people in the new camps as a reserve of cheap labour, as it happened for many years in South Africa under the apartheid regime."
The Weekly Observer (Kampala)
3 January 2008 / Posted to the web 3 January 2008
By Fr. Carlos Rodríguez
Few people seem to recall when and how displaced people's camps were started in Acholi.
I do remember very well how around September 1996 the army went around
villages in Gulu district compelling people to leave their homes -at
times giving them a deadline of one or two days, not rarely forcing
them to vacate the village on the spot- and concentrate in "protected
villages" in trading centres.
The message those days was that they were going to finish off the
rebels in a military operation that would last "two or three months",
and after that period people could go back to their homes.
Other camps were started because of people spontaneously fleeing the
Lord's Resistance Army terror. Others came into existence after the
UPDF gave a 48-hour ultimatum broadcast in September 2002, after which
the people who had resisted previously had little choice.
If I cannot grasp how people can forget so easily what happened a
mere decade ago, it defies my understanding how we seem to be
forgetting these days the origin of the so-called "decongestion" or
"satellite" camps that now dot the countryside of Acholiland.
It is almost two years that in one of their recent plans for the
North, the government announced the resettlement of IDPs in Lango and
Teso, from the displaced people's camps to their homes, and the moving
of the people of Acholi to these smaller settlements on the grounds
that there were still "pockets of rebels" roaming the rural areas that
could cause insecurity.
Well, ever since the remaining LRA fighters moved from Acholi to
South Sudan and to Garamba, there have been no more of such "pockets",
and in any case the government has announced almost every other week
that with or without peace talks succeeding the Kony rebels would never
return to Uganda.
If we are to take these statements seriously, it simply means that
the reason for the existence of satellite camps is no more, and we
should expect all camps, big or small to disappear and see people going
back to their own ancestral land.
But go to Acholi these days and see by yourself that the ones going
back straight to their original homes are a minority. Updated figures
by humanitarian agencies like UNHCR speak of about half a million
people resettled, most of them in Lango and Teso. So, we still have at
least 1,200,000 IDPs in Acholi. Unless, of course, we want to count the
ones living in satellite camps as having reached their homes, which I
don't think is the case!
The situation is tricky, to say the least. It is not that anybody
prevents people from going back to their original homes, but the sheer
fact is that if you pick up your belongings and go there, in most cases
you will find no water, no functional school and almost nothing to
Fear, also, is still a factor. At the same time, you wonder why
local councils -which have a lot of power and can count on available
resources - are not doing more to help people reach the places which
are truly theirs and settle there. And why are some NGOs contributing
to this artificial situation by availing facilities in displaced people
settlements and not in the people's real homes?
Under these circumstances, here come proposals (we hope they are
only that) of giving big chunks of land for commercial farming in Amuru
district. Let us suppose that I am a potential investor (foreign or
local) and that I want a start a business. The procedure in such cases
is normally that I go and speak directly to the people I want to deal
with and the local authorities who represent them.
Going directly to the country's highest authority for the government
to try to convince the people to accept the arrangement sounds strange,
to say the least, and it can even reinforce the perception that maybe
it was true after all that there is a hidden agenda - to keep the
people in the new camps as a reserve of cheap labour, as it happened
for many years in South Africa under the apartheid regime.
Call it industrialisation or progress if you like. No one will
convince me that this is nothing but potential exploitation of war
victims in their own territory.
This is why I cannot but praise Acholi MPs who have exercised common
sense by stating that the first step is to have people return to their
original homes, and then whoever wants to engage in business with them;
let him go directly to them. Archbishop John Baptist Odama in his
Christmas homily also cautioned people about the "greed of the rich"
who want to take advantage of people's land.
As simple as that.
The author is the editor of Leadership Magazine
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