PAKWACH. The new Resident District Commissioner (RDC) Pakwach Mr Peter Debele has promised to crack down on the activities of Balalo pastoralists who have defied presidential directives to vacate the district with their cattle.
Locals accuse the pastoralists of arrogance and deliberately chasing their animals into the crop fields causing mayhem.
Debele said his first assignment in Pakwach district is to ensure communities are free to produce food crops without cattle from the pastoralists disturbing them.
"I had the same fight in Kiryadongo with the issue of Balalos conspiring with some leaders, how do you arrest a local who has killed a cow that has destroyed acres of farm crops, is that being considerate to our people, I’m not going to allow our people to be oppressed as long as I'm the resident district commissioner of Pakwach", Debele said.
"Some of the leaders have already gathered intelligence reports that are working with some of these pastoralists for personal interests, let's protect the interest of our people, this is not about ethnicity and sectarism, what shall we tell our people if we fail to implement this presidential initiative. I will not be intimidated and love doing the right thing, that is my motto", Debele added.
The public outcry against the Balalo in Pakwach district has been highest in sub counties Alwi and Wadelai with locals accusing the herdsmen of intimidation and arrogance.
Community leaders said they have often reported to higher authorities cases of offloading long horned cows in their area under protection of armed men but no action has always been taken to address their fears.
In Wadeali sub county, Mr Davidson Oramba, the sub county chairman said he inherited similar outcry and casted doubt over remarks by the RDC to expel all the pastoralists from the district.
"We are tired of cases of the Balalos in our communities, they are arrogant and have infiltrated every village, maybe this time they will listen to the new representative of the president but most of these pastoralists have powerful people behind them", he explained.
Oramba said there could be more than 3000 of the Balalos in Wadelai extending up to Ragem sub county ravaging agricultural crops. He alleged that the pastoralists in most cases defy local council court summons and that they often reject compensations for acres of crops destroyed determined by local councils as they assume their own.
But according to Mr Fred Akiki, the head of Balalo community in Alwi sub county, there is need for engagement with the district authorities arguing that they have co-existed harmoniously with the local community and have bought land for their settlement in the said areas.
"All our families are here in Pakwach, we have inter married with Jonam, this idea before it is enforced, I request the new RDC to have a meeting with us the leaders of Balalos and seek for ways of how to work together other than chasing us away again", Akiki appealed.
Debele made the remarks on Wednesday during a handover ceremony to replace Mr Swaib Toko who is transferred to Kapelebyong district, Eastern Uganda.
Mr Swaib Toko urged Debele to cordially work with the district team to promote transparency and accountability of government funded projects.
He also tasked him to address the intrigue and cliques within the NRM Party members in Pakwach that have caused factions.
In January 2018, President Yoweri Museveni directed all RDCs in West Nile to oversee the eviction of all herdsmen commonly known as the Balalo from the sub region.
The directive was a fulfillment of a pledge he made in 2017 to evict the herders following public outcry.
In November, President Museveni, while on a countrywide tour to rally the citizens to support the Land Amendment Bill, said he would direct the army to evict the cattle keepers at the beginning of 2018.
While appearing on several talk shows in the sub-region, several callers requested him to intervene and bring to an end what they described as menace caused by the cattle keepers.
Residents accused the Balaalo of destroying their gardens, grabbing land and harassing indigenous communities on the land where they graze their animals.