ARUA. Bickering over the ownership of Ewanga sub-county between Arua and Yumbe districts has never ceased.
From 1993, even when Yumbe district was still under Arua as a county, the fight was on.
The wrangling worsened in 2000 when Yumbe was granted a district status, forcing the ministry of local government to declare Ewanga an autonomous sub-county until the matter is resolved.
This dragged on as more than 2, 900 people of Ewanga sub-county continued to suffer without receiving services from either district until of late, when the ministry cleared Arua to temporarily provide services for the locals in the area.
But why the fight?
Earlier reports of the prospects of oil along the Nile valley in West Nile region of which Ewanga is part has, however, been sighted as the main cause of the continued fight between the leaders especially politicians of the two districts, a thought that West Nile Regional Police Commander (RPC) Mr Christopher Barugahare subscribes to.
He says if politicians from the two districts cooperated among each other for the sake of their people, such problems should have been addressed a long time ago.
This was after the police were prompted to boost security in Ewanga following a tip-off that a section of people of Yumbe were plotting to attack their counterparts of Ewanga in June this year.
Mr Ismail Ayige, an elder in Aligati village, Ewangulu parish in Ewanga sub-county which is now in the present Madi Okollo district said the conflict has affected economic activities since a number of traders from Yumbe who used to come for business have shunned the area due to the conflict.
Ayige believes that the suspicion of the presence of oil in the area is the main factor fueling the fight over Ewanga.
Ever since exploration was undertaken by Neptune in 2007, Ayige has remained optimistic about the existence of Oil in Ewanga which also lies along the Rhino Camp basin. Neptune withdrew from the area after twice hitting dry wells.
“I strongly believe that our leaders have an interest in the projected Oil in this area which was being surveyed by Neptune. Besides, fish being a delicacy, everybody will want to have access to River Nile through Ewanga, and that is why our politicians may be fighting,” he said.
Ayige said as locals of Ewanga, they are waiting for the responsible ministry to declare the border so as to determine where the contentious sub-county belongs.
But to Mr Samuel Adyebo, the Ewanga sub-county chairman, the colonial map shows that they are Madi speaking people from Arua district, now Madi Okollo district.
He, however, blamed Mr Ashraf Olega, the Member of Parliament (MP) for Aringa County in Yumbe district for fueling the confusion aimed at curving Ewanga to be part of the administration of Yumbe district.
Adyebo equally believes that the suspicion of oil, the need to access River Nile and the fertile land of Ewanga are the lead factors forcing Olega to champion the fight over the sub-county.
He said they will base their argument on the colonial map from the government because the political boundaries of Uganda have remained unchanged.
Adyebo noted that oil is a national resource that benefits all citizens of the country much as the host district may have some percentage, it shouldn’t have sparked such uncalled for wrangling.
“If it is employment, anybody from Yumbe can be employed in the oil fields and do business in Ewanga,” he added.
Mr Ismail Ogama, the Lower Madi County MP in Madi Okollo district said he is still waiting for the response from the ministry of lands about the matter as the issue has also been tabled before Parliament for a lasting solution.
When contacted, MP for Aringa Central Mr Ashraf Olega rubbished claims that he is the one fueling the fight over Ewanga but insisted that the area belongs to Yumbe district.
“We are not asking for Ewanga to be in Yumbe. Ewanga was given to us by colonialists and the map is clear. Even if someone goes up to London to look for the colonial map, it shows that Ewanga is part of Yumbe. We are not claiming Ewanga from somebody but the area belongs to us”, Olega stressed.
What PAU says about the oil in Ewanga
The Manager Cooperate Affairs and Public relations of Petroleum Authority of Uganda (PAU), Ms Gloria Sebikari told West Nile Web that there has been no confirmed oil in any part of West Nile including Ewanga.
She said Neptune’s exploration license for Rhino Camp basin expired in 2012 which confirms that there is no oil and gas-related activities taking place in the region.
“The only way one can prove that there is oil in any given area is through the drilling of exploration wells and Ewanga sub-county is located within the Rhino Camp basin which is part of the Albertine Graben, Uganda’s most prospective sedimentary basin” she said.
Sebikari said Neptune carried out geoscientific surveys in the area and drilled three exploration wells of Iti-1, Avivi-1 and Mvule-1 where they were all discovered to be dry (did not encounter oil).
She disclosed that Avivi block which partly lies in Ewanga sub-county is part of the areas on offer for licensing to interested oil companies after the minister for energy and mineral development, Eng Irene Nafuna Muloni announced second licensing round for petroleum exploration, development and production in Uganda by May this year (2019).
This licensing round covers five blocks in the Albertine Graben that includes LR2_2019_Block01 (Avivi) covering 1026km2, LR2_2019_Block02 (Omuka) covering 750km2, LR2_2019_Block03 (Kasuruban) covering 1285km2, LR2_2019_Block04 (Turaco) covering 637km2 and LR2_2019_Block05 (Ngaji) covering 1230km2.
How much does oil contribute to new land conflicts?
Sebikari said the discovery of oil in an area has the potential to fuel land conflicts if it is not well handled.
She stressed that speculators buying land within and around operation areas, and instances of individuals claiming communal land, among others for hopes of being compensated by Government or Oil companies are main factors fueling conflicts in oil areas.
The effect of Ewanga conflict
In 2009, one year before declaring Ewanga as a sub-county from a parish under Rigbo sub-county, residents of the area rejected the proposal by the then minister of local government, Mr Adolf Mwesigye for Ewanga to be relocated to Yumbe district.
On July 23, 2016, Arua district woman MP, Ms Maurine Osoru was allegedly kidnapped and assaulted by a mob suspected to have come from Yumbe district and later abandoned her in a bush within the district.
Osoru was heading to Ewanga for a meeting where elders of the area summoned Arua district leaders to get their views on a letter written by the permanent secretary ministry of local government in which Ewanga was to be given to Yumbe district.
Of late, there have been calls for religious leaders to come in to ensure that the matter is resolved peacefully for harmonious coexistence.
While the locals have lived peacefully for generations, the emergence of oil prospects in the area has raised enthusiasm among political leaders from either said so that they would benefit from the future outcomes of the black gold.