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Uganda Moves to End Longstanding Land Conflict

Government Should Consult Community, Respect Rights

Uganda's President Yoweri Museveni photographed in Kenya's capital Nairobi, on February 11, 2020. © 2020 John Muchucha/AP Images

Last week, Ugandan President Museveni and nine leaders from Uganda’s Acholi sub-region took steps to resolve the longstanding land conflict in Apaa, where authorities have been forcibly evicting residents for years. It is the latest of several initiatives Museveni has taken to end the conflict, but to date there is little to show for those efforts.

During the August 12 meeting, the leaders agreed to establish a commission of inquiry into the dispute, determine how long people have lived in the area, and review the process of the government’s 2002 decision to turn Apaa into a conservation area. Worryingly, Museveni also directed the environment minister to evict people from Zoka forest, north of Apaa, claiming it is a forestry reserve.

For at least 10 years, authorities have violently evicted Apaa residents, claiming the area is part of wildlife and forestry reserves: burning homes, beating people, and looting property. Officials blocked access to Apaa from outsiders for three years and closed a health center and market serving the area.

This is not the first time Museveni has instigated a resolution for Apaa. In August 2018, after 234 residents of Apaa sought safety at the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Gulu, Museveni formed a committee to resolve the conflict. But when the committee announced a plan to relocate all residents and compensate 340 households, the community declined the offer, which would have compensated only a small percentage of residents and for only a fraction of their loss and harm. Days later, Museveni created another committee to look into the matter, but residents reported continued attacks, forced evictions, and other violations. In 2021, Human Rights Watch found that thousands of Apaa residents were unable to vote in Uganda’s general elections after the government failed to update the voters’ register for Apaa.

Museveni’s latest efforts should draw lessons from past mistakes by committing to end all forced evictions in Apaa and establishing a process that is consultative and meaningfully involves the community. Any steps the authorities take in Apaa should be guided by national and international laws on compulsory acquisition of land and equitable compensation, so that they respect and uphold the rights of community members, including the right to property.

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