- Both South Sudan and Congo claim part of West Nile to belong to them
- Since 1955 during Anyanya 1 war, led by Joseph Lagu, most Sudanese settled at Afoji border
- Even when there is this breach in diplomatic, Congolese widely use Ugandan currency in their markets.
- Despite smuggling thriving at the border of Uganda and DRC, the two countries should strengthen surveillance than engaging in old-fashioned way of claiming border ownership
West Nile. In the past nations were divided by colonizers, territory was bartered among them, and economic life was shattered.
Two weeks ago, over 800 herds of cattle were raided from locals in Moyo by armed men from South Sudan. The deep scars that these conflicts leave on people and nations are often obscured by historical accounts that, more often than not, glorify conquest and leads to aggression. This has continued up to date.
West Nile districts of especially Zombo, Nebbi, Arua and Moyo have fallen prey to external aggressions of recent from South Sudan and DRCongo. Although the three countries avoid going to war with each other, a dispute over the border disputes may continue.
The epicenter of the conflict this time is in Asina village, Abanga Sub-county in Zombo district. Some say it could be greed for pacification and expansion of territorial administration for economic gains and setting up military base.
Some attribute the border conflicts emanating now is a result of colonial misrule that are obvious by creating boundaries between countries. While others say it is greed for revenue collection at border areas.
The affected parishes include Asina, Per, Pamitu and Padeya. The Ugandans and Congolese here share a common language and cultural heritage. Many Ugandans have their ancestors in DRCongo and vice versa and have farms in both countries.
According to a 76 year-old Jum-Pierre Ozelle, people are living in fear due to continuous movement of heavily armed soldiers who patrol the area day and night. “We cannot harvest food crops but have to take refuge away from the soldiers because they always move with frown eyes and scaring,” he said.
There is even no history for oil prospects in the area. For instance, these conflicts involving DRC-Uganda, South Sudan and Uganda are old-fashioned land disputes while others are the product of artificially drawn international borders that divided ethnic groups.
A visit to the area painted an image of fear, anxiety among the Ugandans living at Asina trading center. The fear, created by the Congolese soldiers and policemen standing alert guarding the wooden gate locked with huge chain with their hands on the trigger ready for any eventuality.
Some with dark shades, while others with disconsolate face ready to glorify the barricaded area. In a visit to the disputed area, the barrier was erected at Asina trading center. When one greets them, they do not answer. The key for the gate was being kept at Mahagi district headquarters in DRC, some 30 kilometers away from disputed land.
Secondly, West Nile has been a safe haven for thousands of refugees from South Sudan and Congo especially in Arua, Moyo, Adjumani and Nebbi.
Like in 2006, Nebbi hosted Congolese 5000 refugees who came from Nioka and Bunia when the UN peacekeepers backed by the Congolese government troops launched an operation against the Lendu militia in Ituri region in the DRCongo. And Arua alone had about 60,000 South Sudanese refugees.
The two countries still rely on goods that pass through West Nile districts and there is lucrative business in DRC which attract Ugandan traders there too.
When asked why the barrier was erected at Asina trading center, the Commander of Police for Eastern Province in Mahagi district, Capt. Nuya Katunda said: “We got instructions from our bosses to take control of the place. But we shall be peaceful as we guard the place to control smuggling and insecurity in the area. And this issue cannot be handled by lower cadres but will wait from our bosses.”
But the tension created at the borders has harmed the trade, health service and education after the citizens from both countries were not allowed exit and entry.
Congolese and Ugandan authorities holding bilateral meeting at Vurra border post. Photo by Felix
Already there are efforts by Uganda and South Sudan security to curb smuggling at the borders. Recently, former Ugandan IGP Gen Kale Kayihura and former South Sudan IGP, Gen Pieng Kuol signed a bilateral agreement.
Sudan IGP Kuol reiterated that they are committed to ensuring peace through joint patrol at borders and that some of the attacks against Ugandans and other nationals was by their enemies who want to sabotage smooth relationship with Uganda.
The agreement stipulates regulation on gun and human trafficking, protection of traders, stop mistreatment and unnecessary arrests through sharing and verification of information, joint patrols and operations on highways, strengthening traffic rules and regulations, involve local leaders in security meetings. The next joint security meeting will be held on September 16 in Yei in South Sudan.
Similarly, in March 2009 Uganda and DRC signed bilateral agreement to combat smuggling, theft and security. Since the agreement, about 30 stolen cars were recovered and returned to Uganda while those of Congolese were also returned.
The work of electoral commission to re-organisation of polling stations was halted in the four Parishes for four days. The programs had to be rescheduled. Some traders from Uganda heading to Mahagi for cross-border trade had to use the long route from Paidha via Goli to Mahagi.
The option for solving the border conflicts remains the reliance on survey of land using GPS, dialogue. This is especially done by the Ministers or the Presidents. A case in point is when the two Presidents, Yoweri Museveni of Uganda and Joseph Kabila of DRCongo agreed in a dialogue in May 2008.
This was when the Congolese authorities established a police post at River Ofo, about 300 meters deep in Vurra in Arua district. But none of the cases were referred to an International court.
In 1946, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) was designated as the institution to play an important legal role in the resolution of border conflicts among UN member states, and legal doctrines were established as prerequisites in determining the relative merits of claims and their final disposition.
Since its establishment, the ICJ has become the principal judicial organ of the UN entrusted with the resolution of legal disputes between sovereign states. Yet DRC became a member state on 20 September 1960 and Uganda on 25 October 1962.
The District Commissioner of Mahagi, Jeane Ngamundian, said recently that: “We have cut our relation with the Ugandan leaders because of the force used by UPDF to demolish the barrier. This shows signs of war which we do not want because we need diplomacy. At the moment any meeting may not work out,” he said.
Ugandan armed forces pursing the armed men from South Sudan who raided over 800 cattle in Metu Sub-county last week. Photo by Metedio Iceta.
These territorial disputes have prompted protests and diplomatic tensions. Another external aggression has been ongoing in Moyo district where South Sudanese claimed part of Moyo to belong to the new nation, struggling with lawlessness.
In Moyo district, there is an invisible line in Lefori and Metu Sub-counties in Moyo and the Kuku Community in South Sudan and that even the border points remain ‘unrecognized’ since the colonial era, with neither side has an immediate interest in starting a new war over the pieces of land.
The area has been the epicenter of external aggression against the citizens of Uganda from South Sudan. The conflict over Lefori, legally a Sub-county in Moyo experienced violent dispute that left farmers’ crops uprooted, people abducted by alleged SPLA soldiers two years ago.
The effects of these disputes can be devastating. The strain in relations of the border dispute also left the border at Afoji between Uganda and South Sudan shut.
Violent protest also went on in Moyo town where shops owned by South Sudanese were attacked but looting was stopped by security men.
In one of the attacks, Sudanese businessmen were attacked with their shops closed for one week and property destroyed. This created fears where some Ugandans living in Juba had to return home for fear of reprisal.
Uganda and Congolese authorities scrutinize the map at Asina border in Zombo district. Photo by Okaba Patrick
Then remarking exercise started on January 19, 2010 after the August 2009 attack on Moyo. The then Minister for Internal Affairs Minister, Henry Okello Oryem spent a day in Moyo on December 12, 2010 but failed to resolve the standoff which was aggravated with claims by the Kajo-Keji commissioner, Mr Muki Batali Bulli that parts of Moyo and Yumbe districts were in Southern Sudan.
Bulli claimed that the Sudanese land extends to Kelenderia through Opiro, all virtually located in Moyo town. He added that the land extends westwards to West Eria Hill, Lefori and to Dwani Wano, which is all in Moyo.
He added that since 1955 during Anyanya 1 war, led by Joseph Lagu, most Sudanese settled at Afoji border and planted mangoes at Drawuni and similarly to other border points accommodated by Ugandans.
In the wake of the attack, it sparked off violent protests among residents in Moyo who responded by barricading Sudan border with huge trees and stones by a group of demonstrators. Transport to and from Sudan was cut off for two days.
With the two countries sharing a wider strip of square miles between Moyo and Kajo-Keji County in Sudan, the two have of recent found themselves bickering over an unclear colonial inheritance and scantly defined boundaries.
Ugandan officials claimed that some of the documents were in the United Kingdom which would be used for survey. “The papers are already here that will show how that part of the border was demarcated and can be remarked,” Minister Oryem said.
Then the conflict drew attention of the two Presidents who met in order to stop any bloody clashes. President Yoweri Museveni said the conflict must be resolved diplomatically and that no time must be wasted on the matter. “This is something we could not waste a lot of time on. Things must be done using the colonial map to identify the areas,” he said.
The two Presidents on November 28, 2010 issued directives that the elders from Moyo, Yumbe, Adjumani and Koboko with their Sudanese counter parts resolve the matter locally.
The two heads of state agreed that people must not overreact and suspend any future activities like farming, grazing on the disputed land in Lefori. They visited the area too. Until now, the survey report has not yet been released.
Timeline of aggression on West Nile
In November 2007, DRCongo soldiers arrested two surveyors of Heritage Oil and a guard from Saracen Company after they reportedly lost direction and entered about 200 meters in Kolokoto in Congo.
In May 2008, the Congolese authorities obstinately erected a barrier at River Ofo, 300 meters deep at Uganda border in Arua district in Vurra customs and DR Congo. The standoff was resolved by President Yoweri Museveni and Joseph Kabila, through dialogue
In June 2009, Congolese policemen construct a police post at Agyero located two kilometers along River Nyibola at Goli customs along Uganda border.
In August 2009. Armed Sudanese attacked and stopped the MTN construction work at Jale in Moyo district.
In September 2009. Seven SPLA soldiers attacked farmers in Gwerewan village in Lefori claiming the land they are using belong to Sudan.
On August 23, 2010, three Armed Forces for Democratic Republic of Congo (FARDC) on in the evening attacked traders at Kampala Market in Logiri Sub-county in Vurra county Arua district as they fired several gun bullets in the air. They were chasing Ugandans who had crossed into DRC and accused them of tax invasion. Over 50 people were injured.
In November 2010. SPLA soldiers again arrested 13 farmers from Lefori and took them hostage, accusing them of encroaching on Sudan land.
In March 2012. Nine Ugandan MPs were held hostage by SPLA soldiers.