Museveni's Link To Acholi Genocide Revisited

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[Commentary: Uganda]

Recent events inside and outside Uganda has refocused attention on the war in nothern Uganda. They have reignited the debate on possible genocide in Acholi, and the assertions that the patterns of events in the conflict were planned and carefully executed to achieve predetermined objectives of irreparably harming the Acholi society.

Internally, Ambassador Olara Otunnu, a former UN Under Secretary for Children and Armed Conflict, who is also president of a major Uganda opposition political party, the Uganda Peoples Congress (UPC),  has over the years consistently argued that the intersection of the northern Uganda insurgency and the state’s own counter insurgency measures were more than accidental.

Externally, the recent release of an obscure memo allegedly written by Uganda president, Gen. Yoweri Museveni in the heat of trying to consolidate state power after a successful guerrilla struggle, seems to provide the missing link of intent to the war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in northern Uganda.

Prof. Todd Whitmore’s ‘Museveni Memo’ cannot be easily dismissed because it supplies a plausible and probable puzzle piece that had so far been missing from the incomprehensible official and popular narratives and patterns of events of the conflict. There are events in the history of the conflict that make no sense on their own, but Prof. Whitmore’s ‘Museveni Memmo’ provides a logical context and canvass upon which the whole picture of what unfolded in northern Uganda could possibly be projected.

It is therefore not enough for the state or its agents to dismiss Prof. Whitmore or threaten Ambassador Otunnu with criminal investigations; they must supply contrary evidence that work to discredit the authenticity of Prof. Whitmore’s seemingly important find and undermine the existence of intent as asserted by Ambassador Otunnu.  

When the UPC president Ambassador Olara Otunnu spoke out on Luwero, northern Uganda and called for the International Criminal Court (ICC) to investigate Gen. Yoweri Museveni and his generals, he ruffled feathers within the ruling National  Resistance Movement (NRM) cirlces, particularly the power centre of the regime, the army high command. Long  time Museveni confidante and coordinator of Uganda’s intelligence services, Gen. David Tinyefuza was quick to warn he would “crush” Otunnu if he continued to question the National Resistance Army’s (NRA)  past and roles in atrocities in Luwero and northern Uganda.

Curiously, this is the same general who in 1996 denounced the army and the Uganda government and sought to resign from the forces, accusing the Museveni regime of lacking the ‘political will’ to end the insurgency in northern Uganda.

Appearing before the House Select Committee on the northern war  on 29 November 1996, Gen. Tinyefuza declared that the government lacked ‘political will’ to end the northern insurgency. On 5 December 1996, he resigned from the army, claiming he had lost faith in it as a national institution. However, the government could not afford to let him go, perhaps to ensure that what the general knew as a Luwero and northern Uganda war veteran, goes with him to his  grave (See Henry Ochieng, Kazoora blasts Gen. Tinyefuza, The Monitor 23 March 2004).

Despite the threats,  Ambassador Otunnu has continued to call for truth telling and full accountability for all episodes of crimes of war and crimes against humanity in Uganda’s post independence history. He has particularly singled out the ‘lack of political will’ to end the war in northern Uganda earlier; the horrendous conditions of want imposed on women and children in the concentration camps; and collective punishment metted out against the people of northern and eastern Uganda by Gen. Museveni’s questionable counterinsurgency strategies.

These commissions and omissions by the regime included forcibly driving populations out of their villages into makeshift camps; destruction of crops; burning down homes and food stores; conscription of youths from the camps and deploying them as frontline forces against the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA); forced labour on highways and byways of northern Uganda; and prohibiting movements in and out of the camps, while not providing adequate protection and necessities  of life for inhabitants of the camps who needlessly died of hunger and disease, murdered by the LRA and their children abducted and gangpressed as child soldiers. These actions and inactions followed the scripts authored by the same actors who declared their objectives as such: “ We shall make ‘them’ become like the ensenene insects (grasshoppers); you know what happens when you trap them in a bottle and close the lid.”

Looked at closely, government policy failures and the LRA’s targeting of  civilians and children for abduction, maiming, mutilation and killings, fed off each other, strengthening the view that for some strange reasons better than chance and coincidence, both Kony and Museveni found it politically and stratedgically beneficial for the low intensity insurgency to prevail as long as it did in northern Uganda.

For pointing out this uncanny convergence of the NRA and LRA activities that worked to shatter the  socioeconomic and moral systems in northern Uganda, Ambassador Otunnu was threatened with charges of criminal libel. When it became clear what he said amounted to nothing criminal, the summons was revised to claim promotion of sectarianism. But clearly, neither crimes could have  been committed by the UPC president, since criminal libel cannot be verbal and promotion of sectarianism must target a group of people, rather than an individual like Gen. Museveni.

The latest threats of criminal investigations against the UPC President arise from his comments regarding Prof. Todd Whitmore’s ‘Museveni Memo’, a document that is easy to dismiss yet fits very securely with other puzzle pieces on the enigma of northern Uganda, Joseph Kony and Gen. Museveni (See Otunnu unleashes dossier on alleged Acholi genocide, Daily Monitor, 5 January 2011). 

Anyone with open mind and even the most cursory acquaintance with the history of the northern Uganda conflict, will agree with the conclusions of the UPC president and find it hard to dismiss the Whitmore find, which could turn out to be the political and moral equivalence of the anthropological uncovering of fossils linking the great apes to homo sapiens.

Critically looked at, there is abundant  evidence to show that the Ugandan state was never interested in the wellbeing of the people of northern Uganda as it should have been. What has so far been missing is clear intent, the link between this state disinterest and  the consequences of mass suffering in Acholi, resulting into the complete destruction of the moral, social, family and economic systems of an entire society. Professor Whitmores ‘Museveni Memo’ might just be that breakthrough, plausibly tying together intent, action and consequences.

For years, the government kept the northern population in concentration camps without providing as much as a morsel, while repudiating any notion of declaring the region a disaster area to allow for massive infusions of humanitarian aid. But when a handful of cows perished as a result of drought in the southwestern cattle corridor in 2000, the president and the government were quick to declare the region a disaster area, attracting massive government response in aid. In contrast, people in camps lived on a mug of beans a month per household, barely enough to put body and soul together. By 2005, 1000 people were dying in the camps per week. For every 1000 children born  in the camps, 172 were dying, and for every 10,000 children under five years, 3.18 of them died daily in northern Uganda. When one child out of 10,000 children under five years dies every day among any population, it becomes an emergency situation demanding action.   But the government never once acted to mobilize its own resources to respond to these situations except what international charities and the UN fraternities were on their own initiatives and discretions were able to provide. Warned of famine and starvation in the north and east, a government minister advised the people there to eat mangoes and lizards.

Perhaps indicating where their interest and burdens of care lay, in December 2006, Gulu RDC Col. Walter Ochora told Frank Nyakairu that President Museveni gave 10 bulls to the LRA as Christmas gifts. Five for Owiny Ki Bul, and another five for Ri-kwangba (See Frank Nyakairu, Kony wants trial in Uganda, Daily Monitor 21 December 2006). This claim was  confirmed by the recent WikiLeaks (See Museveni feared plot by Gadaffi to kill him, Daily Monitor, 9 December 2010).

A month earlier, Grace Matsiko had reported that President Museveni  had  long running contacts with Joseph Kony and Vincent Otti. Mr. Matsiko observed that the link between the president and the LRA leaders ran through Ms. Amelia Kyambadde, the president’s Principal Private Secretary, and Gulu RDC Col. Walter Ochora Odoch. Mr. Matsiko further reported that when he arrived at the LRA tactical headquarters in the DRC forest, he learnt from Vincent Otti that the LRA were expecting  “several thousands of dollars”  from State House, Nakasero, to buy airtime for their sattelite phones in order to  maintain regular communications with State House. Although the LRA and the Uganda government both could not deny or confirm the actual amount that was coming that day, or since when president Museveni or the Uganda government had been giving the LRA finanical assistance, Mr. Matsiko’s “knowledgeable sources” indicated  the insurgents had ‘direct access to the president’ as and when they needed to, and that the LRA leadership  routinely recieved “cash” or actual airtime from State House Nakasero (See Grace Matsiko, Amelia Kyambadde and Col. Walter Ochora’s Role in Juba Peace Talks Exposed, Sunday Monitor 22-28 November 2006).

There is no evidence to show that the government refuted, denied or contradicted the accuracies of these media reports.

Further evidence of state failure and disinterest to protect and provide for noncombatant populations it had forcibly driven into camps abound. By July 2005, studies had shown HIV / AIDS incidences in the camps were six (6) times greater than the national average. According to Mr. Warren Nyamugosira of the NGO Forum, the normal national average on prevalence of the disease was between 5 and 6.7 %.  Speaking at the same workshop, Mr. Benson Ekwee Ocen, the Campaign Support Officer for the same NGO Forum, said the higher rates in northern and eastern Uganda were due to the ‘squalid conditions’ of neglect imposed on the people in the camps (See Timothy Oboth, HIV prevalence among IDPs stands at 35 %, Daily Monitor, 1 July 2005).

Comparatively, of 71 female and 27 male former abductees who returned from Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) captivity and voluntarily tested for HIV / AIDS  at Rachele Rehabilitation Centre in Lira, only one person tested HIV positive.  Of Another group of 78 former abductees who tested at a rehabilitation centre in Gulu, only 0.7% were found HIV positive. Based on these results, the studies showed  that HIV infection rates in LRA camps were lower  than the national average. None other than Els De Temmerman ( one half of  a Museveni cheerleading Dutch couple  and Editor-in-Chief of the state’s own mouthpiece daily The New Vision),  recognized that these findings belied president Museveni’s  13 April 2006 claims (at an NGO conference) that 87% of former abducted girls had AIDS; and Gender Minister Zoe Bakoko Bakoru’s September 2004 contention (at a breakfast meeting address to the UN Population Fund and Visiting European Union Delegation) that 50% of the returnees were HIV positive (See Els De Temmerman, Kony tested captives for HIV, New Vision, 29 April 2006).

These findings show stronger corelations between encampment and the virulence of the spread of the disease, than there was between abduction / captivity and rates of  infections.  Clearyly, there was something abnormal about the patterns of the spread of the HIV/AIDS virus in northern Uganda, giving credence to claims that the disease and official disinterest to control its spread was deliberate and may have been used as ‘biological weapon’ to destroy the civilian population in the camps in northern Uganda.

The notion of HIV / AIDS being used as a weapon of war and deliberately spread in northern Uganda is not farfetched. Speaking on the floor of Parliament in 2005, Hon. Jane Akwero Odwong,  Gen. Museveni’s own NRM Woman Member of Parliament (MP) for Kitgum, spoke with a ‘heavy heart’ about the mass beatings, rapes and robbery of women, school girls and men by Uganda Peoples Defence Forces (UPDF) in Padibe camp. These atrocities were committed by the Indian Battalion, who were a mobile force from 91st Battalion. Hon. Akwero Odwong noted that the women were told by the soldiers who raped them that they were on ‘biological warfare’ operations. It is worth noting that after the community and local leaders complained, instead of punishing the culprits, the military leadership transferred the 91st Battalion to Mucwini, perhaps to continue with their biological warfare (See Uganda Parliament Hansard,

The contention that the northern insurgency provided cover for some sinister political project by the NRM regime or some within it,  is not easy to dismiss with a wave of the hand; the deniers must present contrary evidence to undermine these assertions. Clearly, there are plausible grounds to suspect diabolical intent for the war in northern Uganda and why it lasted so long. It is common knowledge that in mobilizing for the NRA insurgency in the 1980s, and in the process of consolidating NRA control over the Ugandan state, President Museveni saw Uganda in north-south adversarial dichotomies, and perceived the NRA victory as a southern triumph over  a ‘backward’  “enemy north”.

The rebellion’s mobilizing ideology was based on fanning ethnic  hatred against all northerners, symbolized by ‘victory’ songs such as ‘sinadola anyanya’. In her autobiographical accounts of the Luwero war, former Museveni child soldier China Keitetsi, reveals that Museveni’s NRA insurgents were taught to believe northerners were animals who could not feel pain and could therefore withstand all manner of torture and cruelties.  Furthermore, in an address to parliament in 2002, the president justified the continuation of the military solution to the insurgency in the north ( despite the toll on Acholi society) on the grounds that the ‘chauvinism of the Acholi had to be destroyed’. By any stretch of the imagination, this could not be understood as descriptions of efforts by a statesman  or the state as duty bearer, to bring peace, re-establish law and order, and protect Ugandan citizens regardless of their social or political identities.  In addition, confirming probable authenticity of Whitmore’s ‘Museveni Memo’ regarding troublesome northern leaders, Gen. Museveni once remarked that, northern leaders like Cecilia Ogwal, Norbert Mao, Reagan Okumu et al were alive not because they were citizens and  rights holders with rights to life, but because of his (Gen. Museveni’s ) generosity that he had not killed them already (See Norbert Mao, Museveni’s unwelcome lullaby in northern Uganda, Daily Monitor 2 September 2004).

This suggests that an original position to kill these leaders existed but for a change of heart or generosity, they lived after all. Furthermore, the notion of exluding or eliminating undesirable northern leaders was first broached during the earliest attempt to settle the northern conflict through negotiations. Caroline Lamwaka observed that, NRA political and military leaders who oversaw the government’s  1986-1988 peace postures deliberately sought to leave  marginalise or exclude northern politicians because politicians might prove inflexible and obstruct the peace process between the field forces. In addition young and promising officers like Lt. Obote and Maj. Kilama who were involved with the peace process were killed in unclear circumstances (See Lamwaka, The Peace Process in Northern Uganda 1986-1990, in Lucima, Accord, Issue 11, 2002).

Furthermore, in most instances when president Museveni  employed the dualisms of separation between ‘they’ / ‘we’, ‘us’ / ‘ them’, or ‘our people’ / ‘ those people’ in his speeches, these terms denoted northerners and southerners. It is not difficult to see that, what Museveni took as ‘his people’ were southerners, and northerners were either ‘those people’,  ‘those killers’, ‘those chaps’ and such permutations. Therefore, it became easy for the ‘us’ and ‘them’ to perceive the other as less human undeserving of the same dignity and respect they reserve for themselves. History has shown that great crimes against a people were preceded by depersonlizing them. For northerners, they were ‘biological substances’, ‘killers’, ‘swine’, ‘ghost’ or ‘anyanya’ in order to first rob them of human qualities so no remorse for them could be contenanced.

The contention that at best the NRA singled out northerners for collective punishment, and at worst extermination,  is borne out by self-confessions of high ranking NRA commanders who might have known about the ‘RETHINK’ strategy in Prof. Whitmore’s ‘Museveni Memo’.  For instance, at the funeral of Brigadier Eriya Mwine (aka Chefe Ali), Maj. Gen. Caleb Akandwanaho (aka Salim Saleh and possibly Whitmore’s Meteor) revealed that Chefe Ali’s intervention ( perhaps magnanimity?) saved the Acholi from being exterminated by the NRA.  Saleh unguardedly declared: “If it was not for Brig. Chefe Ali, no UPC or Acholi would be alive”(See Chefe saved UPCs, Acholi-Saleh, The Monitor, 14 July 1999).

Furthermore, President Museveni himself adopted the line of argument that regarded all northerners or Acholi as insurgents. Confronted by The Daily Nation reporter on reports that government operations in the north and east were destroying food crops, burning down homes and food stores, the president retorted: “I don’t think we are destroying people’s crops. We are destroying rebel crops and stores” (See Daily Nation –Nairobi  26 January 1987).

There is little doubt therefore, that government counterinsurgency policies deliberately targeted civilian populations in northern and eastern Uganda for collective punishments. Questioned on allegations of his army’s abuses against civilians in northern and eastern Uganda, Museveni had this to say: “ You see when you give them (northern and eastern civilian population) a good beating then those who are using them will no longer use them. Since the month of January (1987), we have given them much beating especially in Lira and Kitgum districts. And in fact the week I left (for Yugoslavia) we had given them a good blow in Gulu district. So it is going to settle down” (See New Vision 19 January 1987).

The government perceived the northern and eastern population as a bastion of the UPC, and therefore hostile and left intact pose serious  future threats  to Museveni’s and NRA consolidation of power northwards and eastwards, for which they were targeted for collective punishments and impoverishments. And when resistance broke out as a result of atrocities committed by Museveni’s army in Buu-Cooro, Mukura and Namukora to mention but three incidents, the population were regarded as rebels or rebel sympathisers and were collectively and severely punished by government troops.

On the other hand, as soon as the government had established some semblance of control over the region, insurgents saw those who participated in the local council administrations as collaborators against the insurgency. Again the population were targeted by the rebels for collective punishments, particularly in Acholi by the LRA. Unbelievably, the government did not do enough to protect or provide for populations it had deliberately removed into camps, where over 2000 people died weekly and LRA routinely raided the camps and abducted children at will. Hence government actions and inactions, and rebel activities against civilian populations intersected to concoct a brew of nothing less than genocide in northern Uganda-‘deliberately inflicting on (a) group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part’.

"Speaking Truth To Empower."


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