Acholi leaders, Police Clash Over Aswa Ranch Visit

Aruu North member of parliament in Pader , Lucy Achiro confronts a police officer during a visit to Aswa ranch by Acholi leaders. The leaders were briefly blocked before being allowed in (Photo by Denis Otim)

A heated verbal exchange and scuffle ensued  Tuesday afternoon after anti- riot police briefly blocked a group of Acholi leaders from accessing Aswa ranch in Angagura Sub County in Pader district.

The leaders comprised of the Aruu North Member of Parliament in Pader district and the Chairpersons of Amuru, Nwoya and Kitgum districts. The leaders said they were on a fact-finding mission on what is happening at Aswa ranch.

The leaders’ visit follows reports that unknown individuals guarded by Uganda Peoples Defense Forces [UPDF] soldiers had invaded the government ranch and where rearing thousands of heads of cattle.

The ‘‘fact –finding’’ mission  was halted for about 40 minutes at Oboko Olot village, about four kilometers to Aswa ranch  that covers a total of 63,000 acres of land. The ranch is guarded by heavily armed police officers.

Aswa Regional Police Commander Mr Bosco Otim, who commanded the operation, told the leaders that the visitation was abrupt and unknown to the ranch Administrators but after a heated negotiation, the police commander allowed the leaders in the ranch.

According to Ms Lucy Achiro, the Aruu North Member of Parliament, their visit was to ascertain what was happening at the ranch after years of rumors surrounding the operation of the ranch

“Our district leaders have been left out on what was happening at the ranch or the people managing the ranch yet it’s in our district. Our locals have occasionally reported seeing heavy trucks entering the ranch with animals and today we came to find out the truth,” Ms Achiro said in an interview on Tuesday.

Achiro alleged that soldiers guarding the ranch have been harassing locals whose farmlands neighbor the ranch adding that sometimes if their animals cross into the ranch, they are not allowed to claim for it.

Mr Clement Nuwamanya, the Ranch manager who was put on pressure to explain what was happening in the ranch revealed that the farm belongs to the National Animal Genetic Resources Centre and Data Bank (NAGRC&DB) under the Ministry of Agriculture animal Industry and Fisheries.

Mr Nuwamanya said part of the ranch is also being occupied by Uganda Livestock Industry.

He explained that the ranch began operation in October 2014 with the restocking of 1,030 Brahma and Ankole breed of cattle adding that to date the numbers have multiplied to 1,446 cattle.

“This ranch was set up to breed and multiply high quality animals. At this ranch we use artificial insemination to cross breed the cows and in the near future, these animals will be in the local markets,” Mr Nuwamanya said.

But Gulu District Chairperson also chairman for all LCV chairpersons in Acholi Sub region Mr Martin Mapenduzi said the government has to come out clearly on defining how the community will benefit from the project, how much money was injected and the exact numbers of animals in the ranch.

Mapenduzi asked for explanation from government on the size and boundaries of the ranch saying the land the ranch is claiming is too big.

“There are a lot of suspicions going on because the relationship between management of the farm and the community is sour. We do not expect people carrying guns to be looking after animals, if indeed it’s a government project, Pader district local government should have a stake but unfortunately they are not involved,” added Mapenduzi.

Samuel Oduny, an NRM(Uganda’s ruling political party) leaning Gulu- based  political commentator told Acholi Times that  Aswa Ranch was established under  Obote I. According to Oduny, the ranch comprised of Acholi Ranch and Aswa Ranch. Acholi Ranch belonged to the Uganda Development Corporation, a government company while Aswa Ranch belonged to the Ministry of Agriculture. Both were a source of livestock and animal producs, according to Oduny. 

The ranch has over the  years been a source of contention between locals  living in its environs and Acholi political leaders who say the government   could be using the ranch to acquire land from neigbourign the farm that did not originally belong to the  farm.