Alur and other minority groups in Buliisa district are greatly suffering in the hands of Bagungu

Buliisa District is situated in western Uganda on the shores of Lake Albert It covers an area of 2,498 km2, comprises six sub-counties, and is named after its main urban center, Buliisa town. In Lake Albert, it harbours an ecosystem of critical importance to local livelihoods and one of the key biodiversity areas of the Upper Nile Basin. The past 55 years have seen an ongoing migration of people into Buliisa District, most notably from the neighboring west Nile region, Northern Uganda, Rwanda and DRC. While no official statistics are kept on the local population’s origin or ethnicity, it is believed that up to half of the district’s current inhabitants are the descendants of people who migrated into the area since the 1960s.

One of the Buliisa district councilors told the Albertine Watch in an interview that the Alur and other minority groups in Buliisa district are greatly suffering in the hands of the Bagungu who are predominant in the area.

He said the rights of Alur have been violated in terms of job placements, a few Alur graduates are working in Buliisa district. Most of them have resorted to seeking employment in other areas of the country leaving their homes underdeveloped.

He said even acquiring national identity cards was hard for the Alur people because they are termed as refugees by Bagungu.

The Alur community came to Bulliisa in the 1960s and by then the Bagungu were stationed at landing sites due to fishing. Later when Alur took over the land that they had abandoned for a long time, the Bagungu started claiming ownership of the land.

The councilor told Albertine Watch that the Oil companies should not be faulted for grabbing land from the minority groups but rather the individual Bagungus are the ones grabbing land to sell to Oil companies.

About the compensation rates, the councilor told Albertine Watch that the Buliisa district authorities told the oil companies that there are no people in places like Biiso, Ngwedu, Waiga, and Kabolwa and that the oil companies were not guided about the compensation rates yet in Biiso currently ¼ an acre is at Five to six million shillings yet an acre of land is valued at 3.5 million shillings by the oil companies.

A resident of Bisso (name withheld) told Albertine Watch that they have been denied services that other people in Biiso sub-county are benefitting. She said they are treated like outcasts yet they have stayed for many years and that is the only home they know.

The LC2 Chairperson Nyamasoga Parish Albert Okumu said trickery cases of land grabbing exist in the area like two people including Nar Naziz and Isabella Akumu are soon becoming squatters on their own land.

He said Bullisa county Member of Parliament Stephen Biraawa Mukitale uses his political agents to grab land from Alurs.

He cited the land of Isabella Akumu that was grabbed by Biraawa Mukitale in pieces by different political agents that buy land and later transfer them in his Biraawa’s name.

He said in Bukumi Village also in Nyamasoga Parish a fairly wealthy man known as Kahawa Balam is claiming the land in the whole Village to be his. He told Albertine Watch that there was a time Kahawa Balam blocked residents from receiving compensation over some rocks that were blasted but later it was realized that the part of the land where the rocks are doesn’t belong to Kahawa Balam.

Albertine Watch has learned that residents of Nyamasoga village in Biiso sub-county are on tension because any time they will be evicted from their land.

Historical background

Over the past five decades, migration in Buliisa District has been closely linked to a variety of regional geopolitical, historical and economic factors. From the early 1960s onwards, there has been a continuous influx of migrants from the DRC due to the civil strife and political instability in that country. Local residents in Buliisa typically identify 1964 as the year in which the initial influx of Congolese migrants, who mainly settled above the escarpment and set about clearing forested areas to make way for agriculture, reached its peak.

Since then there has been continuous migration into the district, not only from the DRC but also (to a lesser extent) from other parts of Uganda and from other neighbouring countries such as Sudan, Rwanda, and Kenya. Migrants have come in search of economic opportunities in fisheries, farming and livestock, and more recently for business opportunities related to oil and gas prospecting. Migrants were traditionally attracted to the district by the availability of unclaimed land for agricultural expansion and grazing, though most land has now been claimed.

The Bagungu are the native inhabitants of Buliisa District. They generally depend on fishing, cattle grazing and farming for their livelihoods, and they have historically migrated within the district. In the early 1980s, large groups of Bagungu relocated from the area bordering the lake below the escarpment, which was affected by famine as a result of cassava wilt and increasing episodes of severe drought, to Biiso and Kihungya sub-counties above the escarpment, in search of better agricultural land. The current Bagungu landowners in these sub-counties acquired their land roughly three decades ago from the original Congolese migrants who, as described above, had settled this previously uninhabited and densely forested area in the mid-1960s. Migrants from the DRC would typically clear forested land, sell it to the Bagungu or to fellow migrants, and move on to clear more land.

The Alur are by far the dominant migrant ethnic group in Buliisa District, having continuously migrated into the area since the 1960s when they settled primarily in the then-forested areas above the escarpment. At present, they are thought to make up nearly half of Buliisa District’s population, although no official statistics on ethnicity are available.

For centuries, the Alur have inhabited the regions on both sides of the current border between Uganda and the DRC, and their population is currently estimated at around 1.5 million people. Historically, the Congolese Alur have been separated from their relatives in northern Uganda by colonial boundaries that did not take ethnicity or family relationships into account, and today they continue to have strong cultural ties linking them to their Ugandan counterparts. The combination of cultural ties and the relative economic and political stability of Uganda compared to the DRC has fuelled cross-border migration into Buliisa Districts and the surrounding areas.

Buliisa has also experienced migration from northern Uganda in the past decades, as people fled insecure areas that had fallen under the control of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). As security has returned to these areas in recent years, many people primarily from the Acholi community have returned to their homes in the north.

Photo credit: A local brew group slicing meat for distribution

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