The National Economic Empowerment Dialogue (NEED) leader Joseph Kabuleta Kizza has warned the people of Acholi Sub-region to be extra cautious against the Balaalo herdsmen who want to steal their oil.
Over a decade ago, oil was discovered in Nwoya district in the Acholi by a French oil and gas company- Total SA.The discovery came in the aftermath of seismic studies around the Murchison falls area by its Ugandan operations, Total Exploration and Production (Total E&P) in September 2012 and up to date, the East African country is yet to start its exploration.
Other districts in the Sub-region include Agago, Amuru, Gulu, Kitgum, Lamwo, Pader and Omoro.
Mr Kabuleta said during a meeting with the local leaders and residents of Acholi Sub-region on Monday.
He said the Balaalo are only interested in settling in places where oil has been discovered.
“When they discovered oil in Bunyoro, within a short period of time, the Balaalo were already in the Sub-Region. They usually have guns. Now even here in your area (Acholi) when oil was discovered, they did the same thing. Many of them have settled here with their guns. They graze their cattle with guns in their possession,” said the former presidential candidate, who is currently on nationwide sensitization campaign premised on protecting Uganda’s national deposits that could be used by citizens to elleviate themselves from poverty.
“The same case is in Sebei; Balaalo and oil. We wonder whether the cows of these Balaalo feed on oil. Where do they get the guns? And the most annoying part is when they go to a place, they grab the community land and they claim it as belonging to them. By the end of the day, they render you people landless,” he added.
Mr Kabuleta also rallied the Acholi locals to advocate for change of government if they want to fully enjoy the natural resources in their area.
“Those who steal or rustle cattle have an aim of ensuring that you don’t settle on your land because if you don’t have cattle to be kept on it then it will be very easy for you to sell the asset to them since most times it will be idle and useless on your side. So in order to fight cattle rustling and land grabbing, we must change the government because as long as this current establishment is still in power, nothing is going to change.”
The politician further pinned the government for deliberately denying the local people in Acholi their full rights of owning land by refusing to give them land titles.By doing this, Kabuleta said the government makes it easy for Balaalo to grab land that belongs to the indigenous people.
He however, advised the locals not to lower the guard, saying they should stand up and fight for what rightly belongs to them.
“Nowdays its very hard to get a land title. Government is doing it deliberately not to give you titles that show ownership but I call upon you to be cautious against those people who want/ are stealing your wealth. Fight for your cattle, land and other resources. Show those people that they can’t take them because there are some serious repercussions if they do so.
“Now if you’re born in this land, all the wealth that God invested in it, you’re supposed to have a stake and nobody is going to give you the stake by sitting back and hoping. It’s going to be given to you by standing up and making a strong claim on it and making sure that people who come to steal those resources are not given an inch of what is not theirs,” Mr Kabuleta asserted.
The former journalist also noted that in case business people are taking the land for investment, the indigenous people should be given a share capital and become shareholders in whatever establishment is put in place so that they benefit from their natural wealth.
“You have many mineral resources in your land like oil, agricultural potential is in place and there’s a vast piece of land with a small population because of war, unfortunately. But that means there’s a lot of potential. But the big question is who is going to benefit from these resources? Is it going to be the same people who were fomenting the war or is it going to be the indigenous people in this area? Please don’t be inactive, fight for your resources,”he urged.
In the same meeting, the residents decried army officers’ role in stealing their cattle
“We have army officers in Kabong and Kotido who are using these rustlers to get cattle from Acholi. I talk frankly about this because we have a farmer who is an officer with more than a thousand cattle in Kabong. It is so painful, we cannot do anything. We have now resorted to tractors for ploughing but now what are we going to use for marriage? It is what we always use as dowry,” Opio Albino Ronald from Agago District tearfully disclosed.
Kabuleta’s revelation comes at a time when the Balaalo herdsmen’s presence in Acholi is raising questions among a section of Ugandans.
The number of Balaalo now spread across the Sub-region has reportedly increased since 2017 amid growing concerns over land rights and conflict.
On October 24, 2017, President Yoweri Museveni directed the army and the Agriculture ministry to evict the Balaalo pastoralists from Acholi and northern Uganda at large.
Four years later, the number of pastoralists and the population of their animals across the sub-region has more than tripled.
In 2021, the President rechoed his directive by giving the Balaalo two months to vacate northern Uganda or face forceful eviction and prosecution.
In a letter dated November 2 to the Prime Minister, Robinah Nabbanja, Museveni described the herdsmen as illegal migrants whose animals remain a persistent problem to the farming communities in the north, specifically in the Acholi sub-region.