Omatenga swamp morphs into the Migingo of Kumi district

In the beginning, there was a swamp - a large piece of apparent wasteland that nobody seemed particularly interested in. As time went on, the population grew, drought periods became harsher and and more fertile land got used up. The swamp started to look appealing. Farmers close to it expanded their gardens into the swamp. Pastrolists took to grazing their animals in it. Now, Omatenga swamp is to the locals of the Omatenga and neighbouring parished what Migingo island is to the Kenyan and Ugandan fishermen in Lake Victoria. By appearance, an unattractive piece of land. In practice, a highly disputed piece of real estate.

“These people do a lot of ploughing in the swamp and have left us with a very small portion of land to graze our livestock!” complains Ochanya JohnBosco, a local pastoralist says of the crop growers. ““If you were to come right now, you’d find that there are so many animals grazing on the small piece of land that they left us and this is a very big problem that needs to be solved right now!” he adds. he also charges that when the livestock eats the crops in the gardens that are near the swamp, the crop growers ‘arrest’ the cattle and goats and then charge their owners hefty fines to retrieve them.

On their part, the crop growers are turning a deaf ear to he cries of the likes of Ochanya. Instead, they are hunkering down to plough the swamp for yet another rice growing season since the rains have started. It isn’t just the local pastoralists who are watching them with disgruntlement. Ochanya explains that this very swamp also serves many other people from parishes like Ajesa, Agule, Omat, Okiciria among many others and they are disgruntled that the people in Omatenga are proportioning most of it to themselves. When left to thrive, swamps act as natural drainages, water sources and climate stabilisers for communities around them.

Local authorities have reportedly failed to resolve the matter. “Infact, some of them own land extending into the swamp. No wonder they are keeping quiet about it,” Ochanya charges. The locals are calling on government surveyors to go survey the swamp and clearly mark where the swamp evicting those that have encroached on it. “We are tired of wrangles,” sighs another local.

- March 14, 2014
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