Have aid agencies prolonged Uganda's war?

>> Monday, March 3, 2008

21 Feb 2008 14:36:00 GMT
Written by: Emma Batha
An internally displaced woman in her hut in Pabbo camp. REUTERS/James Akena
An internally displaced woman in her hut in Pabbo camp. REUTERS/James Akena

Reports on northern Uguanda often paint a picture of an evil, crazed rebel cult committing unspeakable atrocities while kidnapping thousands of children to fight. In the background, aid workers do their best to feed hundreds of thousands of people crammed into squalid displacement camps where disease is rife. But have humanitarian agencies actually helped prolong the crisis?

The question is posed by journalist Matthew Green, who recounts his search for reclusive rebel leader Joseph Kony in his new book "Wizard of the Nile: The Hunt for Africa's Most Wanted". Coverage of northern Uganda rarely makes clear that many people were systematically forced into the camps by the government as it sought to close in on Kony by depriving him of support.

The army broadcast ultimatums telling people they would be considered rebels if they refused to leave their homes. Green argues that the United Nations' World Food Programme (WFP) was unwittingly sucked into underwriting this strategy when it began trucking aid into the camps shortly after the government began creating them in late 1996.

"The government said at the time it would be a few months," Green says. "Ten years later the camps were still there and they caused arguably more suffering than the rebels. The amount of disease, the squalor and social deprivation people suffered was appalling. "And all this time the WFP was effectively sponsoring this strategy... No one was asking was it really correct for the government to herd hundreds of thousands of people into camps and leave them there indefinitely."

At the height of the crisis some 2 million people - 90 percent of the local population - were living in camps. Many were also dying there - up to 1,000 a week, according to a 2005 report by the Ugandan government and U.N. agencies. Green describes the camps as "giant incubators of disease, alienation and despair" that ended up killing more people than the rebels did.


He stresses he isn't condemning the WFP, but highlighting a bigger problem with the whole system.

"Aid agencies sometimes look away from the cause of the suffering," Green says. "They try to treat the suffering but by doing that they actually become part of the system that creates the suffering.

"It's easy to criticise but I think people even within the organisations recognise there's a dilemma - it's that dilemma of it's much easier to put a humanitarian band aid on the problem than to mobilise the political will in Western capitals to try to do something about it."

Western governments viewed Uganda as a success story - a development story rather than an emergency. And President Yoweri Museveni's government, for its part, was eager to play down the crisis.

"They always presented the camps as a temporary measure," Green says. "They kept repeating this mantra that we've defeated Kony and then there would be some terrible outrage and they would always use this phrase 'the last kicks of a dying horse'. It was essentially propaganda and I think that worked."

The myth of Kony as an apparently deranged mystic also distracted international attention from conditions in the camps. The plight of children abducted by his fighters made better copy than the quiet suffering of a generation growing up in squalor.

"The fact that Kony was this bizarre jungle dwelling demi-god figure surrounded by dozens of wives talking about the Holy Spirit - that image was so powerful that it made it much easier to dismiss the conflict as something almost beyond the realms of rational intervention and that played very much into the government's hands," Green says.

For more, see AlertNet's interview with Green about his hunt for Kony. You can also watch a video of an interview he gave at London's Frontline Club.

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****Footage of IDP camps, World Food Programme, N. Uganda 2007)

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About This Blog

The X.U.G (Xpose Uganda's Genocide) Coalition was created to bring to light the truth about Yoweri Museveni's woefully undemocratic regime and the ongoing secret genocide in northern Uganda, with the aim of the restoration of human rights and peace.

The coalition's secondary goal is to ensure accountability for reconstruction and development funds slated for war-torn N. Uganda by the US and other donors.

A crisis of epic proportions, the genocide being carried out against the Acoli for the last two decades has produced devastating consequences.

For the sake of current and future generations in Uganda, the world must recognize and end the genocide in Uganda. All Ugandans have a right to basic human rights, including the right to health, protection and education.

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