Crime Of Genocide Pays Handsomely In Uganda

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Yet, when the time to vote comes, they should remember that their suffering was due to the LRA, which conducted vicious campaigns of atrocities, and the Museveni government, which engineered a genocide through the death camps.

[Editorial: Africa]

The term "buying an election" is often used in a figurative sense---but not in Uganda, where Gen. Yoweri K. Museveni, the dictator who has been in office for more than a quarter century actually carries brown paper bags, stuffed with cash. He dispenses it like a Mafia boss to potential voters and those who can sway others to cast their ballot for him.

Mafia chiefs at least had some tact; the Ugandan dispenses the bags openly and brazenly and there are several local newspaper accounts and even photos showing the bribery being conducted.

Can readers picture U.S. presidential candidates --or President Obama-- handing out brown cash-filled paper bags to voters?

One also wonders how much of the cash comes from foreign aid money sent by tax payers in other countries, including the U.S.; outside input accounts for nearly half of the Ugandan government's budget.

While campaigning in the Acholi region of Uganda, the dictator recently is reported to have handed over keys to newly built houses for local chiefs and traditional rulers. He has promised to build facilities for ordinary people as well--those who had been confined to his government-created death camps, for as long as two decades in some cases.

His government created the camps and people were forcefully removed from their homes which were then destroyed--their granaries and livestock were looted. Civilians were confined in the camps, where according to a 2005 World Health Organization study, more than 52,000 died each year.

Since the camps existed for over 20 years, more than one million Acholis may have perished in the camps through planned neglect--lack of food, water, sanitation, and healthcare services. There is a huge story of mind-boggling proportion that awaits serious journalism.

Of course, Museveni is aware of the special nature of the crimes committed by his government in creating and sustaining the death camps in Acholi for such a long time. The camps bear resemblance to the ones where American and allied troops found and liberated emaciated Jewish victims after the collapse of the Nazi regime.

One of his opponents in the upcoming 2011 presidential election, Olara Otunnu, a former United Nations Under Secretary General for children in war zones, has correctly referred to the deaths that unfolded in the camps as genocide.

The official reason cited by the Ugandan government for the creation of the camps was that they were intended to separate Acholi civilians from fighters of the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) under Joseph Kony, which was then battling the government army. The LRA has been associated with atrocities against ordinary civilians.

While LRA atrocities are well documented, those of Museveni's army are often glossed over or ignored by Western media, since Washington and London regard the Ugandan dictator as an "ally." He has provided troops to sustain the unpopular U.S.-backed government in Somalia.

Many Uganda observers also don't believe that it's a coincidence that some of the lands which were cleared when people were driven from their homes, are now being sold to investors for commercial agriculture while some are believed to hold significant untapped oil fields. And who said crime doesn't pay?

Yet Museveni isn't taking any chances. He knows that one day, when the accounting is done, he may have to answer for the special crimes he engineered in Acholi through the concentration camps policy. The camps have been euphemistically referred to as "internally displaced people's camps" or IDPs.

A Ugandan newspaper, The Observer, reported that while referring to the opposition political parties contesting the elections, Museveni told people at a recent campaign rally in Acholi region, "They were saying I was keeping you in camps because I wanted you to suffer, but I am not the one who put you in camps. You went to camps to look for protection....”

This is a remarkable statement for a number of reasons.

If, indeed, Acholi civilians had willingly fled into these death camps for "protection", where as many as one million may have perished over a 20-year period, wouldn't these people know this? Why would they need to be reminded by the dictator? Or is this a statement that is intended to be exculpatory? In other words, should Gen. Museveni ever face trial for setting up the death camps, is this one line of defense he intends to use?

Another reason why his remark is interesting is that it would not hold as a convincing defense in any such trial; whether in a court of law or before the Ugandan electorate. This is because the alleged "protection" from Joseph Kony's LRA clearly never occurred. There is no study or estimate anywhere that suggests that Kony's brutality caused anywhere close to the number of deaths--at least one million Acholis--that may have occurred in Museveni's camps. In other words, almost one million Acholis never would have died through planned neglect, had they not been herded into Museveni's camps.

The number of those who perished through the LRA's atrocities can certainly be estimated--and should be- through newspaper accounts, reports of victims, reports such as Amnesty International's and Human Rights Watch's annual reports, and the U.S. State Department's annual reports on human rights.

It's unlikely that these deaths--horrible as they were- exceed tens of thousands; certainly nowhere close to the genocide in the Uganda government-created camps.

Finally, the reason why the statement is most interesting is that it suggests that Museveni knows there is a possibility he could lose the February Presidential elections--otherwise, why would he even bother to try to account for the crimes that occurred in the camps by blaming the victims as having willingly fled to the death camps?

What's more, many Ugandans believe that in fact, he did lose the last two presidential elections to Dr. Kizza Besigye, a former ally-turned-critic, who heads the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC).

Ugandan voters would be wise to accept the cash in the brown envelops that Gen. Museveni doles out--after all, it's possibly embezzled money that belongs to them--and the keys that he may offer to any house. Yet, when the time to vote comes, they should remember that their suffering was due to the LRA, which conducted vicious campaigns of atrocities, and the Museveni government, which engineered a genocide through the death camps.

"Speaking Truth To Empower."

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