Can South Africa Help Dismantle Ugandan Apartheid?
No one knows the language of oppressor better than those who have experienced it. What is taking place in Northern and Eastern Uganda has been described as genocide. But the policies that sustained the war have in that part of the world also created an apartheid system of sort, which is not less evil, or less destructive than South Africa’s.
It qualifies as genocide because the government’s counter insurgency policy has resulted in massive death rates that are 3 times those experienced in Darfur. That is, more than 1000 people die every week in the displaced persons camps where 2 million Acholis have been forcefully evacuated from their homelands. The figure is equivalent to 98% of population of Northern Uganda region.
The government’s counter insurgency policy has fostered a form of economic apartheid between Northern Uganda and the rest of the country. Those relocated into the concentration camps are no longer economically active and unable to earn a living. As the time went by, the forced unemployment has impoverished the population to levels of destitution as insecurity scared away potential investors from the region.
Nowhere are economic disparities between Northern Uganda and the rest of Uganda apparent than in the survey on private sector investment survey conducted by Uganda Investment Authority (UIA) in collaboration with Uganda Bureau of Statistics (UBOS), and the Bank of Uganda (BOU) in 2003. In that survey, of 765 new enterprises (companies) that returned the survey, 77.9% (or 596) were located in Central/Southern region, 12.3%(or 94) in Eastern region, 8.5% (65) in the Western region, and 1.3% (10) in Northern region.
The same report showed that employment opportunities that resulted from new investment in 2001 in terms of number of jobs created were distributed regionally as follows: 71.4% of jobs in Central/Southern region, 18.8% in Eastern region, 9.4% in Western region, and just about 0.4% in Northern region.
Small wonder, other reports by international NGOs working in displaced persons camps in Northern Uganda say while those living below poverty line fell from 57% in 1992 to 37% in 2003 in the West and Central Uganda, those living below poverty line in Northern Uganda has shot up to over 95% over the same period. Over 250,000 children in the region go without education. If this is not apartheid, what else qualifies as apartheid?
An interesting face to this economic apartheid is what some Ugandan opposition leaders have often cited. That is, the government is profiteering from the war. It is getting military help from the US worth hundreds of million dollars every year to fight LRA in the US’s war against terror. Despite the government many promises to finish off LRA, they have been unable to do so for many years. The IDPS remain trapped in poverty in death camps and without hope, while Uganda government asks for more time to end the rebellion by military means. This is to the extent that many members of Acholi community believe that LRA has provided an excuse for Museveni government to punish the population of Northern and Eastern Uganda for the sins they did not commit. Uganda is in great need for justice, despite the denial by the government and claim to the contrary by the IMF and the World Bank. It needs help from the international community to overcome their inertia to emerge from war. This is where South Africa that has experienced the trauma of discrimination of apartheid can come handy.
SOUTH AFRICA TO THE RESCUE
On Wednesday 16 August 06, Vincent Otti, the deputy LRM/A chief, telephoned South African High Commissioner to Uganda, T.H. Chiliza to invite South African government to act as co-mediator in Juba peace talks. This was part of Otti’s invitation made over phone read like this:
“I, Lieutenant General Vincent Otti, deputy chairman of the high command and second-in-command of the Lord’s Resistance Army do hereby appeal to the government of the Republic of South Africa to come and act as co-mediator…”
Vincent Otti also called on the government of Uganda to declare a cessation of hostilities:
“In order for the Juba negotiations to be meaningful, successful and binding, the (LRA)... calls upon the government of Uganda to respond positively and declare a cessation of hostilities and respect the agenda and code of conduct agreed upon by the negotiating parties, the mediators and facilitators,
The High Commissioner, Chiliza, told the media in Kampala that LRA invitation has been forwarded to the government of South Africa for final decision, making it abundantly clear that South Africa supports Juba talks in principle, and would not hesitate to participate in any effort to bring peace to Northern Uganda should opportunity arise.
THE ANGRY RESPONSE FROM THE GOU
As would be expected, the response from the government of Uganda is that of anger, rejection, and even declaration of war: “We shall not accept new mediators. These terrorists hiding in Congo are telephoning places saying they don’t want the mediation of Riek Machar and now that they want new mediators," retorted President Museveni during a press conference at State House in Kampala.
Museveni went on to explain that his government was asked by the government of South Sudan to offer the LRA an olive branch, "otherwise we had closed the chapter with them", he concluded.
Earlier this week, the government of Uganda delegation expressed disquiet about presence of political and religious leaders from Northern Uganda who have been invited by vice president Riek Machar, the Southern Sudan chief mediator, to come to Juba and act as observers. They include: Gulu District Chairman Norbert Mao, Archbishop of Northern Uganda John Baptist Odama, Bishop Onen Onweng, Prof. Ogenga Latigo, and others.
Guo spokesperson Captain Paddy Akunda told Uganda’s Daily Monitor:
"Our position is clear, we respect the mediator and know that he has got the right to invite anyone as he pleases but only if they keep away from the proceedings of the talks and only come in to advise the mediator separately… “
Surely, the government of Uganda is playing with semantics. What does an observer status means in plain English? It only means one thing: sitting in the proceedings without interfering with or taking part directly in discussions during the negotiations. That way, an observer will be in position to advice the mediator better. Again, it shows the government of Uganda is bent to frustrate the current peace effort.
The government of Uganda has made it clear the Northern MPs like Norbert Mao and Ogenga Latigo are members of an opposition party and therefore their neutrality will not be guaranteed. However, there is a strong moral argument that more credibility will be given to any resulting agreement by involving elected MPs and religious leaders from the North as what will be agreed will impact everyone in the region.
In another development, Peter Odok a former resident district commissioner in Gulu, told reporters in Juba about existence of what he described as “spoilers” amongst the LRA negotiation team “who are telling Joseph Kony not to come to Juba.” He threatened to expose them. Sources in Juba say Ongom might have been pointing finger at members of Acholi Diaspora in the UK who have recently joined the LRA team. Among the LRA’s Diaspora were, Dr. Walter Oweka and Dr. Terence Patio who travelled recently to Juba from the UK at the invitation from the LRA negotiating team were detained for 4 days by South Sudanese authorities. They were released after Josephine Apira, the deputy head of LRA negotiating team intervened. Dr. Walter Oweka is said to be in poor health following a shoulder injury that he might has sustained during his 4-day detention in Juba.
At the same time, the government has intensified its verbal threats to attack LRA positions in Democratic Republic of Congo should peace effort fail.
PRESIDENT SALVA KIIR: FLYING BACK TO JUBA EMPTY-HANDED
Given the fact that the government of Uganda has said: no to a temporary ceasefire, no to participation of religious leaders from the Northern Uganda as observers, no to participation of South Africa as a co-mediator, and no to participation of LRA supporters in the Diaspora; it leaves us with no doubt that the government of Uganda is not serious about reaching a just settlement to the conflict. The government does not want anything that will give confidence that the signing parties will honour any future agreement.
The emergency visit by president of South Sudan Salva Kiir to Kampala on Saturday 19th August 2006 had raised hopes of softening Museveni’s position on some of the above issues. As it turned out, it has proved thoroughly disappointing. The president of South Sudan ended agreeing with everything Museveni has called for. Not a single concession was won. For example, president Salva Kiir has argued after returning to Juba from Kampala that it is necessary for LRA to declare their positions in South Sudan and Democratic Republic of Congo. Kiir is also convinced that the LRA must agree on assembly point for their army before any ceasefire could be declared in order to make monitoring of ceasefire possible.
For a movement of LRA size, agreeing up to such uncomfortable terms when they have not reached a comprehensive peace agreement with Kampala is tantamount to a suicide. And with the government of Uganda saying no to everything LRA proposes, even if such a proposal is reasonable and legitimate, it looks as if the peace initiative by the government of Southern Sudan has finally run its course and has hit an impasse.
War drums are once again beating in Northern Uganda much louder than the voices for peace. The Kampala bear is proving too powerful for the nascent government of Southern Sudan to herd. After all, the current leaders are indebted to Museveni for any help extended to SPLA during its fight against Khartoum. President Kiir cannot look president Museveni in the eye sternly.
Probably the time is right for government of Southern Sudan to throw in the towel and hand over the mediation leadership to South African government and other members of international community. The contribution of South Africa will be vital in helping tear down the entrenched Ugandan apartheid system.
Otherwise, 2 million Acholis will continue to languish in death camps in Northern Uganda, as the world community continues to look the other way.