Phantom Rebels: Hysteria As Uganda Government's Survival Strategy

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[Global: Uganda Commentary]

These are not good days for the "strong man" in Africa.

U.S. President Barack Obama, in his Accra Speech, proclaimed their era was over. This is the era of viable democratic institutions, sanctity of Constitutions and respect for human rights, Obama declared.

So, recently, Uganda's Acholi community worldwide was stirred up by allegations by the government that there is a new rebel group started and financed by arm-chair rebels resident in the Diaspora.

It's a disturbing charge since Acholis have borne the brunt of the 23-years of war between Uganda's national army and various rebels, including the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA).

A week or so later, Norbert Mao, who is Chairman in Gulu District, unleashed a bombshell when he claimed to have been given a “Manifesto” of the alleged new rebel group. Apparently the flash drive with the document was subsequently stolen by security agents from where he forgot it at the Sheraton Hotel Business Center in Kampala. Since then, names of alleged members of the group have been released by the government.

Since the goals of many peace activists is to work towards the restoration of genuine peace, it is important to analyze and understand the hysteria about the alleged new rebel group in context.

Readers should be reminded that allegations about new rebel groups are a propaganda staple of dictatorship, generally. In the case of Uganda, many groups and individuals have been accused of committing treason against the state.

Readers may recall that Dr. Kizza Besigye, leader of the Forum for Democratic Change (FDC) political party and Yoweri Museveni's former personal physician, was in and out of court and jail because of allegations that he was linked to a shadowy group called People’s Redemption Army (PRA) and the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) in 2001 and 2005.

It's no coincidence that the charges and arrest was made when he had launched a very credible campaign in the last presidential election.

The case has never been resolved. Members of the Ugandan Parliament such as Reagan Okumu and Michael Ocula have been arrested and charged with conspiracy to murder.

Many times the Acholi communities in the Diaspora are scapegoated and accused of being "peace spoilers," supporters and financiers of the LRA.

Prominent Acholi individuals such as Olara Otunnu and Opiyo Oloya have been accused of belonging to the LRA.

By filling the air with the word “treason” the government hopes to gain support and silence the Acholi Diaspora community. Yet, most Ugandans are now deaf to the Government of Uganda’s abuse of the word “treason”.
Critical observers have also noted glaring inaccuracies in the allegations
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The government allegation simply revealed how citizens are frequently victimized by sloppy and fabricated intelligence. This article will examine the context in which the government of Uganda is hysterically propagating the idea that it has discovered the existence of a new rebel group.

Recently, it was reported that Otunnu, Uganda's former foreign affairs minister and a former Under Secretary General at the United Nations was approached by many Ugandan individuals and parties to return and contest for the presidency in 2011. In spite of official denials, the possibility of Otunnu’s presidential candidacy has had unsettling effects in some quarters.

The Kampala regime did not want Otunnu to dominate the news. One way of getting him off the political consciousness of Ugandans was to not only hype up the "news" about the alleged new rebel group, but also to insinuate that he is linked to them and the notorious LRA. Whether planned or not, the rebel news appeared to have temporarily accomplished that.

In 2008, money transmitted to Uganda by nationals working overseas totaled $3.14 billion annually. This year, the rate has dropped to an annual estimate of $1.4 billion, representing more than 56% drop

What better way is there to keep nationals living permanently in the Diaspora or drive some new ones overseas to maintain the current level or increase the revenue than by creating a sense of fresh chaos.

It is a fact that humanitarian organizations follow human crises. Uganda has received huge assistance for the last 23 years. Many government officials benefitted from businesses associated with humanitarian assistance.

With the modest return of peace, some of the lucrative businesses have started to dry up. As a result, the revelation of the "new" rebel group could simply be an attempt to maintain the humanitarian crisis to protect lucrative businesses.

The Uganda People’s Defense Forces (UPDF), the national army, in a joint operation with the South Sudanese army (SPLA) and the army of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) with the financial and intelligence assistance of the US during the George W. Bush administration suffered an embarrassing failure when they launched a surprise attack on the LRA code named Lightening Thunder.

Currently, there is a bill in US congress (HR.2478 and S.1067) calling for another round of Lightening Thunder. The Obama Administration is likely reluctant to support another war effort. To overcome such resistance, the Uganda government has apparently gone into hyperbole in its revelation of the alleged "new" group.

For this the Uganda government sent several officials including Col. Walter Ochora, a District Leader, to lobby Congress to pass the bill. It is interesting that the revelation of the alleged "new" rebel group coincided with the period of Lobby Days 2009, in Washington, D.C., sponsored by Resolve Uganda, the Invisible Children and other organizations.

While Resolve Uganda has claimed credit for not only promoting but also helping to draft the bill, as the way to end the LRA-UPDF war, it is now encountering serious opposition from different quarters.

For example, the Acholi Religious Leaders Peace Initiative, the Joint Christian Peace Network and many individuals have expressed strong concerns about the Uganda government’s lack of accountability and proposed war with possible dire consequence to the civilian population.

To overcome such resistance and ensure passage of the bill, the Government of Uganda is hyping the existence of a "new" rebel group.

There is widespread concern that famine has created a serious new humanitarian crisis in northern and eastern Uganda. The timing could not have been any worse since people are just returning from the forced displacement camps to restart a new life.

The central government has adopted its usual cavalier attitude towards disasters in the region, which by the account of serious analysts, is man-made. At least 35 people have already died of famine.
Hunger_claims_35_as_minister_denies_crisis_87705.shtml ). Just this week, Members of Parliament from the affected areas have not only boycotted Parliament, but have also threatened to go on hunger strike to protest the lack of appropriate government response
Teso_Acholi_MPs_threaten_hunger_strike_over_famine_87665.shtml ).

To cover up the embarrassing mismanagement of the famine, the hysteria about a "new" rebel group is a handy tool for diverting people’s attention.

The document alleged to be "the" rebel’s manifesto, distributed by Mao, makes interesting reading. Whether or not one agrees with the entire document; the government is hard put to deny some of the accusations leveled against it.

For example, according to 2009 Transparency International survey, Uganda is the third most corrupt country in the world. Election fraud is acknowledged to exist at the highest level as recently revealed by one of the Uganda High Court Justices

After two years of relative peace, northern Uganda is still languishing in abject poverty. According to Steve Browning, who was the last U.S. ambassador there before President Obama appointed a replacement.

There hasn’t been sufficient speed and urgency to rebuild the north and he sees no quick progress to redevelop the north.

Violation of human rights is rampant. Examples are the recent spate of arrests in clear violation of the rights of citizens alleged to have committed treason, and the constant branding of Acholi Diaspora community as "rebel supporters."
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To keep their jobs or secure promotions, many security agents are under tremendous pressure to impress their bosses. In the process they pass on bad intelligence up the command chain.

As it is common practice, weapons and information may be planted and reported as captured from rebels. Many times they get away with it because to them, citizens have no rights.

Given the context in which the government dramatized the "news" about the alleged "new" rebels, one wonders whose interests this hysteria actually serves.

It is important for peace advocates not to be distracted by the feigned hysteria by the Uganda government from pursuing the cause of peace.

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