Uganda: Local land dispute threatens violence

December 27 2012: A local land dispute in Uganda, close to the border with South Sudan, threatens to escalate into violence, and has become an international issue. Otim Denis Barnabas, from Ugandan peacebuilding organisation the Refugee Law Project, explains the conflict.

The customs point in Elegu, Uganda, is at the centre of a local land dispute that has become international

Some violence and insecurity has already been registered, and many believe that this dispute has the potential of escalating and derailing development in the disputed area.
Elegu is a piece of land in Uganda that falls partly between the districts of Amuru and Adjumani and is close to international boundary with South Sudan. Land disputes have become a source of conflict in Elegu. Recently land disputes have transgressed from internal local disputes to an international boundary dispute involving the newly born state of South Sudan. Some violence and insecurity has already been registered, and many believe that this dispute has the potential of escalating and derailing development in the disputed area. The issue surrounding this dispute relates to unclear boundary firstly between Amuru and Adjumani district and now between Uganda and South Sudan, but it traces far beyond to include unclear land claims and vested economic interest.

In September 2012, the Refugee Law Project (RLP) conducted a conflict context analysis of the land dispute in Elegu. The detailed report about the land dispute can be accessed from RLP website under the ACCS activity updates. The land conflict in Elegu previously played out between two Madi clans, namely the Oyapele and the Ofodro; they are historically separated by the South Sudanese/Ugandan border instituted in the wake of British colonialism. The Oyapele live on the Southern Sudanese side in the village of Matoyo, and the Ofodro on the Ugandan side, in Elegu. Historically, the Oyapele and Ofodro shared strong cross-border ties, maintaining a mutually cooperative relationship in times of hardship.

During the Second Sudanese Civil War, the Oyapele in Uganda were registered as refugees by the Government of Uganda, and sent to refugee camps in Adjumani and Moyo districts. However, after the Comprehensive Peace Accord (CPA) in Sudan in 2005, the Oyapele lost their refugee status and returned to Sudan, yet some remained doing business in Uganda. At the same time, the Ofodro were displaced to IDP camps due to the Lords Resistance Army insurgency, leaving their original land in Elegu lying idle.

The key finding of the RLP research indicated that vested economic interest was key conflict trigger in the Elegu. In 2007 the Government of Uganda decided to build a customs point in Bibia – Amuru district, which triggered conflict over land ownership between the local Mukolo and Alur clans. In effort to quell the dispute, the central government obtained land in Elegu and officially inaugurated the Elegu custom point in March 2012. While the area was previously free of land dispute, the economic importance and the strategic relocation of the custom point have resulted into tension in Elegu.

The dispute over land in Elegu centers on a stretch of 4 km² area along the border of Uganda and South Sudan. No dispute and claims of ownership have been made outside the, so-called, “hot cake” stretch. But this has of late changed with the Government of South Sudan accusing Uganda of putting development infrastructure beyond Uganda international boundary, calling it an act of trespass.

The land dispute in Elegu is highly multi-faceted with varied actors and competing claims of ownership
The land dispute in Elegu is highly multi-faceted with varied actors and competing claims of ownership. Ownership claims are complicated by the fact that land in the area is traditionally held under customary tenure, resulting in a lack of official land titles. At the international level, the Oyapele community originally hails from Sudan, which in turn throws up wider questions of citizenship and belonging of cross-border communities.

As stated by an immigration official at Elegu customs point, “it is difficult to say whether the Oyapele are Ugandans or whether they are Sudanese, because of the history of co-settlement with the Ofodro and the countless cross-border movements”. The cross-border movements between the Oyapele and Ofodro has resulted in intermarriages; further complicating questions of citizenship and claims to land ownership.

At the same time, the Amuru district leadership does not recognize any of the ownership claims made by the Ofodro over the disputed land, but called for the intervention of the central Government in Uganda to respond to the accusation being made by their South Sudan counterparts. Various conflict mitigation strategies were recommended, including 3rd party mediation. It was demanded that the Government of Uganda strengthen the functionality of immigration office at Elegu border entry point.

Both Amuru and Adjumani district local government advocated for quick and transparent access to archive information regarding the 1962 British colonial border demarcations and historical accounts of local tax payment to sort out the issue of administrative boundaries between Adjumani and Amuru. Whereas civil society organisation representatives in the area held that the best way to handle the Elegu conflict is through respected community leaders of the conflict parties involved, as they know local history and culture, the land dispute in Elegu continues to transgress and largely remain unresolved.

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Comments

There are 4 comments Show comments

Omocho Robert on January 6, 2013

I appreciate the assessment. The two governments should be in the forefront to facilitate the peace talks among the local tribes, before it escalates into war.

Vuziga Michael on September 4, 2013

The Uganda land act is vey clear, land belongs to people, it is therefore the duty of the government to treat the disease instead of the the symptom.
first declare which clan owns this land then deal with the international boundary before it results into something else such that we will co-exist with our brothers in South Sudan.

tamale on September 7, 2013

i think its goverment issue now not the local to intervene in implementation

Tiondi C. on November 13, 2013

I belong to one of the clan from Elegu and for me I don’t see any major problems between the Oyapele and Ofodro clans since the two clans have been together since before the demacation of the boundary by the colonials even when the whites had not yet steped in Africa.

The major issue of Elegu is the boundary between Ajumani and Amuru. The international boundary is not a problem because the two tribes exist and burried their dear ones in both sides of the boundary therefore lets leave pai as pai regarding the international boundary.

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