The 40-square-kilometre plot in Apaa village in Amuru district is the equivalent of 70 football pitches, only 1.4 per cent of an area capable of holding up to 5,000 football stadiums.
But it’s at the centre of a power struggle between locals in the Acholi sub-region and government officials, amidst claims of land grabbing.
New government plans to demarcate boundaries between the Amuru and Adjumani districts in northern Uganda have angered the Acholi tribe, who see it as a ploy to evict them from their ancestral land.
Many Acholis were displaced during the 18-year insurgency by the Lord Resistance’s Army, the LRA. When they returned, they had no homes to go to and set their sights on Apaa village.
“When people came, they looked at the empty place and wanted to settle there,” Nebison Kediga, resident district commissioner of Amuru, told RFI. “But they didn’t realise the land had already been sold to the Uganda Wildlife Authority as a game reserve.”
The question of what to do with the returning refugees remains a thorny issue and has over the years given rise to numerous land-related wrangles. The fact that the contested land has also been claimed by the Wildlife Authority has not eased tensions.
Locals fear that plans to draw up new boundaries between the Amuru and Adjumani districts will be the prelude to mass evictions, as in 2012. Back then the Ugandan People’s Defence Force (UPDF) evicted over 6,000 residents to make way for a game reserve.
The government this time promises that any land losses or swaps will be compensated by the Uganda Wild Life Authority and has ruled out any evictions.
“The government has no intention of taking away people’s land,” Pamela Kunda, spokesperson for Interior Minister General Aronda Nyakairima, told RFI. “Procedures such as surveying ought to take place to cause awareness on boundaries and, in the long run, will help settle any community differences."
The interior minister visited Apaa village on Thursday along with the Lands Minister Daudi Migereko to try to resolve the long-running dispute between the Alur and Acholi tribes, from Adjumani and Amuru respectively, but failed to reach a consensus.
Issues such as land ownership and the method of demarcation hindered talks and in anger several elderly women stripped naked.
For local observers such as George Labeja, the mayor of Gulu in the north, the women are being exploited by some MPs for political gain ahead of presidential elections next year.
“These leaders are asking other people’s mothers to strip naked before the minister,” Labeja told RFI. “Why did they not ask their own mothers to strip naked? We really condone this behaviour and pray that God should touch their hearts to stop it.”
Land disputes have eaten up Amuru district since the end of the LRA insurgency in 2006. Experts like Judy Adoko from the Uganda Land Equity Movement say that vested interests are preventing any meaningful resolution.
“Everyone wants the land, that’s where the problem lies," she says. "The locals, the government and investors are all vying for the same honey pot.”
Adoko argues that the best way to resolve the conflict is for all sides to sit down at the negotiating table “and leave their hidden agendas at the door”.