By Christopher Nyeko

GULU: A section of residents occupying the contested land of Apaa, shared by Amuru and Adjumani districts, stormed and dumped three coffins inside the compound of the Paramount Chief of Acholi, Rwot David Onen Acana II, in protest of a looming eviction.

The incident happened on Thursday, February 23 at around 12:40 p.m. At least 33 angry residents carried three empty black coffins labeled ‘’Apaa.”

The charged-up team consisted of children, young women and men, elderly women and men, and some energetic youths. They sat nodding in a sobering mood under the shade of the big mango tree in the palace compound.

The move followed the planned presidential visit to Acholi; however, this was described by the elders as uncultured and a serious abomination.

In an exclusive interview with UGReports, Wilson Acuma 55 explained that their grievances emerged following the silence of the Paramount Chief Rwot David Onen Acan since they are facing eviction.

On February 15, 2023, the Prime Minister of Uganda Rt. Hon. Robinah Nabbanja, issued a three-month ultimatum directing Apaa residents to leave the contested land.

The Prime Minister, however, said the affected residents will receive a compensation of 10 million shillings, 20 bags of cement, and 20 pieces of iron sheet, mostly those with authentic documents such as a national identity card.

According to Acuma, the Apaa people waited for the response from the paramount chief, but in vain.

“To seek the attention of everybody, we decided to buy a coffin and bring it to the palace; the coffin was a sign that if the government evicts us from our only land, we would not accept to leave but be ready to die in our land,” he stated.

Acuma, who was quaking, revealed that he was forced to lead a selected group of people who brought the coffin to the palace to be on the safe side.

How protestors beat security and accessed the palace with coffins

learnedThis publication has learnt that the aggrieved people who stormed the palace in their own style embarked on a trek of over 70 kilometers in three days to keep their plans unknown to the public.

According to Mr. Christopher Opira, one of the locals who participated in the movement plan, they decided to keep their plan secret until they reached and pitched camp at Acholi Palace in Gulu City.

Three black coffins in the Acholi Palace Compound

He explained that upon reaching Gulu City, they bought three coffins and hired a white pickup vehicle, which delivered the “coffins” to the palace.

‘’Luckily, we reached the palace gate when the guards were not around; at the time they realized we were already settled, they offloaded our coffins and packed them under the mango tree,’’ he disclosed.

Opira told this website that in their plan, they were not ready to leave the palace until their issue was sorted, though they received negative criticism from some people who accused their motives of being facilitated by politicians.

He however distanced himself from the claims, saying that the accusation was not true but that the people of Apaa agreed to mobilize the resources to buy the coffins so that they could hook their attention.

According to Opira, in a bid to seek the president’s attention, response, and position on the contested Apaa land and to tell the president their plight, they preferred uncultured methods, which in turn worked for them.

However, their action was not welcomed by the cultural leaders in Acholi, who said such a practice was uncultured and a serious abomination that could bring bad omens into the society (palace).

According to sources at the palace, the paramount chief David Onen Acan II, who was with his high profile visitors, was in for a special meeting in the palace discussing the matter of the contested Apaa land.

Acholi Palace officials speak out

The personal secretary for the Paramount Chief of Achoi,  Rwot David Onen Acana II, Mr. John StephOkello,llo told that the palace had learned that they (Apaa residents) have come to visit the Lawi-Rwodi in a different style, which he described as uncultured.

Angry Apaa residents

Okello could hardly calm the aggrieved and prepare them to meet the paramount chief together with the two clergymen who were already in the palace.

At around 6:00pm, the paramount chief had finished the important discussion with the clerics and then came to address the aggrieved subjects.

The paramount chief who was looking very dissatisfied with the action taken by the people of Apaa asked their leader (Wilson Acuma) to justify why they had committed such an abomination by bringing the coffin to the palace.

In his response, Acuma said a section of the Apaa people wanted to kill him because they believed that he was a traitor and had received money from the palace for betraying his people.

Acuma further told Rwot that the people of Apaa are unwilling to receive compensation from the government, but they want to occupy their land peacefully.

As interaction with the people of Apaa continues, Rwot reveals to them that he has started implementing some of the action points of the meeting he held in Apaa with his counterpart.

On December 29, 2022, the Acholi paramount chief and his counterpart from Madi, Mr. Stephen Drwani, met in Apaa after the two chiefdoms received one hundred million shillings each to facilitate their activities of peace restoration between the Acholi and Madi people, who have been for the last decades in contestation over the land for the last decade.

The Apaa land conflict has so far claimed at least 23 lives.

According to the locals, the resolution of the meeting was to allow the people of Apaa to continue living on their land, stop the charcoal business in Apaa, appoint capable leadership, establish the correct number of Acholi living in Apaa, and promote peaceful coexistence between the Acholi and the Madi people who live in Apaa.

The Acholi Paramount Chief asserted that “I have written a letter to the president concerning the contested land of Apaa and am still waiting for his response. I don’t sleep because of you,’’ he said.

Rwot David Onen Acana II noted that when he heard about the prime minister’s directive, he contacted Richard Todwong, the NRM secretary general, who is also the son of the soil, and asked him if that is what the NRM government is paying back to the people of Acholi, but he replied to him that the matter will be solved.

‘’We have very many Acholi in the cabinet, and how can they accept their people to be evicted from the land? What have the people of Apaa done, which is to portray me badly so that the rest of the other Acholi see me as having betrayed my own people?” he stressed.

President Museveni meets Apaa residents.

HE Yoweri Kaguta Museveni pitched camp in Acholi for two days from February 24th to 25th, 2023, for his regional tour under the theme “social economic transformation.”

On Friday, April 24, at around 4:40 p.m., the president, who had been traversing the Acholi districts to meet the model farmers, arrived on the ground to address the NRM delegates gathered at the fourth division playground.

As soon as the president arrived, he was ushered in by the ministers and government officials who were in the daytime lecturing NRM delegates on various government programs aimed at poverty eradication.

No sooner had the president arrived than he was invited to address the congregation by the Minister for Justice and Constitutional Affairs, Hon. Norbert Mao, who tabled before him the issue of Apaa land.

Hon. Norbert Mao

Longing for the president to finish his speech, the Minister of State Privatization and Investment, Evelyn Anite, and the private secretary to President Helen Seku insisted that the president meet with the people of Apaa and the cultural leaders of Acholi on the issues of the contested Apaa land.

Seku immediately fixed the appointment for the Apaa people as the ground was getting heated if the president was to maintain his earlier response on that matter, which is keeping Acholi with no sleep in the eyes.

This website learned that the following day, February 25, 2023, the President met some members of parliament from Acholi, cultural leaders, and a few selected residents of Apaa, where the president promised to appoint the members of the judicial commission of inquiries as soon as he reached Kampala.

‘’I’m going to appoint the members of the judiciary commission of inquiries to come for the fact-finding on the ground,” Museveni said.


A ray of hope

According to Ms. Esther Angee, 65, a mother of six, constant attacks on them by the Madi people have destroyed some of their social and cultural practices such as marriage and worship.

Angee, who got married in Apaa 40 years ago, said that animals used for paying dowry were looted by the attackers, and many of their married men were arrested and detained at various police stations in West Nile.

‘’My family used to produce enough food before the conflict erupted, but since 2011, I have not been able to produce much out of fear of losing it to the attackers, and this has resulted in poverty as the men who are supposed to feed us are in custody,’’ she decried.

During the meeting

Angee said following the presidential address she was going to embark on tilting her land for the first planting season. “I am hopeful that if what the president has told us is true, then we are going to use our land for commercial agriculture,’’ she said.

88-year-old Nekanori Bere said the president’s directive should be non-political, adding that if it’s not fulfilled, it would make no sense.

Gilbert Olanya however advised the people of Apaa to embark on the massive tree planting so that if the national forest authority wants to disturb them, they would be in a good position to plead for their land.

Elders conduct a ritual.

After the coffins were brought to the palace, the elders never kept quiet; they directed the aggrieved people of Apaa to conduct rituals to cleanse the palace.

Rwot Otinga Otoo Yayi Atuka of Lamogi, who doubles as the deputy paramount chief, ordered the Apaa people to bring the black he-goat for cleansing the palace.

He justified the fact that many Rwodi from East Acholi who turned to meet the president and passed to meet the paramount chief have complained about the abomination, citing that it put their lives at risk of death.

Rwot Arop Poppy Paul of the Pagen clan in Kitgum district reasoned that the anointed chiefs (Rwodi) are not supposed to see the coffin and are not advised to go for the fresh burial unless the lamb is slaughtered and they walk on it to get into the burial ground.

‘’Now that you have blindfolded us, we are not accepting any bad omen to kill any of us, and we want you to conduct the ritual with immediate effect,” he guided.

This online publication has learned that the goat was delivered immediately to the palace by the Kilak North Member of Parliament, Hon. Anthony Akol, chairperson of the Acholi parliamentary group.

How the ritual was conducted

In Maracellino Otoo Orung 73, the curator slaughtered the black he-goat by cutting the goat’s neck with a knife so that the goat’s blood could flow on the ground to appease the god of the land, who was believed to have become unpleased with the abomination committed.

The incantation conducted on Saturday, April 26, began at around 9:30a.m. with a word of wisdom from the six Rwodi from west Acholi, who advised the people of Apaa to desist from committing taboos and abominations.

Elders performing rituals

They were directed to bring white heifers and black bulls to the palace three days after the cleansing. The heifers will keep producing, and the bull will be killed and eaten by the rest of Acholi.

While conducting the exercise, Orung made an incantation locally known as ‘’Agat’’, picked remains of the large intestine (“wee”), and sprinkled them all over the area they believed they had stepped foot in while at the palace. While he pleads with the gods to forgive them and relieve them of an unexpected bad omen.

“This bad thing (coffins) that we have brought, our ancestors and forefathers and mothers, may the sun take it and take it far away; it is the health that we need in this palace; bad things should not come here; the blood of the goat pouring is not for free but to save the people in this palace.”

Orung was joined by other elders aged over 70 as they spoke in tongues throughout the day until they assured the gathering that the gods had pardoned them.

Explaining after the exercise, Omono Solomon Gak II, Rwot of the Pagak clan, said bringing a coffin home to show your annoyance is an abomination in the Acholi culture and may lead to deaths.

‘’In Acholi, when the coffin is brought to the palace or any homestead, it causes death, and that practice is not allowed. I had witnessed it but knew that the only remedy was using a goat to cleanse it.’’

The meat of the he-goat was later cooked from outside, and the meat was served to everybody who was in attendance, but no one was allowed to carry it to their homes.

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