What is behind this deadly and endless tribal conflict in Apaa?

Opposition politicians are also capitalizing on the government's weaknesses in managing the conflict to gain popularity. 

Op-Ed: The persistent tribal conflict in Apaa between Madi and Acholi is an unfortunate occurrence, as expected in this error of civilization.

The conflict has turned out to be the most deadly ever recorded in the modern history of this country. What makes it a point of concern is the frequency of the occurrence, the level of destruction, and its toll on the residents.

The social and economic effects of the conflict are indeed immense. Many lives have been lost, residents have been subjected to both physical and mental torture, property worth billions has been destroyed, and the once cordial relationship between the two tribes is completely shattered. The conflict also did not spare the already troubled relationship between the government and the people of the Acholi subregion.

It is mainly women and children who bear the brunt of the atrocities. The lives of children living in Apaa are structured around conflict. They are exposed to a violence-driven lifestyle; their opportunity for an unrighteous family upbringing is lost; they are unable to access basic health services; and quality education is not anywhere nearby. Consequently, their dreams for a better future are bleak. If these shortcomings are not addressed immediately, they will have a strong bearing on the lives of the future generation of Apaa and the neighborhood.

In view of the above, through simple questions and answers, I would like to share with other stakeholders my perspective on the conflict. It is intended to facilitate the process of finding a lasting solution to the conflict.

  1. Is there historical conflict between the two tribes?
  2. No! There is no historical conflict between Acholi and Madi. Except, there were occasional clashes between sections of the two tribes in the early eighteenth century. This was mainly due to cattle raids, scrambles for water and food during the draft, and other social issues. Whenever such clashes occur, the chiefs and elders from either side will immediately intervene and ensure that the grievances are addressed and the parties involved are reconciled.

The good relationship resulted in intermarriages between the two tribes. One of the intermarriages was between a young man from Atiak in Amuru district and a beautiful lady from Pakele in Adjumani district. The two were blessed with six children, and the third born is the author of this article. Actually, I am a living testimony that there is no bad blood between the two tribes.

  1. Is Apaa in Amuru or Adjumani district?
  2. The location of Apaa as of now is not clear. This is because since the conflict began, there has been no official boundary opening between the two districts, witnessed and acknowledged by all the stakeholders. However, this does not rule out the possibility that the government could have, through other means, ascertained the location of Apaa, as stated by the President in Gulu recently.

Whatever the case, there is urgent need for the official boundary opening of the two districts. Because this is the only way through which a fair decision over the dispute can be reached. For the avoidance of doubt, the exercise should be done transparently with the full participation of all the stakeholders.

  1. Is it illegal for Acholi to live in Adjumani district or vice versa?
  2. No! It is not illegal. The 1995 Constitution gives Ugandans the liberty to settle and live in any part of the country, provided that it is done within the relevant laws and customs. Atiak Sub County, which is a few miles from Apaa, is an example of this. Villages in Atiak Sub County dominated by the Madi community include Lukuliya, Acupele, Murulii, Odutoo, Abalokodi, Bibia, and Elegu.

If the two tribes can live together peacefully in Atiak and other places, then what is unique about Apaa is that they cannot coexist? Is there an invisible hand driving a wedge between the two tribes? Is it a tradition that the land in Apaa shall be occupied by only one tribe at a given time? Or, the land is so precious that one must own it, even if it means taking the lives of other people.

  1. Have the people responsible for the atrocities committed in Apaa been brought to justice?
  2. No! Most of the perpetrators of crimes committed in Apaa were not brought to justice. This was mainly because most of the crimes reported were mishandled by the police and sister security agencies. Some of the crimes were not investigated at all, while others were investigated but not conclusively.

These shortcomings squarely rest on the shoulders of the top leadership of government agencies responsible for maintaining law and order in the area. Either out of institutional weakness or deliberate acts aimed at frustrating the residents, they leave the Apaa. This amounts to criminal negligence, which is a grave offense under the laws of this country.

  1. Is it true that some politicians are fueling the conflict instead of quelling it? 
  2. Yes! Under the guise of sympathizing with the affected people, some politicians have been inciting the two tribes against each other or against the government. Opposition politicians are also capitalizing on the government’s weaknesses in managing the conflict to gain popularity.

The participation of political leaders, civil society organizations, and other stakeholders in supplementing the government’s efforts in managing the conflict is a good idea. But it has to be done objectively without any ulterior motive. It is also advisable that they not rush to assign blame before properly analyzing the conflict.

If political leaders from both tribes had, right from the beginning of the conflict, formed a common front to objectively address issues igniting the conflict, the conflict would have been resolved at the infant stage. But unfortunately, most of them were taken up by petty issues like tribal, religious, and party differences.

  1. Has the government done enough to resolve the conflict in Apaa?
  2. No! The government has not done enough to resolve the conflict. All along, there has been laxity by the arm of government responsible for resolving the conflict. For example, even when the Armed Forces were heavily deployed in Apaa to maintain order, attacks from either side continued unchecked. The truth is, the government failed to fulfill its obligations to protect the lives and property of residents of Apaa.

The only positive development from the government is that the Commission of Inquiry was recently appointed to investigate the conflict. This is a step toward the right direction.

  1. Will the Commission of Inquiry bring the conflict to an end?
  2. Yes! If the Commission:

~ does it’s work independently, without being subjected to the direction or control of any person or authority;

~ cast the net wide enough to capture the views of all the key stakeholders, particularly: elders, cultural leaders, and religious leaders;

~  dig deep into the historical background of the land and the genesis of the conflict;

~ avoid being too bureaucratic and time-wasting;

~ make a comprehensive, precise, and compelling report based on evidential facts; and

~ come up with a work plan and time frame for the implementation of the recommendations.

  1. What next if it is ascertained that Apaa is in East Madi Wildlife Reserve?
  2. If it is ascertained that Apaa is in the East Madi Wild Life Reserve, then there are two options at the discretion of the government, with the approval of Parliament. The first option is to de-gazette the Wildlife Reserve to allow continuation of the settlement, while the second option is to facilitate the exit of the squatters from the Wild Life Reserve.

The first option may appear cheap and politically friendly, but given the values of conservation in this error of climate change, it will be very costly in the future. The second option of facilitating the exit of the squatters from the Game Reserve is expensive and politically unfriendly. But, given the importance of conservation, it is worth it.

In the event that the government chooses to facilitate the exit of the settlers, a fair rate of compensation should be worked out based on the relevant legislation. The methods recently proposed by the Prime Minister of providing uniform packages without proper assessment should be avoided.

  1. Q. What if it is established that Apaa is in Amuru district, hence outside East Madi Wildlife Reserve?
  2. If it is established that Apaa is outside East Madi Wildlife Reserve, then:

~ All the residents of Apaa, regardless of tribes, should be given freedom and protection to continue living in Apaa.

~ They should also be assisted by the government to formalize their land ownership.

~ The government should institute a technical team to investigate the atrocities committed in Apaa, with the aim of ensuring that the perpetuators are brought to justice and the victims are compensated.

~ Efforts should be made by all the stakeholders to reconcile the two tribes.


The world we are living in is a world of change. Whether we wish it or not, there are bound to be changes in our lives. Therefore, in the event that we cannot stop a change, we should learn to live with it. Unfortunately, most people have not appreciated these facts. Consequently, they always find themselves in trouble for resisting change.

The author is Okeny Otwombye Saverio, a resident of Okidi Village in Atiak Sub County, Amuru District.

Disclaimer: As UG Reports Media LTD, we welcome any opinion from anyone if it’s constructive for the development of Uganda. All the expressions and opinions in this write-up are not those of UG Reports Media Ltd. but of the author of the article.

Would you like to share your opinion with us? Please send it to this email: theugreports@gmail.com.

Guest Writer

Disclaimer: As UG Reports Media LTD, we welcome any opinion from anyone if it’s constructive for the development of Uganda. All the expressions and opinions in this write-up are not those of UG Reports Media Ltd. but of the author of the article. Would you like to share your opinion with us? Please send it to this email: theugreports@gmail.com.

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