Uganda’s Phantom Ministers

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(Former U.N. Undersecretary General Olara Otunnu, right, methodically exposed Uganda's genocidal policy in the north).

The headline of a column in Uganda’s New Vision newspaper by Opiyo Oloya on September 4, 2006 was “UNAA Convention was disorganized!� but should have instead read, “Disorganized Ministers Fail to Defend Uganda Government.� I was there and I can assure readers that the ministers were missing in action.

The writer, Oloya, was being too generous with his appraisal of Uganda government ministers assigned to defend failed government policies, when they attended the recently concluded Ugandan North American Association (UNAA) in New York City. 

It was clearly evident from the onset that none of the Uganda ministers, Prof. Tarsis Kabwegyere, Oryem Okello, Hilary Onek, Dorothy Hyuha and others were in any position to mount any serious defense of the regime. Oloya suggest that the organizers railroaded the ministers; on the contrary, Kabwegyere and Onek had more than adequate time to challenge the key points of genocide as outlined by speaker Olara Otunnu, the former United Nations Undersecretary General in charge of children in war zones. Instead, none of the ministers presented any evidence to contradict Otunnu’s central points.

Additionally, the ministers knew in advance that Otunnu was scheduled to make a presentation at the conference. It was not as though someone brought him in through the back door. Instead, the ministers used much of their time to hurl personal attacks and insults against Otunnu rather than refuting his statement. The ministers failed to convincingly challenge any points outlined by Otunnu, that:

Almost 2 million people have been herded into concentration camps in northern Uganda; That death rate there is three times higher than in Darfur; That infant mortality rates in concentration camps are the worst in the world; 1,000 children die every week in the camps; That there are rampant documented cases of rape and sexual exploitation against civilians, especially by government soldiers; That the insufficient water supply results in 12 hours of waiting in line to collect water from a water pump; That there are insufficient sanitary facilities – reports show that over 4,000 people share one facility; That primary Healthcare Services is disgraceful with doctor/population ratio of 1:30,000, and; That rampant depression and alcoholism in the death camps leads to high rates of suicide among camp inmates.

Uganda government ministers should be ready to defend their regime and president anytime, anywhere and under any circumstance. It’s woefully inexcusable that Ugandan tax payers should continue to foot expensive travel and hotel bills for under-performing officials.

As much as I oppose the Uganda government, I was embarrassed to watch Hilary Onek and Tarsis Kabwegyere struggle to defend failed government policies. The citizens of Uganda deserve better representation and should demand public review of ministers and other high appointed officials on an annual basis. 

One can only draw one of two conclusions; that the ministers are simply not up to the task intellectually, or , that they are somehow subconsciously acknowledging the government’s genocidal policy, but are too intimidated to speak up against it.
There is no other explanation for their ineptitude and inability to clearly article government policies.  Now is the time for the United States and other governments that have sustained the regime to demand accountability and action to stop the 20 years of slow-motion genocide in Northern Uganda. Silence means the regime’s supporters are enablers and complicit in genocide.

The writer, Otunu, an Operations Manager at a Facilities Management company in New York is not related to Olara Otunnu.

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