cattle in just two villages of Okidi Parish, and those elsewhere across Acholi, would be vetted to stay or expelled. It was also unclear what would happen to the Balaalo from unfenced areas that would flock into the fenced areas.
It should be remembered President had declared these herdsmen, who he said originated from northern Tanzania, Rwanda, DR Congo, and western Uganda, as illegal migrants, are undisciplined and manipulative and should be summarily kicked out.
13 major offensives against us, our enemies
Given these ambiguities after the choreographed Okidi baraza, I propose two-pronged external and internal offensives for the survival of our community.
Foremost, our people and leaders should keep their foot on the pedal and sleep with one eye open, because once bitten, twice shy. The Acholi also say aweno pe Loko wiye.
We also need to step up our sophistication and talk less, think long-term, look at the big picture and sharpen our questioning attitude towards things and people who are alien to our ways and pay heed to our age-old saying that too ma neki aa ki i ot.
Our good and easily trusting nature have been taken advantage of to infiltrate, penetrate, and manipulate us for not heeding our wisdom that layom cwiny ki gero ki nyac.
Perhaps it should be in times like this that we name and shame those who have teamed up with our tormentors and deny them the comfort of gracing our social functions, including places of worship, funerals, and even bars. Our ancient wisdom says kwero kop pe gengo wat, and that malakwang ka wac ki liyo. Alternatively, we can open a Black Book, just in case, as our sages say banya cwii ki culu ii oro.
Our motif is just in the struggle for our heritage, let’s pursue, overtake and overcome and repossess our inheritance and rights. Wan lapii wa ber; may we love those who love us but withhold from those who mean us harm.
Finally, our Acholi wisdom counsels that wang bur pe kiweko ki lwangi. We may have to engage our ritual of old or agat, which has kept us afloat in times as precarious as this. Or have our sages totally surrendered to Pentecostal chants and blindfold of brown envelopes?
We may need to boldly re-evaluate our so-called newfound courtship with President Museveni and his de facto overseer of the North, Gen Salim Saleh, The Igbo wisdom here comes in handy; that when a handshake exceeds the elbow, it ceases to be a friendly gesture anymore and signals a fight.
Likewise, we have to reassess the status of our elected leaders from the grassroots to MPs and scrutinize how they ascended those offices and their execution of duties and whether they are upholding the social contract that voted them into office, and resolve on the positive or negative reward for them at every election cycle.
Equally, we need to shine a torch on our traditional leaders who should have been custodians of our land and land rights, but some have become wheelie dealers with tens of thousands of hectares under their personal seals.
As well, we have got to shine a torch on our religious leaders under the Acholi Religious Leaders Peace Initiative (ARLPI), who unselfishly championed the course of peace, and amplified the voices of the voiceless. But many are now known by the loudness of their silence on matters that afflict their flocks. One wonders whether they are waiting for murder, not in Apaa, but in the Cathedral.
We also have to cast the limelight on the mercantile dealings of the mushrooming Pentecostal churches so that our God, or Gaaad, and his people are not mocked.
Similarly, we’ve got to re-awaken our Acholi elite compradors who are content with driving noisy old Japanese cars and living in fools’ paradise of ‘arrivalism’ and look away as their poor and defenceless kinsmen and kinswomen are robbed and dispossessed of their inheritance.
Finally, our ordinary folks, who have been degraded, impoverished, and rendered despondent need robust and rigorous sensitization on the value and the dignity of honest work, and shaking off alcohol addiction. They need to be taught and shown the value of land as a factor of production, and not an item to be sold for boda boda, funding funeral rites, paying fees and marrying more wives.
These propositions are doable for us to start any genuine journey of post-war recovery.