Museveni And Kony Created Calamity; Not Olara Otunnu

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[African News: Commentary]

Last Spring, George Piwang circulated documents purported to have been agreed upon by Olara Otunnu, the former UN Under-Secretary General for Children in Armed Conflicts, to have Jim Baker, former US Secretary of State and Andrew Young, former US United Nations ambassador and Atlanta mayor, mediate reconciliation between Otunnu and President Museveni.

This was planned to have coincided with the 30th anniversary of the brutal murder of Uganda’s Archbishop Janani Lowum by Idi Amin. In reality, this plot was hatched without Otunnu’s agreement. Consequently, Piwang was forced to withdraw the documents.

It was thought at that time that the matter was resolved and therefore should have been forgotten. That was not to be, because last month, the proposal entitled “Faith-based Reconciliation” resurfaced in Kampala with big fanfare, with the chiefs of President Museveni’s notorious security organizations choreographing the event.

This was apparently planned to coincide with US Assistant Secretary of State for Africa, Jendayi E. Frazer’s visit to Kampala. More recently, the same proposal has been circulated in the form of a memo from Retired Bishop Ochola to Ms. Frazer.

Since securing peace in Northern Uganda has been elusive, it is expected that all types of effort will be made. It is in the context of not leaving any stone unturned that the faith-based proposal for reconciliation is welcome. Due to the popularization of the faith-based concept by the religious Right in the United States, closely affiliated to the Bush Administration, the proposal may sound attractive to some people. Of course, because of the enormous personal tragedies he has suffered during the war in Northern Uganda, nobody could be more suited than Bishop Ochola to plead for peace and reconciliation.

His courage and fortitude for maintaining his composure and continuing to pursue peace has to be applauded and admired. Similarly, Mr. Piwang’s abundant creativity is to be acknowledged.

While the peace efforts of the duo are to be appreciated, there are serious concerns about this proposal because it does not rhyme with the objective reality. For more than 20 years now, different tricksters have taken the people of Northern Uganda for a ride with briefcase peace initiatives while pocketing thousands of dollars which exchange hands in “brown envelopes.” Meanwhile, the dehumanized and traumatized population is left in deep pain and more desperation.

Is this so-called “faith-based” bilateral, Otunnu–Museveni reconciliation proposal, in the context of an on-going slow genocide any different? The answer to the question can only be gotten in the many concerns raised below.

The first concern is about the relevance of the proposed reconciliation. To be relevant, appropriate and effective, the contradiction prevailing between individuals or groups of people who need to be reconciled must be clearly understood and accepted by both sides.

If it involves wrong doing by one or both parties against each other, the nature of the wrong doing must first be identified and acknowledged by both parties before any reconciliation can be considered. So, what contradiction exists between Otunnu and Museveni?

According to the proposal, it is Otunnu’s accusation of the Museveni regime of orchestrating genocide in Acholiland, and the Museveni regime’s rebuttal and accusation that Otunnu is unqualified to comment on the internal affairs of Uganda and that, allegedly, he is a non-citizen, having acquired Ivorian nationality, and also having not lived in Uganda for over 20 years, which form the basis of reconciliation. If this is indeed the contradiction which needs to be resolved, we need to ask what “reconciliation” in this context would mean.

Although Bishop Ochola/Piwang did not specify what the outcome should be, it is reasonable to assume on the one hand that the Museveni regime would expect Otunnu to renounce his accusation that the regime orchestrated genocide in Northern Uganda. On the other hand, Otunnu would expect President Museveni to stop orchestrating genocide in Northern Uganda. How can this be effected? Perhaps the reader can figure it out—I cannot.

While it is logically difficult, if not impossible, to resolve such a contradiction, it is also hard to see how, of all the people from Northern Uganda, Olara Otunnu as an individual, is being singled out for reconciliation with President Museveni. After all: The war in Northern Uganda is between various rebel groups, the LRA being the last surviving group. As far as can be ascertained, Otunnu has never been associated with any of the groups; Otunnu is not an elected public official from Northern Uganda nor is he a leader of any political or religious organization; according to the government’s own argument, he is neither a citizen nor a resident of Northern Uganda; and, Otunnu is not the only person who has accused Museveni of orchestrating a slow genocide in Northern Uganda based on the criteria set by the United Nations Rome Convention.

What was and is the situation in Northern Uganda that Otunnu describes as genocide? While not using the exact term, the ex-UN Under-Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs Jan Egland characterized the situation as one of the “worst forgotten humanitarian disasters” in the world. The Uganda government’s own Ministry of Health discovered that more people are dying from preventable causes in the Museveni government’s death-camps, romanticized as “Protected Villages” than from military casualties caused by both warring parties, the government and the LRA. Given these facts, how can Bishop Ochola and Piwang propose “reconciliation” between Otunnu and President Museveni?

Otunnu is surely not the right person to engage in a personal reconciliation with President Museveni. First of all, the war is between the rebels and the NRM regime. Civil society just got caught in between the two elephants. As a result, civil society suffered the brunt of the war including; rapes, abductions, loss of lives, loss and destruction of property, destruction of a culture, and denial of educational and job opportunities.

Thousands of children were kidnapped by the LRA or conscripted into the Uganda Peoples Defense Forces (UPDF) and its fore-runner the National Resistance Army (NRA) as well as in numerous affiliated militias such as Arrow Boys, Rhino Group, LDU, etc. Thousands of these youngsters have never been accounted for, and perhaps will never be.

Who then should engage in the reconciliation with President Museveni? It is the people of Acholi and Northern Uganda as a whole who have been wronged by both the Kony rebels and the Museveni government. Therefore, it is the two warring factions who need to accept the horrific crimes they have committed against the people. It is Kony and Museveni and their combatants who need to ask the people for forgiveness and seek reconciliation. It is not an individual like Otunnu whose only role in the war is drawing attention to the genocide being committed against the people of Northern Uganda.

The second concern is, if Olara Otunnu is not the right person to reconcile with President Museveni about the atrocities committed by the Museveni government and the Kony rebels against the people, why is he being singled out for “reconciliation”?

After all, if reconciliation between individuals were to bring peace, why, after several prominent rebel leaders such as Banya, Kamdulu, Kolo and others have reconciled after surrendering or being captured, has peace not been restored?
What then is the likely motive behind this faith-based crusade directed at Olara Otunnu?

While the authors of the faith-based reconciliation proposal might not have intended it, a cursory examination reveals that the proposal casts a sinister scenario in which Olara Otunnu is put in an awkward position where on the one hand if he refuses to withdraw his accusation that President Museveni orchestrated genocide, he will be accused of being “anti-reconciliation.”

On the other, if he renounces his accusation, he will compromise the truth. Looked at from this perspective, the real goal of this proposal appears to be to silence Olara Otunnu from speaking out against the slow genocide unfolding in Northern Uganda.

If so, the proposed reconciliation does not promote peace, but the perpetuation of the status quo and a baptism of yet another big victory for the 20 year international conspiracy of silence on the genocide in Acholiland and Northern Uganda. From this perspective, such a proposal is not only misguided but also dangerous.

When in doubt, consider what happened to another prominent personality from the North, the reigning Archbishop of Uganda, His Grace, Archbishop Orombi, a blood brother of Piwang and a fellow bishop of Retired Bishop Ochola. 

Shortly following his inauguration as the new Anglican Archbishop the Rt. Rev. Henry Luke Orombi on 25th, January, 2004, he has called for a peaceful end to the tragic war in northern Uganda. At one of the press statements, he said: “We people in the north are all called rebels and less important in the eyes of other Ugandans. We are in shame, marginalized, troubled and rejected----What did the Acholi know about internally displaced people’s camps 30 years ago? North did not know about camps. Now Ugandans call us rebels, all of us by the way. You come from the north, you are a rebel. Even I, from Nebbi, am a rebel.”

To comfort his folk and give them hope not to despair on God, Archbishop Luke Orombi used the analogy of the Jews. He said, “The Acholi people were suffering like the Jews with their children being abducted and killed, and that they are blaming God. The wall of our security is no longer there. Many of us have fears in our hearts and eyes because of the dear ones that we have lost during the conflict periods. The devil came to steal our peace, pride, culture and make us the laughing stock in Uganda,” Orombi said.

Since then, observers have noticed that for a long time the Archbishop abandoned his earlier position and crusade for peace, justice and equitable development in Uganda. He deviated to focus on the issue of homosexuality, which is in harmony with the interests and pet projects of President Museveni and his Christian Right wife, Janet. If this is what the proposed faith-based “reconciliation” is intended to achieve, then it must be rejected with every fiber in our body.

If the architects of this so-called faith-based Otunnu–Museveni “reconciliation” for peace in Northern Uganda are still convinced that their initiative is not misguided, then let them and their backers reflect on this particular message of the Archbishop and use it as a basis for supporting a meaningful and sustainable peace, justice and equitable development initiative.

Interestingly, on July 29th, 2007, even Archbishop Orombi who has been on peace hiatus, prayed, people “are crying because they cannot do anything to lift themselves out of the suffering they are going through. But there is something a gun cannot do. And there is a limit to what a gun can do. Some parts of the country are peaceful and are developing; another part of the country is in pain and agony; that pain will follow us---I call upon government and the Lord's Resistance Army to seek a way of reconciliation in order to weed out deep mistrust in the north and northeast. This war must come to an end so that as a country, we can realize national political health.”

The Archbishop who is considered closer to the President and his wife than the retired Bishop Ochola/Piwang duo, did not mention Olara Otunnu as the person with whom Museveni and his government should reconcile with; it is with the LRA and the people of the North and North-east.

Thus, if Museveni and Kony created the calamity in Northern Uganda, then they should not be given an escape route out of their responsibilities by scapegoating Olara Otunnu.

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