Apaa, the land of honey and edible rats

By Abalo Irene Otto

The word ‘‘Apaa’’ to many in northern Uganda and beyond is associated with conflict over land and the dramatic 2015 incident in which a group of elderly women undressed before two ministers and a host of other government officials.

The women were protesting what they termed the ‘‘grabbing of their land.’’ Apaa is claimed by both Amuru and Adjumani districts. Amuru is occupied by the Acholi while the Adjumani is occupied by the Madi. The conflict threatened to pit the two tribes against each other.

Standup in Apaa
Voices for Peace reporter Abalo Irene Otto records a stand-up on the banks of the Juka river  in Apaa. Otto was in Apaa to conduct interviews for an episode of Voices for Peace exploring other aspects of life in Apaa– commerce, agriculture, trade and peace building– other than the conflict over land for which Apaa has become known

But how would the people of Apaa want to be known by those outside of Apaa? Are there ongoing activities in Apaa which show a community picking up? A community engaged trade and commerce?  Last week I and two colleagues on the Voices for Peace radio programme, a production of the Northern Uganda Media Club (NUMEC) with support from USAID- SAFE, set out to Apaa to find out.

We conducted 30 interviews in Apaa which will result into the production of the 20 minutes feature format—Voices for Peace —which broadcasts on five Gulu-based radio stations reaching listeners in Apaa and most parts of northern Uganda. Voices for Peace focuses on peace building and reconciliation in northern Uganda.

We set off from NUMEC for the two hours’ drive to Apaa on the morning of February 24.  On the way, the road between Lamogi and Labongogali was a rough and bumpy ride. But the drive got smoother when we branched off to Okungedi. This road also leads to Adjumani district.

As we entered Apaa, just about five hundred meters away from the busy center, a hunter emerged from the bush with a beaming smile and a fat edible rat dangling on one hand and a spear in the other. Edible rats are a local delicacy.

“Hello,’’ he spoke to us ‘‘This one is only 20,000 shillings. It is my best for today, can you take it. You will enjoy.”

The hunter, we learnt is Simon Komakech, a resident of Omer Junction in Apaa parish. Komakech is a senior four dropout of Pabbo secondary school. On a good day he gets 50,000 shillings from selling edible rats and squirrels, he told us.

Komakech is also a subsistence farmer planting simsim and cassava to provide for his old mother who can no longer afford to pay him in school.

“My parents are now old and cannot afford to take me back to school. I do this[hunting] to make  some money and to care for the family,’’ he said adding ‘‘But life here is good because I can make money any time I want as long as I can get into the bush to hunt.”

For those who have never been to Apaa, Komakech says it’s a land of honey and edible rats.


Abalo interviewing a hunter
Miss Otto interviews a hunter  in the outskirt of  Apaa trading centre

In Apaa trading centre we found vegetable seller Apiyo Nancy from Lulayi East that borders Adjumani district. Apiyo told the Voices for Peace team that she is engaged in agriculture—planting cassava, simsim, maize and groundnuts.

The proceeds from her garden helps her send her four children to the local school. She, however, wants the Amuru district authorities to construct roads and bridges to enable easy access to school by children during the rainy season.

In the heart of Apaa trading centre, we also met Okot Atanasio from Goro B. Okot is Chairman of the business community in Apaa.

“The Madi people come here to trade with us and we get goods from them as well. We have no problem. We are living peacefully,’’ said Okot Atanasio. ‘‘We want the government to bring for us social amenities like schools and hospitals so that we can live healthy and develop our land.”

Under bridge that divides Amuru and Adjumani
Voices for Peace reporters Emar Okanokodi and Ruth Atim under the bridge of the Juka  river that divides Amuru and Adjumani

Grace Anek lives 12kms away from Apaa trading centre. She had travelled to the market in Apaa to sell her sorghum. Anek has a son. She wants him to be a doctor.  But she is worried about her dreams for the son: Apaa has no government constructed. Instead, the parish which is located in Pabbo Sub County in Amuru has 24 community schools established by parents. Apaa residents want  more government support to the schools.

The road to Apaa
Road users on the road to Apaa

Although it shot to limelight because of a land conflict that led to the undressing of women, Apaa is like any other rural Ugandan village in which the locals eke a living from agriculture; want social services like schools, hospitals and good roads. Apaa residents also inter depend on neighboring communities like the Madi, sharing markets and selling produced from the two communities.

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