Saturday, July 29, 2006

30th July 2005: The Day South Sudanese Will Never Forget

By John A. Akec

Few events have ever shaken Sudan than when John Garang de Mabior, the SPLM founder and long time leader, died in a mysterious plane crash on his way back from a visit to Uganda on July 30, 2005. This happened barely 3 weeks from the day of his return to Khartoum on 8 July 2005 after 22 years in exile. On that memorable day of home coming, 6 million Sudanese from all corners of the country and from Diaspora turned up to receive him in Green Square in Khartoum. Garang was inaugurated to the position of First Vice President of Sudan the following day. In itself, a giant step forward for the people of South Sudan and those who have been marginalized from the centre of power in Sudan since independence. Just in mid 1980s, John Garang quipped after turning down an offer of a vice president: “Struggle pays. The more we fire our guns, the more concessions we will win”, to the cheers of his audience.

My favourite line from his July 9th inaugural speech in Khartoum has to be: “O Sudanese [people], open your wings wide and fly, and fly, for your freedom has come!” John Garang was an orator of the first order. He knew how to move and enthuse crowds. But above all, he had a clear vision for the sort of Sudan he wanted: where he is above no body and no body is above him. He stuck to that vision till the day of his burial. A vision for wish he was bitterly criticised by fellow South Sudanese who accused him of hijacking Southern dream for independence and substituting it with an “illusive” and “unattainable” notion of New Sudan. But as many of his detractors came to realise, the vision of New Sudan that Garang advocated for does not necessarily exclude the right of the people of South Sudan to determine their own future. It merely creates conditions for such a right to be exercised freely without fear, coercion, or intimidation from the central government. The advantage of Garang’s vision is that it won South Sudan political allies and sympathisers from all corners of Sudan for the first time. Even after his death, and change of SPLM leadership, Garang’s vision continues to impact and shape the future of Sudan in a big way. It is this far-reaching vision that many South Sudanese suspect is responsible for premature death of their leader. Many suspect that the long arm of the central government might have colluded with third parties to assassinate Dr John Garang.

The relationship between South Sudan and Uganda is similar to that between mankind and the ocean. The man depends on the ocean for fish and good things it treasures. But when the tide comes and the ocean rages, it takes away the very life it once sustained. In like manner, Uganda has been one of the countries we, the South Sudanese, run to in order to escape persecution at home. But Uganda is also the place where our leaders had been most susceptible to assassinations.

For example, one of the founders of Anya Nya movement, Fr. Saturnino Ohure, a catholic priest turned politician, was shot dead by a Ugandan soldier near Kitgum on January 22, 1967 as he was travelling in Ugdanda. A colleague of Saturnino Ohure and his biographer, Fr. V. Dellagiacoma , described him as “a distinguished priest, and an unselfish, prudent, and courageous leader.”

Again in early 1971, a year before the signing of Addis Ababa agreement, the Ugandan government collaborated with Khartoum government of Jafaar Numeri to arrest and extradite Wolf Steiner, a former German mercenary and Nazi fugitive who volunteered to train Anya Nya soldiers. He was handed over to government of Sudan which paraded him over Sudan’s TV as before handing him over to the German government. South Sudanese believed the move was not to help Nazi victims find justice, but was meant to deal a blow to their movement.

As if that was not enough, John Garang met his death after visiting his long time friend, president Yoweri Museveni of Uganda and was travelling on Ugandan presidential helicopter when the plane crashed into a mountain range on Friday night of July 30, 2005. The report of the multinational crash investigation team that was published in May 2006 has thrown open the door to asking more questions than the report was able to answer.

This is the sum total of our troubled, yet enduring relationships with Uganda. Today, the government of South Sudan had defied the international indifference to war in Northern Uganda and has put its energy and resources in helping both the government of that country and LRA negotiate a peaceful end to the conflict. This relationship is best described as bitter sweet. Not sweet bitter. South Sudan cannot run away from Uganda, nor can Uganda. The storm may kill us, but no sooner are our feet on the shore than when we are back in the midst of it.

I find the words in Cressidia Cowell’s children book: Hiccup The Viking Who Was Seasick most appropriate in describing the defiant spirit of Southern Sudan. The words appeared in a song that was sang by Stoick the Vast to encourage his timid son, Hiccup, who was afraid to venture into the sea as all the Vikings used to do fearlessly:

I [the Viking] have blacked the thousand eyes
Of thousand angry Gales
Watch me knock the cockles off
The biggest bluest Whales
I have given walrus nightmares
Who thought that they were Strong
I marooned a huge typhoon
On an Island off Hong Kong
O ancient prawn-y green-ness
The never-ending Sea
Mess with squirmy jellyfish
But do not mess with Me!

John Garang gave all for the sake of our freedom. We will never forget the day in which our hopes seemed to have crashed with him on that mountain range, that gloomy night of July 30, 2006. Garang’s precious memory and his undivided dedication to our cause, together with his forbearers: Saturnino Ohure, William Deng and many unsung heroes will continue to be an inspiration to many generations of South Sudanese freedom fighters, for long time to come.

Monday, July 24, 2006

Northern Uganda: The Implications of Peace or the Lack of It

By John A. Akec

The best description of peace talks in Juba between the government of Uganda and LRA is that they are heading nowhere. It appears to me that the Ugandan government delegation is there on a face-saving mission at best, and at worst carry out research on the LRA and then kill the talks. And as long as Museveni’s regime believes it is not under military threat, or pressure from the world community, it feels it has nothing to lose if talks fail.

The government delegation believes they are there to tell LRA to disarm, disband, and be reintegrated into Ugandan society. The delegation is not there to acknowledge the authenticity of political grievances that created LRA in the first place. Despite finally accepting to meet face to face with LRA delegation, it is still unable psychologically to recognise the delegation appointed by LRA high command, preferring to talk to Joseph Kony directly. I will be the least surprised if Ugandan government delegation next time demands to be allowed to pick the members of LRA negotiating team. That is what happens when a regime has been ruling and oppressing its citizens for over two decades. Such leaders-for-life increasingly come to live in ivory towers far removed from reality. The Ugandan political elite have too much faith in their infallibility and would not tolerate being criticised in the open. As South Sudanese, there is no trick in the Ugandan government book that I have never seen being deployed the government of Sudan against the insurgency in Southern Sudan.

What’s more, the government of Uganda (GoU) has refused to accept the most obvious of requirements and demands of a promising negotiation: the importance of ceasefire. This is a missed opportunity for the government to demonstrate to the world that it is serious to bring about a just peace and that they are just not in Juba to negotiate a smooth LRA surrender. Ceasefire is a nice starter that can be a win-win-win strategy for all concerned (GoU-LRA-GOSS) specially if the negotiating parties are serious about ending the suffering of their people. In this case, the LRA called for a ceasefire agreement to be reached, the government delegation rejected it out of hand.

According to Dr Ruhakana Rugunda, Ugandan Interior Minister and head of Government delegation, the LRA is going to exploit ceasefire in order to: “ Recruit and arm their fighters, re-organise their forces, treat their sick, unearth buried arms and ammos, loot and stock food, rejuvenate collaborators’ networks, and continue with the hostilities unabated.” An ICC official could have issued a similar statement.

All this does not put into consideration the fact that many observers have more often than not accused the Ugandan government of blowing up opportunities to negotiate peace with LRA through the issuing of ultimatums, ambushing negotiating teams, sowing seeds of division amongst LRA negotiating team, and buying the mediator’s favour. That Kampala’s government eventually assassinated those opposition leaders who signed agreements with Museveni in the past. That is not just the LRA who suffers from credibility deficit but Museveni government is one of worst offenders and abusers of trust since war began in 1986. We can go on to support this argument with well documented reasons.

Hence, unless the parties begin a new page and learn to trust each other and start to believe that what will be agreed will be honoured; they are wasting Dr Machar’s precious time. Worst, by refusing to sign a ceasefire, the GoU may be planning to exploit “confidence building” measures and contacts with Kony to locate LRA leaders in order to launch a surprise attack (in coordination with DCR) on LRA positions. And with luck, settle the problem there by getting rid of Kony once and for all. This can deal a blow to Acholi’s resistance, which Joseph Kony has come to symbolise. But the consequences of that action may come to haunt Museveni for the rest of his life. It will forever eliminate “negotiation” in the equation of ending the war in Northern Uganda. It will be a good ticket for all to engage in an open-ended war that will further tear Ugandan society apart.

According to media sources, it was government delegation that was allowed to make a first opening statement followed by LRA’s. All agree that it should have been the other way round. As an organisation with grievances against the status quo, LRA should have been allowed to make the first opening statement. The government should then follow. All the same, it just happened to take that precedence. Martin Ojur summed up the grievances as:

“Political persecution and marginalisation, demeaning attitude designedly expressed by people in power to insult and demonise some ethnic groups in the country, deliberate imbalance and disparity in the development of our country, …”

Ojur then declared that his movement will demand for protection of human rights, good governance, halting the state-backed land grabbing and cattle rustling, acceptance of cultural diversity, respect of international law and territorial integrity, peaceful coexistence with all countries, among others. Ojur also called for the “ethnically-based” Ugandan army (Ugandan Peoples Defence Force, UPDF), that has been accused of heinous atrocities in Northern Uganda to disband and be replaced by a new ethnically balanced army that include people from Northern and Eastern Uganda (who have been marginalized and by-passed by economic development under president Museveni).

For Ugandan delegation, it was all rage, rage, and rage! The GoU is not accustomed to hearing these kinds of utterances. In true democracy, you can guarantee to hear brutal criticism being heaped on the government by those in opposition on a daily basis as a duty of doing the people’s bidding. The manifested shock at what could have been a normal opposition speech is the litmus of democratic tolerance in Uganda. There is none. And despite the impressive improvement of economic life in some parts of Uganda, the citizens of that country are anything but free.

Sources in Juba say the government delegation almost packed their suitcases in order to head for Juba airport on their way back to Kampala. It took hours of persuasions from Dr Riek Machar for them to return to the negotiating table.

On Tuesday, the head of government negotiating team had to issue another statement to refute the allegations labelled against the GoU by the LRA in its opening statement. The statement praised UDPF as “professional and envy of the region.” That it never committed any atrocities or killed its citizens. He asserted that the current constitution is more than capable to address any grievances, including the alleged land grabbing.

As things stand, the government of Uganda does not believe that it is doing anything wrong to merit the overhaul of the current system of governance. This is Africa’s old problem of lack of compromise, and explains why wars in Europe, America and elsewhere took fewer years to end. We lack the art of compromise in spirit of coexistence. Everywhere in Africa, Uganda included, we are haunted by “winner takes all” mentality.

Sudan and Uganda’s old colonial masters, the British, were masters of both craftiness and compromise. History is full of British fighting decolonisation forces, and then quickly turning around to device a policy that puts the colonised on the road to independence by making concessions and enacting changes to address and accommodate grievances of the colonised. Colonisation has no colour, as John Garang observed. Most African leaders who have supposedly been educated in this great British culture have apparently missed the obvious: conflict resolution and ability to recognise that there are times when future disasters can be avoided by implementing a change in direction and tone. Conflict resolution always requires giving up something in exchange for something. In this case, it is peace and stability in Uganda, Sudan, and Democratic Republic of Congo (DCR).

President Mengistu of Ethiopia was confident enough in his regime’s military might that he flatly refused to settle the Eritrean problem on a negotiating table. Mengistu’s military machine eventually collapsed, and he had to flee the country to a life of exile in Zimbabwe. If Siad Bare were wise enough, he would have seen the break up of Somalia coming long before it actually happened. There is nothing new about Uganda government attempt to dodge the truth.

Yes, UPDF may deceptively appear so “professional” and so “smart” that it could be wrongly perceived as capable of finding a military solution to rebellion in Northern Uganda. Yet, its fate will not be different from that of the armies that fought to maintain the status quo on the expense of equality and justice- and eventually lost. Even Alexander the great forces had to retreat at some point. Hitler’s tanks and aircraft did not safe him.

Instead of solving its internal problems amicably, the current Ugandan government prefers to pursue its dissidents across its borders into neighbours’ territories. Once their army is there, they begin to mess up with the security and stability of the neighbour. Uganda only respects Kenya and Tanzania. It is a respect similar to that of thief fearing a well-guarded compound. Otherwise, Uganda tried before to interfere with Rwandan politics, which later backfired badly. It has been exporting wars into Democratic Republic of Congo. Its armies roam in large parts of South Sudan in search for the LRA. This has made it difficult to differentiate between the security breaches by Ugandan army and those of LRA.

Apparently, the Uganda patient does not feel it needs a doctor. People are going to read the Ugandan refusal to enact radical changes in their political system to accommodate ethnic diversity and combat the feeling of marginalisation in the East and the North of Uganda as an insistence to continue to export its own troubles to its neighbours. This is despite the fact that Ugandan political problems are not dissimilar to those of Sudan, and can be addressed in similar manner.

A peaceful conclusion to war in Northern Uganda will bring great benefits to the region. Uganda will be amongst the beneficiaries of stability in Southern Sudan and Northern Uganda as goods can be allowed to flow freely as trade barriers fall for the mutual benefits of the two entities. Not only that, for next few years, the balance of trade will be in Uganda’s favour. That will be worth billions of dollars of export to South Sudan in goods, agricultural produces, and services. Ugandans skills will be hired in large numbers in Southern Sudan. As we speak, the government of South Sudan has adopted Ugandan international code for its new mobile phone company. In other words, Southern Sudan is already a province of Uganda!

Furthermore, South Sudan will also try to invest in Ugandan agriculture, forestry, fishery, transport system, electricity, petroleum refining, among others. That will be to good an incentive too sacrifice on the altar of greed and myopia.


These will be too numerous to count. They include development of hostile relationships between the two countries and may lead to war. The Nilotics in the East and North of Uganda may decide to fight for independence from Uganda and seek long-term integration with Southern Sudan. A third possibility is what professor Mohammed Mamdani of Columbia University recently warned about: the possibility of emergence of new and powerful political movement in the North in alliance with the current political opposition in Uganda against Museveni’s regime and NRM that will threaten to eclipse the LRA. Between these three scenarios lie a myriad of combinations. None of them will favour Museveni in medium to long term.

The new government of Southern Sudan has started a vital process. But it lacks the clout and the resources to pressure the warring parties to craft a viable settlement. Even if an agreement is reached, the chances of its implementation will be nil. The International community must provide support, pressure, and guarantees to reaching a just solution to the LRA war. Recently, Mr Kofi Annan has expressed UN’s support of the principle of negotiation. He however appeared helpless in regard to the objection by the Ugandan government to appointment of a UN envoy for Northern Uganda who will supervise the talk and act as the eyes of the international community. As far as things stand, it is a no-go area. The matter is regarded as closed which is very sad indeed.

On the other hand, South Africa has expressed its readiness to act as a supervisor and observer of peace talks in Juba if invited by any of the parties. So far, no one has acted on this offer. It is therefore high time for the government of Southern Sudan to be realistic about what it can achieve by itself and within its meagre resources. It needs to call for the support of international community.

In order to achieve real peace and not just a gesture of good will by the international community, more resources and support are needed. There is danger that Ugandan government will do all it can to strangle the talks. This opportunity must not be allowed to slip away like others in the past.

Friday, July 14, 2006

South Sudan Communities Everywhere: How about Taking a Leaf from Maimonides?

By John A. Akec

I do not know how any community can survive without strong culture and ethics that encourage members to support those in need. Yet, when I look around and see where South Sudanese Diaspora [and our communities at home] are heading, I find much to worry about. It seems Western individualism is quickly taking its roots in our midst. And to be fair, there are still pockets of communal ‘solidarity’ shown here and there. Some sub-communities are better than others. But generally, the overall picture is not bright. For example, during times of bereavements members of our community have a strong culture for showing sympathy, albeit selective one amongst members of our community who share a common interest [mostly political], especially if the one in need is a ‘popular guy’ with a good circle of friends or a large and powerful interest group. This culture of ‘interest groups’ is all pervasive amongst Diaspora. It cuts across subcultures. Common language, blood relationships, location of origin, and common traditions are not given the same priority they once received back home. It is very much about “scratch my back and I will scratch yours.” Real charity ought to be giving and expecting nothing as a reward.

It is true that many of us living in the West have been making heavy financial sacrifices in order to share the little we have with our close relatives whom we left behind home. Some of us make contribution to good causes from time to time. We can support the work of our associations financially when we can afford it. We are not as bad as it may look. The work of philanthropy we already do deserves appreciation.

That said, there is still a nagging concern as to whether or not we are doing all we could to help the needy amongst us. And by need I do not mean only being short of money, important as it is. I mean needs of every sort. And to be brutally honest there are glaring gaps and shortfalls in our ‘good deeds” or acts of kindness for which we can feel ashamed.

First of all, it is a common knowledge that various communities have area or local associations that collect subscriptions from their members. That many community associations’ governing documents contain at least clause suggesting that an association is there to cater for the needs of the community in the host country in addition to those in the native country of origin. Yet in reality when one of their numbers is in great need (for example, she or he has to pay for medical operation or is unable to work because of sickness), the association does absolutely nothing to help them. Does it sound like a familiar story? Would the “association” not have been more caring if the “management committee” could meet and make a little and reasonable payment from “the funds” to the member in need as a token of support, solidarity, and encouragement? Would it not be good for the community concerned if the honourable committee members could go around without stirring up any attention of the beneficiary to solicit extra support of in different shape or form from the association membership which they could then kindly deliver to the afflicted member of the association on top of what has already been contributed directly from the association funds? Would that not make a huge difference to the member in need?

Another thing: I am sure we would agree that not everybody in Diaspora is fortunate enough to live with his or her family members around. Some are elderly and frail. Many have chronic health problems. They struggle to do their shopping. Others are too weak to clean their homes properly and adequately. There are also those who struggle with their weekly laundering. Still others are unable to cook fresh food for their own feeding and so end up resorting to packed meals, junk food, or go for expensive take-aways they can ill afford. And when any of these vulnerable members of our community is sick, no one calls. During cold or snowy days months of winter, many have great difficulties going around to meet their needs such as doing shopping or going to pay a bill at a post office. Few are fortunate to have conscientious friends and relatives. Others are not. Who takes the blame for our lack of sensitivity to the needs of the most vulnerable and the frail among us in Diaspora? Are they left in care of the state of the host country whose resources are already stretched with its aging population and declining birth rate?

How would it be like if members of community try to be more sensitive and try to take TURNS in helping by giving some of their time to cleaning up, doing the shopping for the frail in our community when the weather is bad, visiting the elderly and those living alone, cooking, washing up, inviting those living alone for a meal once in a while or to invite them to spend Christmas day with our families and to be cheered up by us?

The above are not the only categories in needs. It varies from one age group to another. There are those who are homeless. There are lone mothers whose husbands or partners are not with them for various reasons. They have a hospital appointment at the time when they are supposed to collect their kids from school. Some work. Sometimes they have to juggle with tasks. Sometimes they are sick and unable to accompany their young kids to the school. There is the young couple with a toddler and expecting another one. Husband working. The wife may be suffering from morning sickness. They are as desperate as anyone else for a little help. Often, there is no much support from friends and family, not to mention the immediate community. We like them fit. We do not like them sick, homeless, or in need. Etcetera.

Even the Western societies which we may regard as individualistic, make provisions for those in need by supporting work of charitable organisations that target specific need group such as homeless or those suffering from domestic violence and so on. As an example, we have Christian charity called Salvation Army, that runs feeding centres in big cities that serve hot soup for rough sleepers and homeless. They also provide overnight accommodation for those who need it. Other organisations in Britain provide confidential telephone services. There are numbers to call during weekend, Christmas time, or over New Year for anyone feeling alone or wants to talk to somebody. Last Christmas they made appeals in the media for people to contribute some of their time (from as little as 10 or 15 minutes) to be able to provide some service where it is needed such as visiting an elderly, baby sitting for a single mum, or taking an elderly out for a walk . The organisation aimed to get a pledge for volunteers to contribute up to 2 billion minutes of their time to be used in the community. This is 2 billion minutes! Not pounds.

Jews have very strong charitable ethics. In the Bible, we read that every Jew was required by the law to contribute 10 percent of their wealth to support the Levites (Jewish tribe whose job was to serve spiritually). Also, a Jew is required to harvest a field and leave 10 percent of crops unharvested. Aliens (foreigners) or those who are poor and have nothing can go there and harvest some of it for their own feeding. Is that not wonderful?

One of Jewish community leaders called (Maimonides) who lived in 12 century in Egypt laid out different levels of giving, or for doing good. Maimonides was born in Spain to a Jewish family. He immigrated to Morocco to escape persecution in Spain. From there went to live in Egypt. He was a physician, philosopher, teacher, and community leader. He presented acts of kindness or justice in form of a ladder in which the first on the list is rated as the lowest level of giving and the last (8 th) as the highest.

Here they are:
(1) Reluctance: To give but grudgingly (Lowest level of philanthropy)

(2) Proportion: To give to the poor less than one can actually afford, but to do it cheerfully

(3) Solicitation: To offer money to the needy after being asked to do so

(4) Shame: To hand money to the poor before being asked, but in a way that risks humiliating the recipient

(5) Boundaries: To give to someone unknown to you, but allow your name to be revealed to them

(6) Corruption: To do good to someone you know, but without making them find out from whom he or she is receiving help

(7) Anonymity: To help someone you don’t know anonymously

(8) Responsibility or Self-Reliance: To offer someone a gift or a loan or to enter into a partnership with him, or to find an employment for him or her, so that he or she will never have to be destitute need again. (Highest level of philanthropy)

These are powerful ethical values that encourage a Jew to do good to a fellow Jew as well as non-Jewish fellow human in need. I believe we can assign similar ratings to these varying levels of benevolence in our communities.

Maimonides did not think that it was going to be easy climb that ladder of philanthropy, but believed we can start grudgingly, and as we get used to it, do it cheerfully, and abundantly.

These are not just Jewish ethics, they appeal to the best of our human instinct. It is my prayer that we may take a leaf from Maimonides’ wisdom.

Would you spare a minute or a cent and help someone near you today? Answer the call.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Northern Uganda: Prospects for Peace in Our Time

By John A. Akec
11 July 2006

On Wednesday 12 July 2006, the Uganda government representatives and an LRA (Lord Resistance Army) team are expected to meet in Juba, the capital of Southern Sudan, to negotiate a deal to end 20-year civil war that raged in northern Uganda. The LRA team has been waiting in Juba for more than 3 weeks while the government of Uganda until last week has been reluctant to negotiate with those they described as "terrorist indicted by International Criminal Court." Most recently, the Ugandan government appears to have been persuaded to talk to LRA after a high level delegation came to meet authorities in the government of Southern Sudan. It appears their main reasons for coming to negotiate is the failure of the UN and ICC to arrest Kony. Today, Uganda government is calling Kony or his deputy to lead the peace talks. Is this not a precondition? Why should anyone choose opponent negotiator when peace talks has not even began and the issues of contention unknown? Is this not the usual Museveni default position when peace talks get closer when he chooses to blow up the opportunity as he did with many previous attempts?

According to president Museveni, the problem is LRA. The concession is to offer LRA leaders an amnesty. Joseph Kony and his comrades will be forgiven and integrated into Ugandan society. The internally displaced persons currently living in 200 concentration camps will be allowed to return to their homes. There will be no more war in northern Uganda. Everyone will celebrate. Long lives Museveni. Long lives the new breed of African leaders. The dawn for peace and prosperity, equality and justice has finally arrived. Or has sit?

Many know LRA as an organisation whose sole objective was to overthrow president Museveni and then rule Uganda by 10 Commandments. Joseph Kony, they believe, is a man shrouded in mysticism and lives in a world far detached from reality. He has no political programme, many would argue.

Because of LRA methods, aggravated by the demonisation by the media, and the "terrorist label" it has come to acquire, thanks to president George Bush's new war on terror sparked by 9/11, many Acholi intellectuals at home and Diaspora have found themselves increasingly alienated and ashamed to identify with the LRA cause. That in turn has deprived LRM/LRA agenda from intellectual input. Yet, LRA is the only tool in the hands of Northern Ugandans to claim back their rights from the Southern-dominated government in Kampala.

Dr Francis Mading Deng, a Sudanese political anthropologist, writer, diplomat, and academic, once eloquently put it: "What divides is what has not been said". It took generations of South Sudanese freedom fighters and some insight by William Deng and later John Garang, to succinctly define the reasons behind the vicious circle of armed conflict between the Northernn and the Southern parts of Sudan. John Garang defined problem of Sudan as "problem of marginalisation of the periphery by minority clique regime in Khartoum."

Root causes determination is a key to unlocking the door to sustainable peace, stability, and unity. It takes a short-sighted general to reduce a complex civil strife such as seen raging in many African nations, Uganda included, to pure "security problem" that can be solved by defeating the rebels. That is how Sudanese spent half a century in un-winnable war. No sooner is the military "cure" found to the rebellion than new local, regional, and international conditions arise that breath new life into the rebellion, and lo, it erupts again with more destructive ferocity.

A number of articles written by distinguished Ugandan academics and journalists, that appeared in Accord journal published in 2002 by the international conflict resolution organisation, Conciliation Resources (CR), describe the causes behind the war in Northern Uganda as "multi-faceted". In short, the war is a bad mix of local, national, regional, and international factors. The causes are entwined that it is very hard to see how they can be untangled in order to device a viable and just solution. Hard, though, is not necessarily impossible to resolve.

The conflict has roots in colonial policies of divide and rule which favoured one region of the country against the other; militarisation of Uganda political system and power struggle since the rule of Idi Amin in 1971 and amongst different armed movements in mid 1980s along ethnic lines characterised by politics of revenge, power "consolidation" after victory through ethnic cleansing of the opponents, and rampant "winner takes all" attitude to power struggle. For example, the rise of National Resistance Movement/Army (NRM/A) led by Yoweri Museveni, a southerner, by overthrowing the government of Titto Okello Lukwa, an Acholi from the north was followed by a period of bloody brutality, looting of properties (livestock), rape, extra-judicial executions, wide spread human rights abuses, and violence against northern civilians by NRA (Accord, 2002).

Nationally, despite NRM claims of bringing relative stability to southern and western parts of Uganda, it lacks political legitimacy because of the way it acquired power in 1986. Uganda by and large is a no-party system. All other parties are in name only. President Museveni as far as reality is concerned is above law and constitution as demonstrated by his decision to stand for the office for the third term contrary to national constitution. Museveni’s challenger, Dr Kizza Besigye, was accused on trumped up charges in order to prevent him from mounting a serious campaign against Museveni in February 2006 presidential elections. There are hardly any check and balances. President Museveni owns a private army (personal security) of 10,000 strong. This is comparable to Saddam Hussien’s elitie army, the presidential guards. President Museveni appears to be running Uganda mostly through his own informal channels that by-pass the officialdom.

Uganda society is not that free. Security and judges continue to harass the press for the slightest criticism of the government through misinterpretation of law and constitution. This was expressed by Joseph Kony in a recent interview with British journalist, Sam Framer, when he said:

""We want the people of Uganda to be free. We are fighting for democracy. We want our leader to be elected - but not a movement like the one of Museveni." At the moment, the people of Uganda have no choice apart from Yoweri Museveni.

Locally, the war in northern Uganda has exacerbated previously existing economic inequities between the North and the South. In Acholiland in Northern Ugandan (Gulu, Kitgum, and Pader), some 250,000 children go without education. 95 percent of the population live in poverty, 3 times higher than current national average. 70 percent of Northern Ugandans live in absolute poverty. HIV/AIDS infections are up 40 percent. There are 3500 deaths every month from preventable diseases and violence, which is 3 times higher than mortality rates recorded in Darfur in 2005.

Elsewhere in Uganda, the inflation has fallen from 150 percent in 1986 to 5 percent in 2004. Those living below poverty line fell from 56 percent in 1992 to 37 percent in 2003. Half of Ugandan budget comes in form of foreign aid. Britain is one of the largest donors, contribution nearly £ 0.500 billion every year (£ 478 million per year to be precise). Hence, under Museveni, Southern Ugandans never had it so good, while Northern Ugandans never had it so bad.
Regionally, LRA was helped by Sudan government as a tit for tat for Uganda’s support for Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM). After signing of peace agreement in Kenya between SPLM and the government of Sudan in January 2005, it is now possible for SPLM to mediate for a peaceful end to war in Northern Uganda. Both parties to conflict in northern Uganda can trust the PLM-led government of Southern Sudan.

Internationally, Western "war on terror" has seen Uganda bank rolled by the US as a new partner in the region. Ironically Museveni own version of "twin towers" is far from convincing. And as been exposed recently, it is ironic that the government army in Northern Uganda is the party committing more serious atrocities against Acholi’s civilians. And for 20 years no one seems to take a note.

President Museveni believes that his only concession to LRA is to offer amnesty against ICC indictment and to "forgive and forget" the sins committed by Joseph Kony and his commanders against the people of Northern Uganda. We know full well that this is not the real price of peace.

The real price for peace is for multiparty politics to return to Uganda, formation of government of national unity that includes LRA representation in the presidency, an autonomous regional multiparty government in Acholiland, a new formula for allocation of economic resources to regions of Uganda, a time table for internationally supervised multi-party election, revision of Ugandan constitution, fair representation of Northern Uganda in the national army and security organs, demobilisation and reintegration of combatant in the Ugandan army with full guarantees against deliberate laying-off in the next 5 years, special arrangement for fast economic regeneration of Northern Uganda with the full involvement of international community, the immediate return of refugees to their homes. This list by no means exhaustive.

As one might suspect in a war ravaged country such as Uganda, trust is a scarce commodity, and political dishonesty is the common currency. To borrow Eric Reeve’s famous description of Omer Al Bashir and his NIF, president Museveni is a man who has never honoured any agreement he has entered into with a third party- not twice, not once, not ever.

The former Ugandan general, Tito Okello Lukwa signed an agreement with Museveni in 1985 in Nairobi to end Museveni’s rebellion. However, barely a year later, Museveni’s NRA overran Kampala and captured power by force from Titto Okello, proving himself to be man who never mean his words. The leaders of Ugandan People’s Defence Army (UPDA), an earlier armed opposition to Museveni, signed a peace agreement with NRM in June 1988 with hope of "working together with NRM to build Uganda". Alas! One by one, UPDA signatories met their fate in a series of mysterious killings. Among them were Brig. Angelo Okello, Mike Kilama, and Lt. Stephen Obote. Angelo Okello was the leader of UPDA, while Mike Kilama was UDPA chief negotiator in Museveni talks.

Sverker Finnstrom, a Swedish academic who studied and published exensively on LRA war in Northern Uganda reckons there were about 27 armed uprisings against Museveni’ regime in his first 2 years in the office. All except LRA/M have been put out.

It takes two to implement an agreement, and president Museveni is a man who has no faith in making peace with the weak. He was quoted in 1996 saying: "Our work is to kill these people."
He also said in a press conference in Kampala in 1996 that:

"You can have a ‘peace conference’ with cancer because it is coming to take away your leg, you cannot have a peace conference with flu or malaria [LRA]."

In the eyes of president Museveni, making peace with the opposition movements is one of the many tactics in his repertoire of tricks for achieving the goal of eliminating opponents by luring them out of the safety of the bush to be easy assassination targets. In that respect, Museveni has proved lethal. With no track record of successful implementation of agreements he signed, the only way of implementing any future agreement with Kony will have to be with the supervision of the UN and international community. Museveni is a man with a lot to prove.

Never before has Museveni come under intense scrutiny. Failure to deliver a just peace in Northern Uganda will see his reputation plummeting as world community discovers yet another African big man who cares for nothing ,but surviving in power at all cost.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Northern Uganda Has Lived on a Knife's Edge for Too Long

By John A. Akec
2 July 2006
London, UK

"Injustice somewhere, is a threat to peace everywhere", Martin Luther King.

The past week has seen the issue of war in Northern Uganda stealing some headlines. What is evident from all that has been written in the media is that tradgedy of an enormous magnitude, which some have rightly called "silent genocide", has been unfolding in Northern Uganda for the past 20 years and has been ignored by the world's community. That a whole tribe and their cultures, values, and economy is being systematically anihilated. That as high as 95% of Acholi people in Northern Uganda have been forced to leave their ancenstral lands to live in poorly supplied concentration camps. Some 200 of them. That the current Ugandan government, which has been sending out contradictory signals whether to negotiate with LRA, is largely to blame for this human tradgedy.

Some words of concern have been expressed in the US and Britain. An alliance of organisations in Itally has petitioned president Yoweri Museveni to pursue peace. But more pressure is needed. In some cases, action is yet to follow words if this human catastrophe is to be halted in Northern Uganda.

Meanwhile, the ICC (International Criminal Court) has been busy in attempts to torpedo Riek Machar Initiative for peace in Northern Uganda. And New York based Human Rights Watch acknowledges the fact that terrible abuses have been committed by president Museveni's army and the ICC has done nothing to investigate the abuses, yet Human Right Watch paradoxically supports the ICC's flawed justice which does nothing but makes it much harder for LRA to come to a negotiating table.

The increased debate over the war in Norhern Uganda has vastly improved our knowledge of realities of this dirty war that went on for 2 decades in the backyard of an African nation that the IMF and World Bank regard as exemplary. As exposed in the following passages, not all the Ugandan citizens have been lucky under Museveni's rule.

Mark Simmonds (MP, Boston and Skegness, UK) who visited Northern Uganda recently and read reports by World Vision (Uganda) told British Parliament last week that 3,500 people die every month in Uganda's Internally Displaced-Persons' camps.This mortality rate is 3 times higher than those recodred in Darfur in 2005. He said it is not the Lord Resistance that is only terrorising people in those camps but also Ugandan Army "which is perpetrating some appalling atrocities with impunity, whether it be beatings, rape or, as is rumoured, killings"; that there are about 950,000 small arms in Uganda which is causing insecurity in northern Uganda, that about 40,000 children travel from rural country to displaced camps every night to seek protection.

Writing in the US infleuntial journal, Foreign Policy (July/Aug. 2006), an article entitled "Secret Genocide", Olara Otunnu, former UN undersecretary and special representative for children and arm conflict said:

" Imagine 4,000 sharing a latrine, women waiting for 12 hours to fill a jerrycan at well, 10 people packing themselves sardine-like in a hut."

He also said 1000 childern die every week in the region and the figure has been raised recently to 1,500 every week. On the LRA, Otunnu who is also a board member of Carnegie Endowment for Peace in the US, wrote:

"The truth is that reports of indisputable atrocities of the LRA are being employed to mask more serious crimes by the government itself. To keep the eyes of the world averted, the government has carefully scripted a narrative in which the catastrophe in northern Uganda begins with the LRA and will only end with its demise"

"But, under the cover of the war against these outlaws, an entire society, the Acholi people, has been moved to concentration camps and is being systematically destroyed physically, culturally, and economically. Everything Acholi is dying..".

He continued: "The Acholis plight, well known to embassies, U.N. agencies, NGOs, and human rights organizations. Yet those in a position to raise their voices have chosen to remain silent or worse, speak out in support of Museveni's regime..."

"The LRA is frightening, but northern Uganda's people have more to fear from their own government." He added (Foreign Affairs, July/August 2006).

The debate sparked off by recent peace initiative in Northern Uganda has come to challenge long held stereotypes that have been carefully designed by Ugandan government and rehearsed by the media. Apart from demystifying the LRA, the veil on the Ugandan government has been lifted. And what we see is not good, to say the least. For a Southern Sudanese like me, it is a too familiar story of oppression of the North by a Southern-dominated government in Kampala. It bauffles me how president Museveni, the architect of a policy that has killed and still kills so many Acholis has got away with it so lightly without being called to account or quickly negoatiate peace that will faciliate the speedy dismantling of these death camps.

In an article entitled "Survival in war-torn Uganda" publsihed in Anthropology Today, April 2006, Sverker Finnstrom, an academic at the University of Uppsala in Sweden who has been studying LRA and the war in northern Uganda for many years confirms the shocking truth which many had suspected all along about the government concentration camps. Finnstrom wrote:

"As part of its counter-insurgency tactics, in effort to deny the rebels food and other resources, the Ugandan army has forced large portions of population into camps with strict curfews...Oficially the camps, called 'protected villages', were created to protect people against rebels attacks. In practice it is different. It is the people protecting the army."

Finnstrom further explained that the army barracks are normally located in the centre of the camps surrounded by the displaced-persons huts. When a camp comes under a rebel attack, the army simply moves out of the camp before beginning to throw rocket launched gernades back into the camp, hence killing the very people they meant to protect. In this scenario, Finstrom conlcuded, those forced into the camps are being used as human shields against LRA attacks (PDF copies of a number of Finnstrom excellent articles can be obtained from this author on request).

Given the above shocking reality, there is no question that the much flouted ICC's arrest warrant of Joseph Kony and his commanders is very much an unwellcomed news in Northern Uganda. The efforts of the government of Southern Sudan which resluted in at least two face to face meetings between South Sudan vice president, Riek Machar, and Joseph Kony, the LRA chief, has raised hopes for peace in Northern Uganda. Hence the predominant opinion in Norhern Uganda is against the ICC's arrest warrent.

A church leader in Northern Uganda, Monsignor Matthew Odongo, the vicar-general of the Catholic Diocese of the northern district of Gulu, recently told IRIN:

"As religious leaders, we are concerned about the announcement by the Interpol. The ICC and Interpol should hold on and give room to negotiations and see how far this dialogue can go... This is throwing a stone into water that had settled."

"..Any move that adds to suffering of the people will not be good. We think there is no contigency plan for the ICC and Interopl to arrest Kony when the government, with an army, has failed for the past 20 years."

He then urged the international community to work for the immediate end of the conflict that continues to destroy lives of many innocent people in northern Uganda. "Can't the ICC wait and take opportunity offered by this meeting [in Juba, Southern Sudan]?", Odongo asked(IRIN, June 2, 2006).

Jackson Otto, a human rights activist in Northern Uganda also asked: "Why should they [the ICC] time this announcement ahead of the meeting in Juba? Where have they been when all these people where suffering? ... They should put peace ahead of all their intention."

Certaintly these are indeed tough questions but few answers from the ICC which at the moment has its hands in both ears.

But these were not the only voices that spoke against the ICC's arrest warrant for Joseph Kony. Betty Bigombe, a former Museveni peace minister for Northern Uganda who tried for many years, first in her capacity as a government official and later as a private citizen, to mediate between Museveni and LRA said recentlty that the ICC arrest warrant against Kony is a "complication". All her past efforts to bring the government and the LRA to a negotiating table were torpedoed by the government at the last minute. The last effort was in December 2005 in the shadow of the ICC's arrest warrent. From her new residence in the US, Ms Bigombe recently told Tristan McConnel, a reporter for Christian Science Monitor, in a telephone conversation, that "any initiative to end war must be supported by all efforts."

Bigombe remarks echo the recent statement in Kampala by the US Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, Jendayi Frazer: "If the government of Uganda can come to some agreement with the LRA, that has to be a priority."

They also coincide with opinions expressed by Norbert Mao, a local government top official in the northern Uganda and by John Baptist Odama, the Archbishop of Gulu.

Norbert Mao told Christian Science Monitor: "Peace has a higher value than anything else...I believe in the ICC. It is a great thing. But the chief presecutor's[Luis Moreno-Ocampo] mother is not in a displaced-person camp..We are grappling with and living a difficult reality."

The Archbishop of Gulu is no less cynical about the ICC's move: "Something good is coming out, and threat to arrest Kony does no good...This is the time for the ICC to keep quiet...If there is a peace process going on, and you talk about arrests, I cannot understand you." (Christian Science Monitor,June 26, 2006 edition)

If this powerful concensus from such credible bunch is in favour of peace mediation initiated by the government of Southern Sudan does not cause the ICC and Human Right Watch bureaucrats to blush in shame, what else would?

Insisting to pursue a course that can only lead into blind alley, ICC chief prosecutor, Mr Luis Moreno-Ocampo, dismissed the recent peace initiative by asserting that the LRA is only "buying time to regroup." Well, these are words of a politician, not of an impartial international judge. And when so importnat a figure gets that close to local politics, justice flies out of the window.

I would be least surprised of all if the international law upholder is booed tomorrow should he venture to visit the IDPs camps in northern Uganda


For the first time since the break out of war in northen Uganda, the BBC broadcasted a video recording of an interview conducted by Sam Framer, a journalist with the UK-based paper, The Times. Franer made a 12-day long jounreny from Southern Sudan capital, Juba, to meet Joseph Kony in the bush across the border of Democratic Republic of Congo. Kony told Mr Framer:

"I am a human being like you..I have eyes, a brain, and wear clothes, but they are saying we don't talk to people, we eat people. We are killer.That is not true. Why do you meet me if I am a killer."

Kony dismissed the accusations of killing, mutillations, and abductions as "Museveni propganda". He said "That is not true, it is just propaganda. Museveni went into the villages and cut off the ears of the people, telling the people it was work of LRA. I cannot cut the ear of my brother, I cannot kill the eye of my brother...I kill the soldier of Museveni."

Kony accused Museveni of suppressing the Acholi people with the aim of taking over their land. He called for a free multi-party democracy to be reconstituted in Uganda. It is to be recalled that in the last presidential election, northern Uganda was the only region that voted overwhelmingly against Museveni. A fact which demonstrates LRA, despite its manifested anti-community actions, does express the general disaffection by north (Pader, Langa, and Gulu regions) with Museveni's regime who comes from the south. We may fail to admit, but having seen the man on the video, Kony and his comarades, notorious they may be, stil embody the North's defiance of Museveni's rule that has tried for two decades to subdue and crash the Achoilis physically, economically, culturally, and morally. I added "morally", because despite the Musevani counter insurgency strategy that has killed so many, he still comes out to the world as the "good guy", and Kony and those sympathetic with him amongst the Acholi's as the "bad guys". The fact is, in this dirty war, no one is a "good guy."

While this is a good thing for BBC to do, it was rather too late and too little. Here one could see the BBC departure from its well known tradition of presenting a "balanced" view about contentious issues by involving speakers on the opposite side of the argument. And if that is not possible, to strive to give a robust counter argument to the incumbent on behalf of the party not represented. In this case, Jeremy Parxman allowed the Ugandan High Commissioner to read a well prepared script and to get away with it so lightly. He did not follow his usually robust and hostile probbing of the official line.

Worst, Jermy Parxman came out to be critical of Ugandan government acceptance in principle to negotiate with LRA. Apart from Kony's video, no other views in defence of LRA position were presented by the BBC. An authority in LRA war in northern Uganda like Swedish academic Sverker Finnstrom could have been asked to present a more enlightend and objective opinion.

In this age where the Internet is challenging the traditional media outlets, where information access is no longer the preserve of the BBC, CNN, and VOA, it appears the BBC is losing credibility in the third world. Increasingly when reporting on the third world, the BBC is being selective, bias, or misleading.

Together with CNN, the media giants can even be accused of conspiracy and "news fixing" by towing the official version, whatever the cost and the implication on the affected communities. If that is not the case, why it took 20 long years for the BBC to broadcast the LRA's view on the attrocities in northern Uganda?

BBC could still play a more objective role in educating the international community about war in northern Uganda.

The widening debate on war in northern Uganda is a wellcomed news. But actions must follow words. The US and Britain should join Switzerland, Norway, the Netherlands, Italy, and South Africa in backing the government of Southern Sudan to bring the government of Uganda and the LRA to negiating table. The ICC should withdraw its threat to arrest Kony and give peace a chance.

The parties to war in Northern Uganda should be encouarged to come to a negotiating table with no preconditions. Human Rights Watch should stop attempts to criminalise the government of Southern Sudan in its peace-mdeiating efforts. The UN must appoint a peace Envoy for Northern Uganda. Time tables, land marks, and targets must be drwan up, and followed through to implementation. A high level UN personnel must pay visit to Northern Uganda to give a boost to peace process.

It is evident also that the government of Uganda is unwilling to negotiate unless it is pressurised by the international community to do so. All the parties must be encouraged to sign a declaration of principles (DOP) as soon as possible. That should be followed by a cease-fire. Full blown negotiations should then follow under the supervision of UN and any countries willing to contribute possitively to a peaceful end to LRA war in Northern Uganda.

Out of desperation, many leaders in Northern Uganda are calling for peace at any cost. This is understandable, given the suffering and mortality rate in the region resulting from 20 years of insecurity. But peace at any cost can not survive morning to noon day. Only peace with justice is the greatest insurance against return to war. But what precisely forms a "just peace"?

The international community has surely learnt from experience of Sudan's wars in which political marginalisation, uneven economic development, human rights abuse, and lack of basic freedoms has continued to undermine Sudan's stability since independence. Examined closely, Ugandan's problems are not very dissimilar to Sudan's problems. This will be the topic of my next artilce.

But let it be known, it is not a matter for one person or few to define what constitutes a just solution, it is high time that the LRA and the people of northern Uganda start talking loudly about what they see will bring a lasting peace to their battered country.