NORBERT MAO | LETTER FROM GULULAST week the Gulu District Council debated the issue of the alleged new rebel group. Many members voiced the opinion that the so-called rebels are phantoms created to intimidate political leaders opposed to the ruling NRM.
So far no one has any hard evidence of any rebels in northern Uganda. Armed thugs yes, but not rebels. So why all the fuss? And is it a coincidence that these rumours of rebels started after the Operation Lightning Thunder? It is said that a man can fail many times, but he is not a failure until he begins to blame someone else.
For the years that the civil war has raged in the north of our country, President Museveni has never had a shortage of who or what to blame for his inability to deliver the people of northern Uganda from the scourge of war. He has blamed everybody except himself yet he holds the position of the greatest power and responsibility in this country. He blamed the terrain the long grass, wooded savannah and heavy rain. But the terrain affects all the parties to the war equally and mastery of the terrain is achievable through consistent efforts. He then blamed the geopolitical fact of Sudan providing a sanctuary to the rebels. Then the Sudan dealt a deathblow to this excuse, allowing Operation Iron Fist to be launched inside their territory. Yet the ill-conceived poorly planned and incompetently executed Operation Iron Fist did not yield peace.
The general populace was next to be blamed. They were accused of collaborating with the rebels. Over 80% of the population was forced into the so-called protected camps. As with everything the government does, there is always the real reason and the reason that sounds good.
In this case, the reason that sounded good was that the camps were created for the protection of the people. In reality, the camps were created so that the people could be controlled and to make them more dependent on the government. The movement of the people was restricted and their ties to their land and cultivated fields were cut off. The army set on fire crops in a scorched-earth strategy intended to deny the rebels the ability to feed off the land.
The painful strategy of concentrating people in camps was to last a short time but after 10 years there was no end in sight. Yet the rebels continued to launch audacious raids on the camps killing and abducting people right under the very noses of government troops. Museveni turned his guns on the Acholi in the diaspora who he accused of sending funds to the rebels. But since the first Kacokke Madit (great meeting) in 1997, evidence shows that if anything the Acholi in the diaspora have instead leveraged their considerable means to educate their relatives, build houses and invest in ventures such as hospitals and hotels.
If these financial muscles were being flexed in favour of the rebels, the evidence would be hard to hide. The investments that the Acholi diaspora has made in their motherland show that they are conscious of their stake in its future.
True, there may be a few who sympathise with the LRA and an even smaller number who contribute money such as loading airtime on the rebel movement's satellite phones, but blanket accusations against the Acholi diaspora are clearly baseless.
The President also blamed the unending war on the laxity of the troops who have failed to offer adequate protection to the people. Then he turned on the Acholi leaders generally, castigating them for advocating a peaceful approach, which he misrepresented as equivalent to condoning impunity. After a short while he changed his hard line stance and appointed a peace team to explore ways of peacefully resolving the conflict. He even announced a limited ceasefire to facilitate the process.
In his New Year's address for 2004, the President thanked Lango and Teso leaders but still heaped blame on some Acholi leaders who he did not name for the continuation of the rebellion. As the December 2003 New Vision readers' survey revealed, the war in the north has been the foremost national shame the biggest wart on Museveni's face.
It is not accidental that Museveni has turned his guns on Acholi leaders. According to NRA child soldier, China Keitetsi, the NRA bush strategy was to demonise the Acholi. The entire UNLA was presented as "Abacholi" to the largely Bantu NRA and Luwero populace. In his address to Parliament in 2001, Museveni said, "the chauvinism of the Acholi had to be destroyed." This address can be found in the official records of the proceedings of parliament.
Obviously, the President had decided to heap collective guilt on an entire community contrary to the principle of individual responsibility for individual crimes. This exposed the President's obsession with violently crushing anyone who challenges his hold onto political power.
To the best of my knowledge, no Acholi leader has ever had control over the levers of Kony's war machine. However, it may be politically expedient for Museveni to maintain a smear campaign that links those politically opposed to him to the LRA rebellion and to other fictitious rebel outfits.
This smear campaign is also intended to shut up those who have continued to campaign for peace through dialogue and for a National Truth and Reconciliation process. The roots of all armed rebellion in Uganda are political. Political solutions must therefore be sought. Museveni needs to be told again and again that he has been fighting an unnecessary war and even if he wins militarily, that will not change the fact that it was an unnecessary war. Even the religious leaders have not been spared Museveni's smear campaign.
All their efforts to point out misdeeds on the part of government troops only attracted sneers from Museveni who accused them of attempting to whitewash the LRA. Yet in reality, Acholi leaders and the religious leaders have made substantial contributions to the peace efforts. They have consistently urged both sides to seek a peaceful solution. They have also voiced out concerns about violations of human rights.
They have ceaselessly encouraged the people to cooperate with the military. They have also sensitised the rest of the country and the international community about the humanitarian catastrophe facing ordinary people in the war-torn areas. They have campaigned in the diaspora among the Acholi about the need to seek a better solution other than war.
This outreach has enabled the Acholi in the diaspora to get better information about the situation on the ground and thus enabling them to take a more objective stance about possible solutions.
Let us hope that the proposed National Reconciliation Bill, will move us away from finger-pointing and towards genuine national dialogue.
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