Uganda: History Of War And Deception

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The Uganda government and the international community have been very central in telling a twisted version of history of Uganda so much to the extent that people are made to think that the LRA have been the major cause of this conflict.

[Uganda Commentary: A Personal Account]

A glimpse of hope and relative peace has prevailed in northern Uganda for the last two years since rebels of the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) declared a ceasefire in an agreement with the government.

The guns had roared for over 22 years since 1986 when Yoweri Museveni took over power from the late Gen. Tito Okello Lutwa, leader of the military government that unsuccessfully offered Yoweri Museveni an olive branch for peace in Nairobi, Kenya in 1985.

Northern Uganda has never been peaceful and has never been the same ever since. Today, in the wake of the stalemate in the peace talks between government and rebels, the Uganda government is bracing for more war with the LRA rebels, a war they have all fought without winning.

Many people have been made to believe that the war in northern Uganda started with Joseph Kony’s LRA. The Uganda government and the international community have been very central in telling a twisted version of history of Uganda so much to the extent that people are made to think that the LRA have been the major cause of this conflict.

You need to understand the historical contexts as to why and how the conflict started. It must be understood that when Museveni’s National Resistance Army (NRA) which was also composed of child soldiers commonly known in Uganda as kadogos, took over power, they employed a revenge policy toward the defeated Uganda National Liberation Army (UNLA) in Acholi, Teso and West Nile regions.

They started arresting the former officers, jailing them, killing them and in many cases, looting their properties and attacking their families. In many cases these former soldiers and members of their families were taken to Luzira Prison in Kampala and others were taken to Kigumba and Kiburara to toil in farms. Hundreds of these inmates died in these detention centers and they were not given fair trial.

It was from these fears for revenge that the remaining former soldiers decided to reorganize, arm themselves and start defending against the atrocious attacks. The first group to form was the Uganda People’s Democratic Army (UPDA), a disciplined army that had peaceful co-existence with the local people and in many ways, defended the locals from being attacked by Ugandan troops as well as cattle rustlers from Karamoja.

Once the war started, another group also emerged in Teso known as the Uganda People’s Army (UPA), the ranks of which were also mostly former soldiers who were being persecuted by NRA.

Although these two rebel groups reached would-be peaceful settlements with the government, most of their leaders and commanders were later jailed, or mysteriously disappeared while others were killed. Many other rebels groups also emerged in West Nile, Central and even Western regions of Uganda.

Meanwhile, the new government continued to persecute anyone who was part of or is alleged to have been part of the previous government. By 1987, the regime had extended this persecution to the locals especially in Acholi where NRA commenced what they called “Operation North,” “Operation Mobile” and so many other campaigns.

This was a scorched-earth policy by the NRA in which fighters were ordered to kill anything that walks. Adults, babies, goats, and chicken were killed; banana trees and houses were burned down; bridges were destroyed; and human waste was dumped into drinking water to poison water wells.

At the time, I was a young boy in Alero, one of the villages that experienced the worst atrocities. I remember one quiet and peaceful afternoon in 1987 that was interrupted with gunshots and immediately, the entire village was surrounded.

I ran desperately and escaped barely with my life, with bruises all over my body and foot. Unfortunately, my grandmother, a cousin, a brother, my mother and countless others were not so lucky. They were killed; some relatives were burnt alive in the houses.

My mother was one of the few survivors; she had been shot across the face, cut with machetes on the back and other parts of her body. For some unexplained reason, she survived the carnage.

When I ran back to see what had happened five hours later, I found her writhing on the ground. Another villager who survived came and found me trying to save my mother. We wrapped up her wounds and carried her into the woods where we started to nurse her.

The next day, we returned and buried the dead. My mother was paralyzed for the rest of her life. She only died earlier this year in Gulu.

Of course my mother’s tormentors and the killers of the countless villagers have never been arrested. The Uganda government has never addressed the incident and the so-called International Criminal Court (ICC) will never hear of this atrocity.

While this plunder, killings and destruction were going on, another rebel group emerged named the Holy Spirit Movement, under Alice Lakwena, a woman who claimed she had mystical and spiritual powers.

Lakwena’s was a formidable force that threatened to take over the government. She was eventually defeated in Iganga. After her defeat, Kony appeared on the scene, a man who also claimed mystical and spiritual powers.

Kony’s armies have expanded in number, changed its identities and even its names. They have been the longest headache to the government of Museveni since 1987. The group was formally known as the Holy Spirit and later changed its name to the LRA.

There have been many attempts to talk peace with the LRA going way back into the 1990s. Most of the attempts failed. The main reasons for these failures have been because the Ugandan government has always pressed to continue fighting instead of talking peace.

Also, individuals involved in coordinating peace talks, especially those with interests or connection with Uganda have had the motive to grab money, become famous, while sometimes wrecking the peace process. Those who want to have the peace talks drag on see them as a lucrative source of revenue.

Every time peace efforts have failed with the LRA, the Uganda movement and its backers around the world look for someone to blame. Traditionally, they would blame local Acholi people in the villages and their leaders.

Now that the LRA rebels have relocated into Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo, the blame has been switched to Acholi who live in the Diaspora; mostly in USA, Canada, UK, and other Western European countries.

The most recent case of accusation of the Acholi Diaspora has been orchestrated by Uganda government agents. The Resident District Commissioner for Gulu, retired Col. Walter Ochora, who himself was once a rebel leader in the UPDA and later served with the Uganda army, went on local FM radio station and declared that Obonyo Olweny, Joshua Otukene, Alex Oloya, Col. Wilson Owiny Omoya, Dr. Ocan Otim, and Peter Oola as “spoilers” of the peace process.

Ironically, some of these mentioned individuals have been the ones promoting the peace process around the world. Now they are accusing them of destroying the very things they are working hard for?

Many people inside Uganda and even within the international community and donors had high hopes that finally this war would come to an end. It almost did and it still might. The Final Peace Agreement (FPA) was supposed to be signed in April 2008 but Kony refused to sign it, claiming he did not agree with some of the components.

The outstanding disagreement was on the question of the International Criminal Court, which has indicted the top leadership of the LRA, including Kony. Ironically, the Uganda army has also been accused of committing the same crimes in and outside Uganda.

The LRA have suggested the way forward now that Juba has not yielded the fruits that many have been waiting for. Even Vice President of Southern Sudan, Dr. Riek Machar has called upon the Ugandan government, LRA rebels and the international community not to give up on the peace process.

Dr. Machar wants the peace talks to continue and has condemned intentions of the Uganda government to declare renewed war. The LRA on the other hand has suggested a start on a Juba II peace process to continue with what Juba I has accomplished so far.

The door to the peace talks should be left open. Uganda government and the international community have to be patient with the process. It took South Africa, Northern Ireland decades to achieve peace; Israel is still searching. Why are we in such a hurry to call it quits in Uganda?

The donor community and backers of both the LRA and the Uganda government have to learn to be patient; stop being greedy, and focus on a better future for Ugandans.


The author may be contacted at peterotika@hotmail.com or on his blog at www.peterokema.com


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