UGANDA: STAKEHOLDERS IN ACHOLI SUB –REGION PLEAD FOR PSYCHOSOCIAL SUPPORT AS HOMICIDE CASES RISE

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Ugandan Field Force Police Officers manning security in Gulu City

GULU: As homicide cases spike during the ongoing lockdown, various stakeholders in Acholi Sub –Region are pleading with the government to provide psychosocial support to the vulnerable communities.

Police reports indicate that between 1st and 23rd July, a total of 15 homicide cases were registered in Acholi sub region. Gulu registered the highest with six cases followed by Omoro with three cases. Lamwo and Amuru registered two cases respectively, while Agago and Nwoya districts registered one case, respectively.

Out of the 15 homicide cases, murder by mob action and assault topped with three respectively followed by suicide, sudden death with two cases, respectively. Death by drowning was one while death by other causes were four.

The homicide victims include 10 males and five females. Out of the 15 homicide cases, 11victims are adults and four are juveniles—below the age of 17.

David Mudong Ongom, the Aswa River Region Police Spokesperson, says the homicide cases were not caused naturally but by external factors like depression, alcohol and drug abuse and other abuse: “most of these homicide cases are not natural deaths, there are other external factors.” Says Mudong.

Mudong also attributes the high homicide cases to lack of psychosocial support to the local commutates during this lockdown period where many people have been a left redundant, miserable and depressed.

According to him, Police used to offer psychosocial support to the local communities but stopped due to financial constraints exacerbated by the ongoing lockdown. Civil Society Organizations –CSO and other stakeholders, Mudong says, should work jointly to offer the support to scale down the rate of the vice in the region. He also advised the locals to practice neighborhood watch.

Stella Kijange, the Executive Director of Equal Empowerment Network in Nwoya District revealed that during this ongoing lockdown many families are still experiencing economic, physical, sexual and emotional violence, adding that fueling more homicides cases.

Kijange appealed to the Civil Society Organization –CSOs and other stakeholders to team up with police child and family protection unit and offer support services to the vulnerable communities like counselling and livelihood supports.

“I therefore call upon civil society organization and other stakeholders to work hand in hand with police especially the child and family protection unit to provide not only psychosocial support through counselling, but also livelihood opportunities to the vulnerable.” Kinjange appeals

Bishop Nelson Onono Onweng, the Chairman of Acholi Religious Leaders Peace Initiative –ARLPI told our reporter in an interview that they have organized program for the masses in that regard but that a lot of preachers are passing out comforting messages to the masses over the different radio stations in the region.

According to Onono, they used to have community engagements but the arrangement was suspended due to the lockdown since it contravenes with the president’s directives put in place to curb the spread of COVID -19 infections among communities.

He appealed to those who are undergoing challenges to speak up and also search for support from political, cultural and religious leaders.

Psychiatrists attribute the incidents to economic hardships, mental distress and alcohol and substance abuse which are being triggered by the COVID-19 restrictions that have affected businesses and livelihoods. Within the same period, 20 cases of domestic violence and family desertion have also been registered among Boda-Boda riders in Gulu City according to reports from the Gulu City West and Eastern City Boda-boda motorcyclists’ associations.

George Bashir Tek-kwo, the Head of Security at Gulu West Boda-boda Motorcyclists Association told our reporter that since the lockdown, spouses of their members deserted their broke husbands since they could not provide for their households. Some lost their motorcycles after failing to complete their loans.

The Paramount Chief of Acholi Cultural Institution, Rwot Onen David Acana II, says the murder cases, alcohol and domestic violence being registered in the Acholi Sub Region needs urgent intervention from all stakeholders.

He explained that the majority of the cases have resulted from the economic hardships that caused despair among the people who are now financially constrained following the restrictions on their different sources of livelihoods.

Rwot Acana II has rooted for the need for awareness creation against violence, alcohol abuses and psychosocial and mental support to keep hope in the people alive.

On the other hand, the Bishop of Gulu Archdiocese, His Grace John Baptist Odama noted that the COVID-19 pandemic has caused ‘a feeling of helplessness among the vulnerable people’ prompting others to lose their lives or take the lives of their colleagues whenever they become violent.

Meanwhile, Bishop Nelson Onono Onweng, the Chairperson Religious Leaders Peace Initiative (ARLPI) urged everyone to respect lives and turn to God in times of difficulties in order to get consolations.

He added that ARLPI through its different platforms are conducting community sensitization to create awareness and denounce violence as well as murder.

John Paul Nyeko, the Coordinator Mental Health Uganda at Gulu Regional Referral Hospital revealed that COVID-19 lockdown has triggered mental distress, something that has undoubtedly caused domestic violence and murders.

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