By Dradenya Amazia
THE border conflict between Uganda and Sudan is not all about the international boundaries marked during the British colonial rule in the 1880â€™s.The Sudanese are claiming customary boundary from the Madi and Aringa people in Uganda.
â€œWe cannot take advantage of the colonial era to take somebodyâ€™s God-given land,â€ says James Janka Duku, a member of parliament in Southern Sudan.
However, Henry Okello Oryem, Uganda state minister for international affairs, says all the people of northern Uganda originated from Sudan and none of the tribes would go back to claim their ancestral land.
citing the Sebei of Uganda and Kenya, he says: â€œCustomary boundaries are not recognised, that is why there are people of the same tribe in two or more countries.â€
The Sudanese are accusing the Madi of Moyo and Yumbe districts in Uganda of extending their administrative structures inside their land.
The commissioner of Kajo-Keji county in Southern Sudan, Muki Batali Buli, says Kuku has over 15km stretch of land in Uganda.
The claim, that puts Moyo Town Council, parts of Metu and Lefori sub-counties in Moyo and Midigo in Yumbe districts under contest, was protested by Ugandaâ€™s leaders.
â€œThat is rubbish, it is null and void,â€ says Dominic Vuga, an opinion leader in Moyo district.
Muki says their land extends from Karido River in Sudan to Kelenderia, through Opiro, behind Moyo Secondary School, to Ebikwa River, and Seleseleya to Leya from the east.
â€œThis continues westwards to West Eria Hill, Lefori and down to Wano, Sera Jale and Lobulele,â€ Muki says.
â€œOne of our grandfathers told us Moyo was not a Madi name. It was derived from an Arabic word for water (moyo) when an Arab soldier demanded for water from a Madi citizen behind the present Stanbic Bank, in the heart of Moyo town.â€
Peter Iku Dolo, Moyo LC5 chairman, says: â€œIt is ridiculous to claim Moyo town as part of Sudanese-owned land.â€
Philip Kenyi, a 79-year-old resident of Limi, says the conflict between Madi began in 1916 when the colonialists moved the four clans of Moijo, Litoba, Limi and Louba to Kabi, inside Sudan due to the outbreak of sleeping sickness.
â€œThe Madi moved in and occupied large parts of Moijo by shifting the traditional border to Kayo. When they returned, they found their land occupied, an event that marked the beginning of the uneasy co-existence,â€ Kenyi says.
He adds that the land of Limi stretched from Lego River to Cholowa in Lefori sub-county, Larson Pachiga to Obi River near Goopi in Metu sub-county.
To Philip Idro, Ugandaâ€™s former ambassador to China, the Sudanese claims are new.
â€œThe issues are sentimental. Some of them are historical, traditional and colonial,â€ he says.
Muki says Yumbe administration recently evicted the people of Liwolo in a place called Kilaji. He also claims: â€œIn 2000, an organised force from Uganda without any justification, attacked and killed innocent civilians in Ajio Boma. Properties were destroyed,â€ Muki asserts.
However, Lt. Col. Felix Kulayigye, the UPDF spokesperson, says he does not remember a time when Ugandan forces attacked the Sudanese in the area.
Duku, a South Sudan MP, says Ugandans have systematically been grabbing Sudanese land by constructing roads and planting signposts in which they eventually settle.
â€œThe administrations of Moyo and Yumbe local district councils have settled their citizens in Kuku lands without consulting the land owners or the county administration in Kajo-Keji,â€ he says.
Duku cites the occupation of Goboro by people mainly from Yumbe district and Abaya to Bamure by settlers from Moyo district.
â€œThe new occupants are engaged in activities suggesting intentions to settle in these lands permanently. Most important is their engagement in illicit tree logging and charcoal burning, which are hazardous to environment,â€ Duku says.
Dolo, Moyo LC5 chairperson, says: â€œIt is the Sudanese, who are trying to grab Bamure from Moyo district. The Sudanese People Liberation Army (SPLA) came and settled at Bamure during their struggle against the Sudan government but this land belongs to the Madi in Moyo district.â€
However, Muki of South Sudan claims: â€œDuring the struggle in 1966, the forces of Uganda Rifles, in collaboration with Sudanese forces, launched a combined attack on the Anyanya fighters from Kochi, through Miâ€™digo to Keriwa.â€
He adds that the authorities of Yumbe district are setting up their administration over a territor, which legitimately belong to the Liwolo people.
Muki says the road project at Afoji was started in 2005 by Ugandan authorities before the return of the Sudanese to their country.
â€œWe cannot be Sudanese and have our land in another country. That is unacceptable.â€ Duku warns.
Doctor Dominic Lali, a veterinary officer in Moyo, says the disputed areas of Gbari, Bamure, Goboro and Midigo should be left to the two governments to handle.
â€œAccording to the Constitution, the Kuku in Uganda pay allegiance to the Ugandan government, not Sudan,â€ he says.
In 2005, the Sudanese authorities halted a multi-million road construction at Afoji because farmers claimed ownership of the land.
In August 2009, armed Sudanese attacked and stopped the MTN construction work at Jale. In September, another group of armed Sudanese attacked and forced farmers to uproot their crops in Gwere parish in Lefori sub-county near Bamure. Ugandans accused the Sudanese Wild Life Authority of settling 5km inside their country at Pa anjala in Dufile sub-county.
However, on their recent visit to Moyo on November 24, President Yoweri Museveni and his Southern Sudan counterpart, Salva Kiir, directed that the road and MTN mast construction continue.
They advised the local people to fight poverty, not over a small piece of land.
Maj.Gen. Clement Wani, the governor of Central Equatoria State of South Sudan, says the road and MTN construction should resume as directed by the two presidents.
â€œIf the road or MTN construction is completed and found to be in Sudan, then that will be Ugandaâ€™s contribution to Sudan. If it is found to be in Uganda, then we shall all benefit from it,â€ he says.
â€œWe consider the foregoing issues to be the main cause of the misunderstanding between the Kuku and their neighbours Moyo and Yumbe districts.â€
Wani says before Southern Sudan sucedes from the north, they cannot talk of demarcation of international boundaries.
â€œPray that by 2011, we shall have become an independent country so that we handle the border issues with Kenya, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo,â€ he says.
Okello Oryem says the issue of the international border should be left to President Yoweri Museveni and Hassan Omar El Bashir to handle.
He, however, says: â€œOur worry is whether president Bashir will respond to this call urgently. We are asking the elders from the two countries to continue dialoguing to reduce the tension.
However, Paul Bua, the LC3 chairperson of Lefori sub-county, says the Sudanese elders do not understand the importance of international boundaries. â€œWe raised the matter to higher authorities because they do not understand. How can we handle this?
Willliam Iwa, an elder in Moyo, says the issue cannot easily be handled because the Sudanese do not want to listen.
â€œWe do not want a situation, where people start killing each other over land,â€ Oryem says.
The Ugandans and Sudanese authorities have scheduled January 16 to get feedback from elders in Moyo Multi-purpose Training School.