09 Jun Extending Lifelines: Supporting the Disenfranchised Apaa Community
Land conflicts in Northern Uganda have become an all-too-familiar occurrence in my line of work with both HANDLE and GWED-G. I recently gained my first experience in humanitarian aid through a project with GWED-G targeting distribution of basic household items and food to the displaced Acholi population in Apaa – two hours from Gulu.
Their displacement came at the hands of the government, who have forced evictions, providing no alternative means of settlement beyond a paltry 10 million shillings (roughly 2,600 CHF), some bags of cement, and a handful of bricks to buy land for households ranging from 2 to 37 people and construct new homes. The reality is that in Uganda, this amount can afford the purchase of land unfit for the settlement of large households and resumption of subsistence cultivation, which is the sole activity these folks depend on.
Media coverage of the facts of the matter is scant, but it is reported that the conflict began somewhere around 2011, with the government declaring that the Apaa community belonged to a different district, and attempting to usurp their land claiming that it was part of a private reserve designated to be a game park for investors who want to attract big game hunters. Furthermore, it is reported that the land is very fertile, thus lucrative, and contains deposits of precious uranium.
Violence has been escalating more recently – purportedly with the government and invading Madi community wreaking havoc on the Apaa Acholi increasing attacks and devastating the area by burning down huts, beatings, protests and unfounded arrests. To dissuade the people’s return to their lands, health centres and schools were also destroyed, road blocks were put in place, and livelihood farms razed to the ground by fire. People were left with nothing – their few possessions incinerated in the flames when they were chased from their homes. Farming tools were impounded, further sending the message that the Apaa communities were unwelcome to live on their own land. Forced evictions have further scattered the population, leading to the creation of internally displaced persons camps in Amuru. The army swarms the area and have turned markets into makeshift barracks to intimidate and maintain control.
While there are a few sympathetic soldiers and local government representatives, the cost of action to rescue the Apaa community from their plight is too expensive – with the threat of their own arrest looming large.
NGOs’ presence is heavily restricted, however, GWED-G managed to eke out a deal to deliver much-needed goods to the dispossessed Apaa. In February, GWED-G was able to distribute food items including beans, posho flour, nutritional supplements for young children, salt and cooking oil, as well as household goods like tarps for shelter, cooking supplies, mosquito nets, Jerry cans, soap, blankets and sanitary pads for women.
In heading the assessment of the impact of this supply, women revealed stories of how they were grateful to have a tarp to shelter their children. One women told of how she and her young children were sleeping exposed after her hut had been burnt down and she was chased away from her home. She told us that the tarp gave her a sense of security, not only from the rain, but from people coming and hurting her family and stealing what few items remained to her name.
While the original project plan included supporting displaced families with planting seeds to allow for long-term self-sufficiency, the government intervened and banned GWED-G from supplying these items. It is clear there is no real intention to allow these people to return to their lands.
Interestingly, our beneficiaries told us their only wish is to go home, live in peace and be allowed to resume their farming. As they rely on their land to make their living, these people are left with no means of making a living and feeding their families.
Currently, we are scoping out the feasibility of delivery planting seeds to the few people who may have access to land to cultivate. GWED-G is also looking to secure funding under a peace building initiative to negotiate a settlement for this vulnerable community and advocate for their rights to live freely on their traditional lands.