The Causes and Effects of the Northern War in Uganda and the Quest for a Just and Speedy Permanent Resolution
In contribution to the on- going discussions about the origins, causes, effects and possible solutions to crisis in Northern Uganda and Acholi in particular, this paper draws not only on our recent history but also on opinions sections of the Acholi community that have been forced into exile by NRA repression. Discussions at various Acholi Association meetings especially that of the 11th January 1997 at which resolutions were passed have particularly informed this presentation.
Since 1962, Uganda’s year of Independence , Ugandans have been daunted by numerous military conflicts as a result of the polarisation of one ethnic group against another, or, the polarisation of a collection of ethnic groups against each other. These conflicts have been revengeful, retributive and vindictive. Until and unless the “leaders” of Uganda show sufficient political good will and address the root causes to these problems, Ugandans may have a long way to go before they can achieve real peace and settle down to developing their country.
For the last ten years, the world has been witnessing one of the most brutal, bloody and savage war that has been quietly raging unabated in northern Uganda. Because of its deliberate policy of concealment, the NRM has made sure that details of this war are purposely distorted. or simply kept as top secrets. Many Ugandans are totally ignorant about this war. The extent of loss of lives, the destruction and damage inflicted on the people of northern Uganda are little known to many. The little that many think they know about this conflict is a product of perfect distortions by the NRM regime.
The Acholi Association through its immigration and welfare work with members of our community have come across a large number of our people who have experienced, witnessed and encountered many unbelievable events. Many have been tortured, imprisoned and had their relatives and friends killed in the most horrific of ways during these many years of war by the NRM/A regime against the people of northern Uganda and in particular the Acholi. Our people have suffered immensely beyond any imagination and only time will reveal the real extent of their ordeal.
A contributor in one of the Acholi Association meetings said:
“There is no good war and there is no bad peace”
War inevitably brings with it some of the worst sufferings known to mankind example of which are here and many presentations have or will deal with. However, if a group of people are faced with threats against their lives, one cannot blame them for fighting for their survival.
The prospects for the quick restoration of peace and security in Acholi looks bleak and far reached mainly because of President Museveni’s attitude and style of leadership. Museveni’s love for victory and humiliating his defeated opponents is one of the main driving force behind his arrogance and intransigence to a peaceful resolution of the conflict.
Acholi Association, an organisation for the Acholi Community in the United Kingdom, held an emergency meeting to discuss further contentious issues that are fuelling perpetual political strife in Uganda for the last 11 years in London on 29 March 1997. The discussions particularly addressed the atrocious humanitarian consequences of the war between the National Resistance Movement government and political dissidents in Northern Uganda.
Uganda’s experience in the last eleven years has shown that military solution to political conflicts has failed. The Association considers that it is the responsibility of the government to provide peace and security to all its citizens to reach a comprehensive resolution of the contentious issues while avoiding passing legislation which disenfranchises sections of Ugandans. Besides Uganda should respect the sovereignty of neighbouring countries. Acholi Association will support and effectively participate in discussions in search of a peaceful resolution of Uganda’s conflicts.
4.0. Demands (Recommendation).
We the Acholi refugees who have fled from war in our homeland and sought asylum in Great Britain, have asked ourselves again the same old questions that, what was the cause of our troubles at home, and what is the government doing to our people at home? The answer is the same old one that, the trouble in Acholi is due to the on going war. It was President Lt. General Yoweri Museveni who started the fighting. We hereby call upon the government to publish a list of the atrocities and destruction of properties, looting of cattle and murders committed by the NRA and tell the Acholi community and Uganda as a whole what it will do to compensate for these atrocities and destruction. There is so much suffering, poverty, disease and deaths in Acholi due to the ongoing war. We call upon the government and various aid agencies and humanitarian organisations to come forward to the rescue of our people at home. It is vitally important for governance in Acholi to be handed back to the community. We therefore call upon government to abolish the office of “Pacification of Northern Uganda”.
Peace shall not return home as long as Uganda government continues to harbour the Sudanese rebel soldiers of SPLA and John Garang in Acholi. We therefore call upon the government to remove the SPLA, their bases and John Garang form Acholi, to stop further suffering of our people.
The Association stressed that the acceptance of the premise that the fundamental human rights, the rule of law, democracy based of freedom of choice and just and honest government are the essential political values for the establishment of peace and stability. Affirming that all human rights and fundamental freedoms are indivisible and inter-related, the Association urges the Uganda government, a signatory to the United Nations Bill of Human rights, to respect and uphold civil and political rights as well as economic, social and cultural rights equally and uniformly throughout the country.
The Association noted with great appreciation the tireless efforts exerted by the Acholi Parliamentary Group and other patriotic members of Parliament to raise the war in the North up on the national political agenda. We also express gratitude to the International Aid Agencies and the United nation Agencies that have contributed or are contributing humanitarian assistance to the victims of the hideous war.
The Acholi Community in the United Kingdom, however, firmly believes that military victory cannot, and will not, resolve Uganda’s political conflicts. These conflicts, related to the National Resistance Army’s seizure of power, NRM’s political manipulations to maintain and monopolise power, human rights abuses, injustice, rampant corruption, and the role played, and continued to be played, by Rwanda and Burundi Tutsi in government and the private sector, are some of the issues that must be addressed. It has taken 11 years, loss of over 500,000 lives in direct combat and caused malnutrition and diseases exasperated by war, devastation of economic infrastructure without winning peace. As was witnessed in Zimbabwe, Mozambique and South Africa, peaceful and diplomatic negotiations as the most effective methods of conflict resolution. The negotiations must involve all parties involved in the conflict, be free of pre-conditions and the accompanied by political will on the side of holders of state power.
The Association is deeply concerned about the 380,000 people, including children, women and senior citizens, have been made homeless by the NRM government’s policy of depopulating rural areas by driving the residents into towns and ‘protected villages’. These ‘protected villages’ are neither protected nor built up villages but a collection of civil population with a few movable possessions herded around army units in awful sanitary conditions. The result is severe overcrowding and pollution with risks of spreading communicable diseases. Kitgum town is already ravaged by the epidemic of cholera causing loss of lives that could have been avoided. This, we consider is cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment which violates Article 3 and 5 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and it should be brought to a speedy end.
The Association observed that the policy of ‘protected villages’ is converting self-sufficient farmers into destitute aid dependants and expect the situation will get far more desperate after six months as the population are not free or safe to plant their crops at the start of the current rainy season. The resources used to purchase and administer humanitarian aid in Kitgum and Gulu districts could be more cost effective if spent on agricultural extension projects in the rural areas.
Recalling the results of May 1996 Presidential Election, the Association noted that although President Museveni claimed 75% support over all, he was rejected by 80% of the voters in the North. This was a clear indictment of his policy by significant portion of Uganda population and has delivered an emphatic message that there is room for alternate policies and political, programme besides the NRM’s. Legislating this ‘minority’ into supporting the NRM would constitute a violation of freedom of Assembly and Association (Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 20). Marginalising them from participating in the governing of their country, on the other hand, will remain a permanent conflict which the NRM could avoid. The Association, therefore, urges the NRM government to withdraw the National Resistance Movement Bill (1996) and repeal the obnoxious Articles 269, 270, and 271 and the superfluous Articles 69, 70 and 71 of the Uganda Constitution (1 995).
The Association wishes to voice concern about Uganda’s involvement in the internal conflicts of other sovereign states which is costing the tax payers heavily and diverting scarce funds from education, health and other social services. The role played by the NRM in the war to install the Rwanda Patriotic Front in government between 1990 and 1994 as well as Uganda’s continued support to Kigali is well known. Uganda’s active participation in civil war in Zaire, being currently observed by the international news media, is no secret.
The Association’s most pertinent concern is the military build-up at the northern border which has resulted in the evacuation of a large population from Atiak, Palabek, Lokung and Padibe, The Association was appalled by the information that United States of America has allocated military aid to Uganda, and two other African countries, for the purpose of overthrowing the government of Sudan. This report, entitled “Wielding Aid, US Targets Sudan” was filed by David B Ottaway in the Washington Post, 10 November 1996. While respecting the well considered USA foreign policy decision, the Association condemns any involvement of Uganda in subversive activities against a sovereign state. Besides this being a contravention of U.N and OAU Charters, Uganda’s know that when two elephants fight, it the grass that suffers”. To avoid further loss of lives and destruction of properties in Arua, Moyo, Gulu and Kitgum areas, the Acholi Association appeals to all parties involved to seek for peaceful solution to the Sudan conflicts.
Ladies and gentlemen, I once again on behalf of Acholi community in the UK, convey to you all our warmest thanks, appreciation and fortitude in the hope that we shall at last find the solution to the tragedy of our long suffering people.
God bless you all.