, BUKHINDE, Jan 19 – Fifty years ago, the Bagisu and Sabiny tribes in eastern Uganda were living peacefully together on the slopes of Mount Elgon.
But today the two ethnic groups are clashing over land claims, leading to an attack on a Bagisu village, which left one dead and caused hundreds of people to flee.
A visitor to the village of Bukhinde in the Bwikhonge sub-county in the Bulambuli district in eastern Uganda is welcomed by young men wielding sticks, machetes, bows and arrows.
Many of houses and granaries in the village, home to the Basigu tribe, have been burnt in an attack by Sabiny tribesmen from the neighbouring Kapchorwa district, on January 12.
Eyewitness Michael Silomero says the attackers invaded the village at 9 p.m., hacking people with machetes, looting homes and setting several huts and granaries on fire. “We had to flee for our dear lives,” says Silomero.
“While women and children fled to the district headquarters for safety, several of our young men attempted to fight off the invaders, killing one of them before armed police personnel arrived,” he adds.
“Most of the burnt houses were grass-thatched huts. Their destruction is a big blow to the affected residents, who will find difficult it to find grass. These days grass is scarce, since the area was hit by a drought and floods last year,” Silomero says.
Lenard Moses Malisa, a local leader, says that since the attack, the young men who stayed in the troubled area do not sleep at home for fear of being attacked at night.
Livestock has been taken to locations far away from the hot spots, as the tension is still building.
“The government has deployed police to help stabilize the situation, but the people have remained vigilant, claiming that their hostile neighbours have illegal fire arms and may strike again in their attempt to occupy the land which they claim it belonged to their forefathers,” Malisa says.
Police spokesperson Diana Nandaula dismissed the allegations saying the police has not found any evidence of illegal firearms.
It is not the first time the Sabiny attack the Bagisu over land. The root of the problem dates back to 1962, when the Sabiny attained the district status, just before independence from Great Britain.
Clashes between the two ethnic groups over land rights followed in 1965 and 1979.
This year’s clashes come at a time when leaders of both communities are waiting for the release of a report into the land conflicts of the past years.
Kapchorwa district chairman Sam Cheptoris said he regretted the incident and urged the Sabiny to remain calm, while waiting for the release of the report which he said is expected to provide a lasting solution.