President Yoweri Museveni has deployed a team of officials from State House to examine the situation of Balaalo in Acholi Sub-region and Northern Uganda.
The officials are holding a crisis meeting with the leadership across the sub-region including Resident District Commissioners (RDCs).
The Gulu RDC, Mr Stephen Odong Latek, says the Balaalo are not settled within the acceptable legal framework that enables them to settle in Acholi sub-region.
“They have acquired land irregularly and it has taken interest of the President to say no. We need to stop this irregular settlement of the balaalo,” he says.
The RDC told journalists at the sidelines of the District Integrity Forum organised by ActionAid International Uganda in Gulu City that several conditions have been set to ensure Balaalo vacate Acholi land.
Mr Latek says the Balaalo who have not met the requirements and those who were verified and found not to be legitimate have to vacate Acholi land and Northern Uganda.
“We are not clear of their identity. Once their identities are clear, we need to know how they acquired land,” Mr Latek says.
Adding: “We also need to verify the minimum standards for taking care of the cattle in areas where they acquired land. We have to ensure they have fenced off their land. They have to ensure they have water within their land. Only after we did that verification, then we will allow them stay but failure to meet those requirements, the Balaalo have an ultimatum to leave Acholi land and northern Uganda by the end of December”.
Ms Florence Lalam, the Gulu city woman councillor for Laroo – Peece North says Acholi communities are not comfortable with the presence of Balaalo.
She says the Balaalo invaded Northern Uganda one by one until they became a ‘pandemic.’
“They [Balaalo] have become so many and these people release their cattle at night and they have eaten up everything. We are at the verge of facing serious famine,” Ms Lalam says urging the President to empower “us the leaders to deal with them locally”.
“We are also facing challenges of threats of life and loss of life because we discovered that the Balaalo are actually armed with guns. Our questions now are: who are these people, where have they come from? How can government fail to protect us from armed people on our own land?”
The number of Balaalo now spread across Acholi sub-region has reportedly increased since 2017 amid growing concerns over land rights and conflict.
President Museveni recently directed Prime Minister, Robinah Nabbanja and Internal Affairs Minister Gen David Muhoozi to evict the Balaalo pastoralists from northern Uganda.
The directive was in reaction to claims from the leadership across the sub-region that the pastoralists’ population had swollen and was hampering farming as their animals strayed into farmlands and destroyed crops.
The local leaders from Gulu, Amuru, and Nwoya districts issued an ultimatum ordering the pastoralists to vacate since some had guns and were threatening the lives of local farmers.
Mr Museveni then ordered the eviction of all the Balaalo pastoralists on unfenced land and with animals straying onto people’s farm lands.
He said the directive will also be overseen by RDCs, sub-county chiefs, parish chiefs and veterinary staff in all the affected areas.
The president said the herdsmen did not follow the procedures involved in moving their animals to the north, and that their illegal activities were tainting the image of the NRM.
Early this month, the cultural and political leaders in Acholi issued a 14-day ultimatum to the Balalo herdsmen to leave or face forceful eviction.
The leaders said the influx of the herdsmen was compromising security in the region and also spreading cattle diseases and causing widespread land wrangles.
On October 18, the Acholi Paramount Chief, David Onen Acana II, told Local Government minister, Raphael Magyezi, that the cultural institution was moving towards formulating by-laws and ordinances to curb unnecessary sale of land to pastoralists in the region.
He said the rampant sales and lease of land to the pastoralists had resulted in widespread wrangles over land ownership with some deaths recorded.
The institution argues that land in Acholi is clustered into farmland, communal grazing land and communal hunting grounds which are not owned by individuals and cannot be sold out by any individual.
It also said the fresh influx of the Balaalo is distorting the Acholi systems of food production and security with widespread land wrangles it is struggling to mediate.
In an interview, Mr William Komakech, the Kitgum RDC, said they were ready as a district to enforce the directive.