By Peter Ogwang
Iteso and Karimojongs have a shared history and ethnicity and have for decades enjoyed a cordial relationship despite rampant attacks from the latter.
The two sister tribes with a similar sense of belonging and identity have co-existed, shared resources and even intermarried, but this coexistence could be threatened if political leaders do not shun from fueling the ongoing Napak-Katakwi boundary crisis and using it to seek political leverage at the expense of people of the two neighbouring districts.
This 67km Napak-Katakwi boundary dispute is not a new phenomenon and it stresses way back since the early 2000s only to hit a climax when some political leaders started directly interfering with government initiatives to resolve the border conflict through surveys and use of the 1962 Constitution.
This border dispute stemmed from the fact that there were three district border versions that is; the Katakwi district version which describes the boundary to pass at the Namalera Bridge in Napak, the Napak district version which describes the boundary to pass at the Acacia Tree in Katakwi and thereafter follow an alleged Acid-line and the government version which describes the boundary as per the 1962 Constitution.
Consequently, in 2007, the President directed Ministry of Lands to speedily handle the border dispute between Moroto, now Napak and Katakwi by having the common border surveyed.
And indeed the Lands ministry started consultative meetings with area MPs of Teso, Karamoja and the first meeting was held in Moroto district council hall on 23rd July, 2007 and a day later, another meeting was held at Urafiki Foundation House in Katakwi.
During these meetings, the parties among others agreed that government surveyors shall be used to demarcate the border and that the 1962 Constitution shall be used. And indeed, the first survey excursion took place on February 25, 2008 led by Nsubuga Kajumbula who was the Acting Commissioner, Surveys and Mapping in the Ministry of Lands.
However, this first survey excursion could not yield fruits after Napak leaders led by their elected MPs refused to participate in planning of the boundary survey activity and in fact, mobilized locals and threatened to incite violence. Not even the second survey excursion held on July 4, 2008 could yield any fruits as leaders from Napak accused Lands ministry officials of bias and that they had been compromised.
The government surveyors did not tire; they continued with the process and by end of March 2009, the survey exercise was complete and a list of geographical coordinates and a map showing Napak and Katakwi border was released.
To cut the long story short, political leaders from Napak have since then disputed the survey results thus frustrating efforts to resolve the boundary dispute.
This resistance prompted government to hire services of a private surveyor-M/s Mutiland Company Limited to undertake survey and monumentation of the Napak-Katakwi boundary. In their report, the private surveyor came up with similar demarcation as earlier on recorded by government surveyors, but cited a major challenge of constant interference from political leaders of Napak district especially the district chairperson and other MPs who demobilized the communities that led to halting of works at some time due to threats from the communities.
I recall vividly that while serving as Youth MP for Eastern region, Terence Achia Naco, Bokora County MP in Napak district on 6th July, 2015 wrote to Lands minister requesting for re-demarcation of Napak-Katakwi border. In his letter, he [Achia] changed goal posts and wanted surveyors to use the 1958/59 Map as drawn by the colonial administration to be used. He did not stop at that. He also requested the ministry to use a helicopter for an aerial mapping and above all, the honourable member requested the ministry to rely on “some elders who know where the original border mark-stones are located and that they are willing to show to the surveyor.”
In the same year, the then Karamoja Affairs minister Janet Museveni heeded to his advice and brought 3 planes including a presidential helicopter in which the MP [Achia], Napak LCV chairperson Joseph Lomonyang and others were on board.
What was the reaction after the aerial survey exercise? The same Napak leaders disputed the results again and continued to incite locals against each other. Pillars were destroyed and tax payers’ money worth Shs1.8bn went to waste. Efforts by then Minister of Karamoja to meet leaders of Katakwi and Napak at Morulinga State Lodge proved futile as the latter objected the survey report of both the government team and private surveyor which government contracted to do the work.
On February 19, 2019, minister for Local Government, Tom Butime, met the leaders and declared the 2015 survey report which was carried out by the Ministry of Karamoja Affairs. During the pronouncements, leaders from both districts were present and among the declarations included handing over Alekilek Primary school and Amaratoit Primary School to Katakwi that was initially governed under Napaka while Aleslem market that was initially under Katakwi was declared to be in Napak.
Upon return to Kampala, the same leaders including honourable Achia who attended the exercise took to the floor of Parliament accusing the minister of favoritism. In fact, Pian County MP Remigio Achia is up in arms and is disgusted by the pronouncement that is meant to resolve the borderline conflict between the two sister districts yet the ministry followed the 1962 Constitution and these coordinates cannot be manipulated.
I think our leaders must be honest and explain the truth to the people. There are areas in Katakwi which surveyors have declared to be under Napak but the people of Katakwi have become civil enough and accepted the truth.
The fact of the matter is that this demarcation does not affect land use. No one is going to be evicted from their land. If you are an Iteso and you have been found to be in Napak then you will still stay on your land but be governed under the leadership of Napak and vice versa. This is simply an administrative issue and should be respected.
Otherwise, I thank the government for resolving this matter because each party now finally knows where they belong. It is really unfair to throw tantrums on Minister Butime for doing his constitutional duty diligently. The Ministry of Lands and Local Government must be lauded for conclusively putting this matter to bed and leaders from both camps must abide by the institutional frameworks. I also thank the former Karamoja Affairs minister Janet Museveni, current Teso Affairs minister Jaff Akiror and reigning Karamoja Affairs ministers for the relentless effort in resolving this land dispute.
MP for Usuk County, Katakwi District