Honesty, Tyranny, And Uganda’s Acholi Calamity

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[Global: Presentation at UNAA On September 4, 2009]

Presentation made on September 4, 2009 by The Black Star News publisher at the Uganda North American Association (Unaa) meeting in Chicago, Illinois.

In attendance were also from Uganda: Dr. Ruhakana Rugunda, Ugandan minister and permanent representative to the United Nations; David Wakikona, Minister of State for Northern Uganda Reconstruction; Member of Parliament and leader of opposition in parliament, Ogenga Latigo;  a former Uganda minister of state for defense; Walter Ochora, the Gulu District Commissioner, in Uganda; and other officials. Cegun's Lucy Larom's presentation focused on genocide in Acholi and the spread of Hiv/Aids through targeted rape. 




Bothers and sisters, fellow Ugandans, thank you all for coming to this very important Uganda forum.

It's not the northern Uganda forum. I have never heard of any country in the world called northern Uganda. I don't know where that is.

I wish someone could tell me. Anybody who knows of a country called northern Uganda please raise your hand and let me know.

So it's very important to lay the groundwork from the get go. There is no such thing as northern Uganda.

We have a Ugandan problem. Part of the reason why it's lasted for such a long time is because we allowed it to be cast in our minds as a northern Ugandan problem. 
Just by agreeing to that terminology alone it means that we have also contributed to the prolongation of this tragedy.

I come from a media background so obviously words are very important to me.

When you hear terms like IDP; IDP could be a place where you go to spend the night if you've missed your bus. 'Internally Displaced.' As if those individuals had a choice; as if they displaced themselves intentionally to live in those camps for 23 years.

How do you willingly go to live in a facility where you know that the assured outcome is death? From lack of sustenance; lack of food; lack of hydration; lack of medical facilities. So let's stop the nonsense. You know sometimes honesty is good. Let's be honest. We travelled from allover the world to come here.

So why are we still pretending? Let's abandon these terminologies of nonsense and let's deal with the issue head on and recognize it for what it is. The tragedy is not only because of the vicious and brutal Lord's Resistance Army. If we accept that; it means we are not being honest. We all know that. Even the government officials that are here today. They know that not to be true.

They know that the Uganda government and military are also a problem. So why don't we recognize that. Why don't we accept that and be honest about that. [Audience clapping]

Honesty is good sometimes. It allows us to deal with issues head-one and move forward. Let's be honest. This video we just saw right now [Propaganda by Invisible Children promoting the Feingold/Brownback Bill which contains a section that would authorize the U.S. to militarily support the Ugandan Army in pursuing the LRA]. It would be difficult to recognize who made that video. An outside organization or the Ugandan government.

Let's be honest. How can you show us a video that is celebrating the Ugandan military as if it's not a part and parcel of the tragedy? That's not being honest. Does somebody agree with me or not? Let's be honest. When you have a tragedy such as the Ugandan situation let's recognize that the LRA has contributed massively to this calamity; as has the Ugandan government by  maintaining those camps for such a long time when everybody knew what the outcome of maintaining people in those kind of living conditions--what the outcome would be.

Who can deny that? So, that's why people like Olara Otunnu have a good point when he says that you know the outcome of those kinds of living conditions, and you allow it to persist for 23 years; can you blame somebody then for believing that that was a calculated policy? Of course not. I would not blame somebody for believing that.

Let's be honest. The Ugandan problem is not very peculiar to Uganda after all. In fact, it's not even a Ugandan problem. Forget about northern Uganda. It's a problem of lack of accountable leadership in Africa. It's not unique to Uganda only. Where, rather than building institutions of governance and leadership, we substitute this with one-man or one-party rule.

So, let's start with presidential term limits. Let's be honest. It's a question of illegitimacy of government. And when a government feels that it is not legitimate, it survives by any means necessary.

There is no question of 'is there rule of law?' when government itself is in essence unlawful.

We talked about issues of transparency. Very good. I like the honorable minister's honesty [David Wakikona Minister responsible for reconstruction in northern Uganda had spoken about transparency regarding the spending of the proposed $600 million for recovery]. By bringing up issues of transparency the honorable minister recognizes that there has been a problem in terms of embezzlement and corruption.

We all know this. We read the Ugandan papers. Even the government newspaper talks about corruption and embezzlement. So it's good that the honorable minister talked about transparency.

And I hope that this transparency results in concrete measures such as for example having a website like the Federal government does in this country to show how stimulus money is being spent. So that we can see how the $600 million is going to be spent. So that one day no government official is going to come forward and tell us that the money is finished while nothing has been accomplished.

So by having a website that clearly marks how this money is being spent, where it's going, we can monitor it in real time; just like it's done in this country. There is nothing special about this country; there are things that we can adapt that can help us.

All of us here; we're educated, we're learned. And that's why it's disappointing when we come here --- I'm saying this in an American City; and I recognize that; I realize that; and I take advantage of doing that. But that does not mean that others within Uganda cannot make similar demands in their own ways.

I can just tell by the reaction of the audience that it's something that we all appreciate. We all believe that while one individual may indeed have a grand vision, nobody exists on this earth forever. He's not shy about talking about his vision. So then what do we do the day after? That's why it's important for us to agitate to build institutions that endure and outlast individuals. Not only in Uganda but in Africa. As I started from the beginning, I said this is not a problem peculiar or unique to Uganda.
I also appreciate what the minister said in terms of let's take advantage of this opportunity and not just come here and start listing a laundry list; pointing fingers, who did this, who did that, who's bad. That's why I haven't done that. I have just recognized the truth of the matter. Which is that we cannot be honest without appreciating that the LRA bears blame for the calamity; and the Ugandan government and military also shares blame.

Let's start from that premise and then we'll be able to move forward with some honesty.

Sometimes as people outside Uganda you feel a bit helpless that you are not able to influence events or conditions in Uganda. In fact, that's completely wrong. You can. In this new media era and environment, with the Internet, you can influence a lot of things. And I will give you an example.

The Bill. The Feingold/Brownback Bill. The so-called Northern Uganda Bill. That Bill, once it came out and it listed all the items that it included, we started agitating. Particularly we appreciated the part that calls for reconstruction and devotes money for that; but we completely rejected the part of that Bill that gives the United States the opportunity to team up with the Uganda military to go after the LRA. Can that be a solution? What would the US add to that dimension that the Ugandan military was not able to do in 23 years?

So we reject that segment of this Bill completely and absolutely. And if anybody is willing to sign that petition [which Invisible Children was circulating at the Unaa Convention] make sure you note that on the petition as well; otherwise don't sign that petition until that segment whichrefers to military collaboration is removed. [Audience clapping]. 

My final example. In terms of, we're reading a lot of stories about land issues and land grabs in the Acholi part of Uganda; not northern Uganda. What is the solution? Do we feel completely impotent and helpless when faced with these powerful multinational companies?

No! Have we forgotten the ruling in a recent case in a New York Court when Shell settled with Nigerian activists for $15 million for their collusion and collaboration with the oppression in the Delta region of Nigeria? The law is called the Alien Torts Statute and it's being applied very effectively in the United States right now.

I have an article here from the Wall Street Journal ["Arcane Law Brings Conflicts From Overseas to U.S. Courts." Wall Street Journal August 27, 2009]
http://online.wsj.com/article/SB125133677355962497.html  that explains exactly how people in countries such as Uganda can apply the same law to make sure that corporations that collude with any government, including in Uganda, regarding the oppression of indigenous people, can come to a United States Court and make legitimate claims.

Thank You.

Please post your comments directly online or submit them to Milton@blackstarnews.com

“Speaking Truth To Empower.”

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