Commonwealth: Ugandans’ Blood’s In Your Hands

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Most shamefully, while the dignitaries sample the pork chops, tilapia, filet mignon, and other assorted succulent foods, Acholis confined in concentration camps in the northern part of Uganda, will continue to die from hunger, thirst and preventable diseases.

[International: Commentary]

This Friday a very befitting spectacle will unfold in Kampala, Uganda, when Queen Elizabeth II, the titular head of the Commonwealth, opens the Heads of Government Meeting, with a ceremonial champagne toast.

The so-called Commonwealth will be exposed as the morally corrupt and hypocritical body that Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe accused it of being when his country was sanctioned for being anti-democratic.

Consider the exercise in absurdity that will unfold.

The dozens of heads of state or government expected for the gathering will click their champagne glasses, smile, exchange friendly words, sip cold drinks and consume sumptuous meals, including perhaps imported caviar and cheese. Later, these leaders will make speeches then perhaps take guided tours of some of Uganda’s spectacular scenic tourist attractions. At the end of the three day session, which starts on November 23, these leaders might issue communiqués about the need to work together to combat global poverty, to fight diseases, to stamp out drug trafficking, and to promote democracy and human rights for the community of nations.

One might be excused if such cynicism causes severe illness. All these lofty declarations will be made from Kampala, barely 300 miles away from the killing fields of northern Uganda; Kampala itself is the same city where the government tortures political opponents in “safe houses” some of which may have been temporarily cleared to make room for these very guests and dignitaries. The Commonwealth has gone insane. Perhaps it’s only fitting that the British leadership and the Commonwealth and Foreign office dragged the Queen to preside over this madness—why not go all the way, after all?

It is no secret that since 1986, when he seized power, President Lt. General Yoweri Kaguta Museveni, who wears a business suit while visiting Washington but often dons military uniform while in Uganda, has relied on the barrel of the gun to maintain his regime.

In 2001, after bitterly disputed elections which critics and the opposition leader, Dr. Kizza Besigye of the Forum For Democratic Change (FDC) charge was rigged, Museveni vowed that he would not run again. A new constitution was ratified after a Constituent Assembly solicited public comment; the document imposed a presidential two-term limit, making Museveni ineligible for another run, and many Ugandans thought the era of impunity was coming to a close.

In 2005, Gen. Museveni pressured Parliament, with $3,000 inducements to the cash-strapped lawmakers, into removing the term limit, thereby destroying the new constitution. The general ensured the deck was again stacked in his favor by locking up principle opposition contender Dr. Besigye in the initial stages of the campaign on concocted rape and treason charges. After widespread charges of vote-rigging, Museveni was again declared victor.

In December 2005, when Dr. Besigye had been arrested on the concocted charges, 19 other political prisoners were detained. In March 2007, Uganda’s High Court ordered the detainees released. The government responded by sending hooded gunmen from a paramilitary force known as “Black Mambas,” to storm the court. This outrage forced a strike by the nation’s judges, something that had never occurred in the country’s history, not even during Idi Amin’s dictatorship.

Still, the political detainees remain behind bars in defiance of the court’s order, and will endure their torture, even as the Queen opens the Summit with the champagne toast.

Most shamefully, while the dignitaries sample the pork chops, tilapia, filet mignon, and other assorted succulent foods, Acholis confined in concentration camps in the northern part of Uganda, will continue to die from hunger, thirst and preventable diseases. Mothers and fathers will continue to watch daughters forced into prostitution, or raped by the very soldiers that are supposed to protect them.

Contrary to the widely accepted Big Lie, recently repeated in a BBC interview by Uganda’s foreign affairs minister Sam Kutessa, these camps euphemistically referred to as “protected villages,” were not created spontaneously. Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) had been carrying out their campaign of terrorism against the Acholi populace, with no protection from the Ugandan army, which had been sent to invade Congo and loot its resources—an army so powerful and well-equipped by the United States that it was able to topple the dictatorship of Mobutu Seseko in a mere few weeks.

It was not Kony, with his ragtag army that drove two million Acholi civilians into the death camps: It was the government of Uganda that ordered civilians in Acholi to abandon their homes, lands and properties, within 24 hours, thereby creating an even worse calamity, not withstanding Kutessa’s recent lies. Those who did not comply, were killed by government soldiers. Those who later returned to their homes found houses burned and livestock and granaries looted. These incidents are well documented by human rights organizations and links to relevant articles are widely available—see for example the articles on

Fortunately, modern technology can help us dispel some of the Big Lies. At this year's annual US conference organized by Ugandans living in north America,  Richard Todwong, General Museveni's  Presidential Advisor on northern Uganda admits that the government created the camps because it thought the war would last for no more than six months. Please see

The forced relocations, to inhospitable overcrowded camps, caused untold deaths. Since they specifically target and decimate Acholis, this amounts to ethnic cleansing and genocide. The calamity that has occurred in the death camps remains underreported, underappreciated or whitewashed---one of the most shameful chapters in all of human history.

Forget about Gen. Museveni's insatiable appetite for bloodshed; that is well known. What has not been adequately scrutinized is the enabling role played by his foreign sponsors in Washington and London, in government, in corporate offices, and media.


Even “War/Dance” the recently released and well-received documentary, contains clearly staged scenes and even lists a Uganda government official in its credits at the end as a translator and glosses over the sufferings in the camp—referring to them as “protected” when in fact everyone knows that they are not—and rehashes the tired half-truth narrative that only the LRA are to blame for the genocide. If the staged scenes, the misleading parts and misrepresentations are not corrected they will, deservedly, hamper the film's Oscar chances.

Fact: According to a 2005 survey conducted by Uganda’ own Ministry of Health in partnership with the World Health Organization (WHO), there were 1,000 excess deaths per week in the 200 or so camps. These numbers translate into 52,000 deaths per year, 520,000 over the last decade, or more than one million over the course of the 20 years war. Even the LRA would be impressed with such magnificent death rates.

For their terrorism and heinous acts –abductions of boys and girls to swell their ranks or to become concubines, killings, pillaging, and mutilations, including the slicing off of noses and ears, and massacres—the LRA top leadership, including Kony, have been indicted by the International Criminal Court (ICC).

While the ICC investigations of crimes against humanity continues, and Uganda political and military leadership might yet be indicted as well, why would U.K. officials allow their monarch to consort with some of these possible suspects? What is the need to demonstrate their contempt for the lives of Africans so blatantly? Will they show up one day as character witnesses for Museveni should he eventually find himself on the docks like Liberia's Charles Taylor did?

In addition to the Acholi genocide, it’s no coincidence that the ICC has also been investigating crimes against humanity and war crimes allegedly committed by Uganda’s army and allied militias, when Museveni’s army occupied Eastern Congo from 1998-2005. Please see:

Everywhere the general’s foot prints are found, skulls in mass graves can reliably be dug nearby.

Gen. Museveni knows the serious nature of the ICC’s investigations into the DRC alleged atrocities. Consider this: last year The Wall Street Journal on a June 8, 2006 front-page article reported that Gen. Museveni had urged then United Nations Secretary General Kofi Anan to block the ICC’s investigation. Please see:

The clear implication is that the Ugandan president is aware that he and other Uganda officials could face indictment: recall that four million Congolese perished as a result of the occupation, through massacres and rapes. In its own separate ruling in 2005, the International Criminal Court (ICJ) found Uganda liable; the country was ordered to pay $10 billion to the DRC. Please see:

How might the ICC’s own probe take shape, using the evidence available to the ICJ and additional ones? Reasonable people can make their own inference.

In light of all these well known serious transgressions, the Commonwealth leadership still selected Uganda under Gen. Museveni to host this year’s summit. It means he gets to be chairman for the next year. Why is anyone surprised? Mugabe, regardless of the challenges he faces in Zimbabwe, charged hypocrisy years ago. He was right.

The blood of the million-plus Acholis and the blood of four million-plus Congolese is on the hands of all those who close their eyes to the evidence that stares at them.

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