By Julius Odeke
Two weeks ago, a delegation of Acholi leaders visited the Madhivanis at Kakira Sugar Works to discuss prospects of establishing a sugar plant in Amuru District. Aswa County MP Ronald Reagan Okumu, the chairperson for Acholi Parliamentary Group (APG), spoke to The Independent’s Julius Odeke about the development.
Why is the Acholi Parliamentary Group resisting this development?
First of all, I think we should correct the wrong impression that Acholi MPs have rejected development. I always take that as an insult for our people. It abuses our intelligence and underrates our resolve to advance our social economic and political being. Let us ask, development for whom? I am now talking as a sociologist.
If it’s development for the people of Amuru, then the people of Amuru should be able to benefit from the proceeds that accrue from the investment. Therefore, the negotiation about getting shares or is what we should be talking about. But if it’s for the Madhvanis of this world – the capitalists – then it’s not for Amuru people because they are going to take away profits at the expense of the people. If it were for our people, nobody could oppose development.
Amuru and Acholiland is like any other capital investment that people have kept aside. When you look at Teso, Lango, and Acholi, the only investment that they have is their land and for someone to come and tell us that we should give it away, it will not happen. We should not abuse the people of Amuru or Acholi by telling them to give away their land. Government shouldn’t come to abuse the people of Acholi who maintained their land for the future generation.
It should not come up with a view not of grabbing people’s land but with a view of educating the youth in Acholi so that in future they will be in position to send their children to Universities and in the process it will help them bring development to the region.
In 2008, you were part of a delegation of Acholi MPs that visited Kakira Sugar Works with a view of chatting a way forward and to give Madhvani land. What went wrong?
As MPs from Acholi, we had resolutions that were binding. We told them that our people are still in camps let them be given an opportunity to come out of this situation then we negotiate. But also, when we moved round Kakira, we noticed that the people who are employed by Kakira Sugar Works are not the indigenous Basoga.
It’s the Iteso, Baganda, Batoro, people from West Nile, etc. So, which kind of employment opportunities are Acholis going to benefit from this factory? Take for example Gulu University. Yes, it carries the name Gulu, but how many Acholis can be admitted to study Human Medicine at this institution? So, what kind of development is that? I have clearly told Madhvani that if you want land in Acholi, talk with the local people. This method of passing through State House won’t work. In the North, we don’t have free land, which is one thing that Madhvani should be aware off.
How much land does Madhvani want in Amuru?
He told us that he wants 40,000 hectares. When you look at that size of land, it can be equal to a country like Luxembourg in Europe. Then a question will arise: where are you going to relocate the people who will be displaced by the plantations? We told Madhvani not to come to us but to go directly to the people whose land he wants. If you want land then hire it. We can agree on 30 – 40 years then after that you sign another agreement.
If you find that hiring land is difficult or expensive then you can negotiate on offering shares to the people in the factory, so that you share the profits. We also told them that we want to find out more about the issue of oil reserves. By then Daudi Migereko, who was Energy and Mineral Resources Minister, gave us the maps, which clearly show that Amuru is an oil-rich area. Madhvani refused to let go of the area, instead they employed intimidation by using security personnel.
So you think Madhvani not really interested in growing sugar cane in Amuru?
I am not sure whether Madhvani has an interest in growing sugar cane in Amuru since there is oil in the area. You are aware that the mineral resources law was amended to cater for the compensation of land owners. We think sugarcane will not be grown in Amuru, they are looking at the oil. But for us our problem is not with Madhvani. The problem is that they are taking President Museveni as a savior who should give them the land for free.
So why aren’t they listening to the people?
It’s State House that has raised the stakes high like that. And the reason is simple – they cannot allow Acholis to own such wealth accruing from their own land. As I speak, some people including Kabakumba Matsiko, RDCs, MPs, LC V chairpersons, and now Ogenga Latigo, who is not from Amuru clan, are leading delegations.
Ogenga-Latigo has said it categorically that if the Acholi leaders fail to take development projects to Acholi, then you MPs in elective positions are not fit to be in those positions. What is your comment on that?
If Latigo was fit to be a leader, then why was he thrown out? I think he is older than many of us. Why didn’t he take development to Acholi region if he really cared for his people? At one time locusts ravaged Acholi region but as an expert on insects, he did nothing. Dr Latigo’s undoing was that he does not consult. He was in Parliament with us and he has our contacts so he should have contacted us to discuss this pertinent issue, but he didn’t.
He collected all the LC III chairpersons who were mobilised through radio announcements. You know people in the rural areas there tend to get excited when they hear about meeting President Museveni. They were taken to Masaka, Kalangala, and to Kakira without any resolution. We as MPs for Acholi met and resolved that we cannot go to attend such a meeting with President Museveni.
So, which projects do you as Acholi leaders think could help to alleviate poverty and bring development in the region?
You see, Kakira is in Busoga – one of the poorest regions in Uganda – though the region has never suffered any war like Acholi has been for decades. In Busoga jiggers have been killing people. Now if Busoga had faced conditions like Acholi then jiggers would have killed everyone.
When you look at Acholi, we are somehow better than people who live in places where sugar factories have been set up. Sugarcane is not the solution to poverty in Uganda because the sugar industry is a capitalistic investment. Despite all the suffering that our people underwent, we are not the worst off. Already, the region is feeding South Sudan. World Food Programme (WFP) has now resorted to buying food from Acholi region.
If we were facilitated by the government, we would go much further. Our major focus now is on education because through education people can manage their resources better. We are focusing on agricultural production and we are making a shift from purely producing for domestic consumption to commercial production. As leaders we are going to sensitise our people in a systematic manner because nobody can fight poverty for us.
President Museveni often says you the young MPs are sabotaging development. Why are you doing this?
We are not sabotaging development in this country or in Acholi. What we are saying is that if they have money to invest then let them come and negotiate with the people. We are young and poor but with good ideas to transform the livelihoods of our people.
Why is Prof. Ogenga Latigo saying that it’s FDC MPs in Acholi who made him to lose in the 2011 elections?
By the way, Ogenga Latigo lost the re-election out of his own recklessness. When he became the Leader of Opposition (LoP), he thought he would win without visiting his electorate. He had the money and power as LoP. There are a number of FDC MPs whom President Museveni did not want to come back but Ogenga Latigo was not one of them. Nobody fought him. How do you fight the LoP? Nobody should deceive the public that we de-campaigned Ogenga Latigo.