"The mention of Acholi or Northern Uganda evokes the image of a mad man spotting dreadlocked hair commanding child soldiers gone wild, chopping off lips, ears, limbs and killing siblings and parents. Yet the word genocide is absolutely banned from the vocabulary of those who propagate such an image."
Dr. Okot Nyormoi
July 9, 2007
The word Rwanda and more recently, Darfur, conjures up images of innocent people being brutally slaughtered, exactly by who or why is apparently not important, but it is clearly associated with genocide. The mention of Acholi or Northern Uganda evokes the image of a mad man spotting dreadlocked hair commanding child soldiers gone wild, chopping off lips, ears, limbs and killing siblings and parents. Yet the word genocide is absolutely banned from the vocabulary of those who propagate such an image. Again why and who is behind it is never queried beyond the carefully and professionally choreographed evil vs. good image represented by Kony (evil) and Museveni (good) a slow genocide has been unfolding for the last 21 years.
Every attempt to end the war through local as well as international peace initiatives has been successfully blocked by the Kampala regime and its allies at various levels including the UN Security Council. However, last year, both the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA), Kony’s rebel outfit and the repressive government of Uganda (GOU) led by Museveni have signed a series of agreements following an on and off negotiation in Juba and other secret hideouts. Without a doubt the victims of the war are happy for one of the agreements: Cessation of Hostilities (COHA), which has given a glimpse of peace.
In spite of the recent rapid announcements of agreements signed between the LRA and the GOU, there is something suspicious, surreal and non-wholistic about it. After 21 years of demonization and cross demonization, Kony and Museveni have suddenly become angels in each other’s eyes. Formerly abducted girls described as sex slaves have become Kony’s wives. Suddenly Kony thinks Museveni is a good man (Kony wants state to fund his family, Grace Matsiko & Rodney Muhumuza, The Monitor, Nov. 15, 2006). In four days of negotiation in Mombasa, Kenya, key questions raised for negotiating a Comprehensive Solution tabled in Agenda #2 were removed (IKV Pax Christi Press Statement, April, 11 2007, Press Statement, Mombasa Consultations Between The Government Of Uganda And The Lord’s Resistance Army May Unblock Juba Negotiations, also Saleh-LRA Mombasa Met: the Secret Deal, ASWA Times, Vol. II, Issue #1, April 2007). Shortly thereafter, an agreement on Accountability and Reconciliation presented as Agenda item #3 was signed (Martin Ojul, Item 3 Agreement on Accountability and Reconciliation, June 29, 2007).
What is mind boggling is that after 21 years of dismissing the accusation of sectarianism, discrimination and marginalization of Northern Uganda and Eastern Uganda, particularly Acholiland, Museveni, through his mediators has, without fanfare, accepted as true the accusations leveled against him and his regime. Similarly, the LRA has accepted responsibility for the atrocities they committed against the people. This is as if we went to bed, woke up 21 years later and whoosh! Yes, “we did it”.
What is more incredible is that having admitted these crimes, the two evils have decided that they will play prosecutor and judge in their own trials. This has happened in spite of the promise to consult extensively. Notices for consultation were sent out, but were never followed through, only to be notified that agreements had already been signed. Suddenly this week, an e-mail was circulated dubiously inviting all and anybody who wants and can to go to Ri-Kwangba to attend a consultative conference of 500 people in the LRA hideout replete with an airport being specifically built to facilitate the transport of a large number of people. Another meeting of a select group is being planned by a nameless person at Juba and a third one of unknown size is being called by Lawi Rwodi Acana (the Paramount Chief of Acoli). Other than for some vague reference to the conference being called to discuss the implementation of the agreements, there is no indication of who called the conference, for what reason and who should attend. Instead, some carrots are being dangled before the would-be participants in the form of facilitation by the UN and the Mediator’s office.
While in principle, it is a good thing for people to meet and dialogue on issues of concern to them, the way this whole process is being conducted reeks of duplicity. On the one hand, the people are told they will be consulted, on the other hand, a significant segment of the stakeholders have been excluded. Yet, the same people are being invited to rubberstamp the process a fait accompli in none other than the LRA bush hideout. A list of special words and phrases have been specifically formulated and used throughout the negotiation process to isolate anyone who may be critical of the negotiation so far.
Stakeholders in the Diaspora have been singled out on the basis that they are academic, extremist, non-pragmatist, obstructionist, ill-informed about the situation on the ground, perfectionists and war mongers etc. Yet, the exclusionists have no problem asking for a stamp of approval of what they have negotiated. It is like asking someone to shape a fully grown tree. In other words, the consultation should have been sought before the agreements and not after they have already been signed.
So, what is behind this deception? Obviously, the LRA, GOU and their sponsors have decided to go it alone without the irritation of critics. Such an approach has allowed them to zip through the negotiation while the nitty gritty issues of the war have hardly been touched.
First, the most important issue that should be tackled expeditiously is the organized, orderly repatriation of the internally displaced people (IDP) in the horrible camps. Yet, the bulk of the discussion is about the security and facilitation of the LRA. It is also about how the GOU can cover up and get away with its role in orchestrating the genocidal situation in northern and eastern Uganda in general and Acholiland in particular.
Unfortunately, the LRA is apparently using the threat of resuming war, thereby delaying the return of people to their original homes. In the meantime, the Museveni regime is also delaying the disbandment of the camps as a way of extorting political support from the people from the North and East. He is still following his canja game plan of the pre-election when he promised to “give” Acholi people peace if they would give him their support. Heck no! This peace is not contingent on giving political support to Museveni.
Fortunately, the overwhelming number of people from the North and East did not vote for the same person who has orchestrated genocide in Acholi. It would be foolish for the Acholi people and Uganda as a whole to support Museveni at this time when his ship is sinking from the intensifying rot from within. After all, where was Museveni when the people were crying for mercy and begging for a negotiated peaceful settlement? Negotiating peace with the regime must not be confused with giving Museveni political or military support. The people of the North and East are entitled to regain their peace. Museveni is not entitled to the people’s support, which, by his own admission, he has never earned.
Second, while the agreements on the highly gutted Comprehensive Solutions (Agenda #2) and Accountability and Reconciliation (Agenda #3) may appear good on paper, the question of implementation is not addressed. For example, the GOU has orchestrated marginalization, discrimination, crimes against humanity and concentration camps where people die so many times more from preventable causes than from military casualties for the last 21 years, contrary to the provisions of the Ugandan Constitution. Most donors and NGOs have looked the other way for fear of Museveni expelling them from Uganda. Neighboring countries have simply kept out of bounds by Museveni’s claim that this was an internal matter.
If the 1985 Nairobi Peace Agreement is to serve as a reminder, nobody including UN, the then OAU (now African Union - AU), donor countries, NGOs, neighboring countries and President Moi, who was the mediator, lifted a finger when Museveni trashed the agreement before the ink of his signature dried on the document. The question is who will lift a finger this time? Some people argue that the present situation is different, allegedly in favor of Museveni abiding by the agreement. However, there is no convincing evidence for that. For the “doubting Thomas”, just look at the government’s present handling of the Sh. 18b IDP resettlement program tainted by extreme patrimonial corruption cocooned in the worst form of arrogance and debasement of highly traumatized concentration camp residents. This is in spite of Museveni’s broad daylight promises to donors and Ugandans that nobody would abuse the program! To date, nobody, including Prof. Kabwogyere, the Minister in charge, has accepted responsibility.
Should Museveni therefore “do a Taylor” on Kony and his commanders, as is the most likely scenario, nobody will shed a tear. To do so is, however, wrought with the danger of a resumption of a war of betrayal. The supra-national organizations such as UN, AU, IGAD, etc. are toothless. Besides, they do not have resources to intervene. The US and its allies having their hands full with the carnage in Iraq and Afghanistan are itching to go home. NATO and the EU are hypersensitive to wars in which their citizens have to die. Although Chissano is busy mediating the negotiation, when it comes to a shooting war, what will he do? Nothing!
Thus, so long as President Museveni and his despotic kleptocratic patrimonial regime are in power, the possibility of sustainable peace returning to Northern Uganda under this agreement is not at all promising. In this quagmire, Ugandans must therefore stand firm with the people of Northern and Eastern Uganda, and let Museveni and his regime, and their newly won “love” Kony and the LRA, know that peace is not a privilege to be bestowed upon citizens by a vicious dictator or a deleterious rebel outfits. Likewise, they should make their tormentors know that peace is not something to be paid for by political support to any fascist. Instead, it is a right. Otherwise, trading political support for peace in this case is like being victimized multiple times by the same rapist.
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