From Peace to War in Northern Uganda

>> Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Scapegoats of a bloodied land: From peace to war in Northern Uganda

Peter Okema Otika | June 29, 2008 | Monitor

A glimpse of hope and relative peace has prevailed in northern Uganda for the last two years since rebels of the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) declared a ceasefire.

The guns had roared for over 22 years since 1986 when Yoweri Museveni took over power from Gen. Tito Okello Lutwa (RIP), leader of the military government that unsuccessfully offered Mr Museveni an olive branch for peace in Nairobi, Kenya in 1985.

Northern Uganda has never been peaceful and has never been the same ever since. Today, the Uganda government is bracing for more war with the LRA rebels, a war they have all fought without winning.

Many people have been made to believe that the war in northern Uganda started with Joseph Kony's LRA. The Uganda government and the international community have been very central in telling a twisted version of history of Uganda so much to the extent that people are made to think that the LRA have been the major cause of this conflict.

You need to understand the historical contexts as to why and how the conflict started. It must be understood that when Museveni's National Resistance Army (NRA) which was composed of child soldiers commonly known in Uganda as kadogos, took over power, they employed a revenge policy toward the defeated Uganda National Liberation Army (UNLA) in Acholi, Teso and West Nile regions.

They started arresting the former officers, jailing them, killing them and in many cases, looting and attacking their families. These former soldiers and members of their families were taken to Luzira Prison in Kampala and others were taken to Kigumba and Kiburara to toil in farms. Hundreds of these inmates died in these detention centres and they were not given fair trial.

It was from these fears for revenge that the remaining former soldiers decided to reorganise, arm themselves and start defending against the atrocious attacks. The first group to form was the Uganda People's Democratic Army (UPDA), a disciplined army that had peaceful co-existence with the local people and in many ways, defended the locals from being attacked by Ugandan troops as well as cattle rustlers from Karamoja.

Once the war started, another group also emerged in Teso known as the Uganda People's Army (UPA), the ranks of which were also mostly former soldiers who were being persecuted by NRA.

Although these two rebel groups reached would-be peaceful settlements with the government, most of their leaders and commanders were later jailed, or mysteriously disappeared while others were killed. Many other rebels groups also emerged in West Nile, Central and even Western regions of Uganda.

Meanwhile, the new government continued to persecute anyone who was part of or is alleged to have been part of the previous government. By 1987, they had extended this persecution to the locals especially in Acholi where NRA commenced what they called Operation North, Operation Mobile and so many other names.

This was a scorched-earth policy by the NRA in which they were ordered to kill anything that walks. Adults, babies, goats, chicken, banana trees, burn down houses, cut down bridges and even defecate in and poison water wells. I was a young boy in Alero, one of the villages that saw the worst atrocities.

I remember one quiet and peaceful afternoon in 1987 that was interrupted with gunshots and immediately, the entire village was surrounded.

I ran and ran and ran escaping with my life, but bruised all over my body and foot. Unfortunately, my grandmother, a cousin, a brother, my mother and countless others were not so lucky. They were killed; some were burnt alive in the houses.

My mother (RIP) was one of the few survivors; she had been shot across the face, cut with machetes on the back and other parts of her body. For some unexplained reason, she survived the carnage.

When I ran back to see what had happened five hours later, I found her silently wriggling on the ground. Another villager who survived came and found me trying to save my mother. We tied her wounds, carried her into the woods and started to nurse.

The next day, we returned and buried the dead. My mother was paralysed after that and sadly died earlier this year in Gulu. Her tormentors and killers of the countless villagers have never been arrested, not even talked about by the Ugandan government, Amnesty International or even the so called International Criminal Court (ICC).

As the plunder, killing and everything else was going on, another rebel group emerged in the name of the Holy Spirit Movement of Alice Lakwena, a woman who claimed she had mystic and spiritual power to fight and lead an army to topple Museveni. Lakwena's was a formidable force that threatened to take over the government.

She was eventually defeated in Iganga. After her defeat, Kony appeared on the scene, a man who also claimed mystic and spiritual power.

Kony's armies have expanded in number, changed identities and even names. They have been the longest headache to the government of Museveni since 1987. The group was formally known as the Holy Spirit and later changed its name to the LRA.

There have been many attempts to talk peace with the LRA going way back into the 1990s. Most of the attempts failed. The main reasons for these failures have been because the Ugandan government has always pressed to continue fighting instead of talking peace.

Also, individuals involved in coordinating peace talks, especially those with interests or connection with Uganda have had the desire to earn money, popularity or disorganise the process. The latter want the war to continue because it is a lucrative source of revenues to them and their commanders.

Every time peace efforts have failed with the LRA, the Uganda movement and its backers around the world look for someone to blame.

Traditionally, they would blame local Acholi people in the villages and their leaders.

Now that the LRA rebels have relocated into Sudan and DR. Congo, the blame has been switched to Acholi who live in the Diaspora, mostly in USA, Canada, UK, and other Western European countries.

The most recent case of accusation of the Acholi Diaspora has been orchestrated by Uganda government agents. The Resident District Commissioner for Gulu, retired Col. Walter Ochora, who himself was a rebel leader in the UPDA and later served with the Uganda army, went on local FM radio station and declared that Mr Obonyo Olweny, Mr Joshua Otukene, Mr Alex Oloya, Col. Wilson Owiny Omoya, Dr. Ocan Otim and a Mr Peter Oola as spoilers of the peace process.

Ironically, some of these mentioned individuals have been the ones promoting the peace process around the world. Now they are accusing them of destroying the very things they are fighting for?

Many people inside Uganda and even within the international community and donors had high hopes that finally this war would come to an end.

It almost did and it still might. The Final Peace Agreement (FPA) was supposed to be signed in April 2008 but Kony refused to sign it claiming he did not agree with some of the components.

The outstanding disagreement was on the question of International Criminal Court, which together with Uganda government, have sued the LRA leaders for crimes against humanity. Interestingly, the Uganda army has also been accused of committing the same crimes in and outside Uganda.

According to an online communiqué that was emailed to members of the Acholi Community by Obonyo Olweny, the Juba Peace Process failed due to a number of reasons. According to him, on April 3, Kony telephoned him with two important messages regarding the peace process.

A couple of days earlier he had done the same to Alex Oloya in London. The first message from the LRA leader was that he would not sign the FPA that he was expected to sign on April 10.

Olweny claimed Kony, however, did not ask their opinion or advice on whether he should sign the agreement or not. He simply stated what he (and members of the LRA High Command) had already decided: that he was not going to sign the agreement.

In the second message, Kony requested Obonyo Olweny and Alex Oloya to constitute a new delegation of LRA representatives for a fresh round of peace talks. Kony blamed the intention of certain participants in the peace talks who he said harboured anti-LRA and pro-Uganda government sentiments. Corruption among the LRA delegates, who had been bribed and compromised.

Kony cited the secret meeting in Mombasa in early 2007 between a clique of LRA delegates and Uganda government officials led by Museveni's brother, Gen. Salim Saleh. Kony demanded that the IDP camps in Acholi must first be disbanded and the displaced people returned to their lands. Meaningful peace must begin with the displaced people being resettled. Any peace agreement should be signed in Uganda, not in a foreign land.

And that parts of the FPA calling for the prosecution of LRA leaders by a special division of the High Court of Uganda are unacceptable.

Kony said that since he was prepared to make peace with the Ugandan government and end the long war, why would the government he had fought and made peace with again prosecute him and his commanders.

What peace and reconciliation would that be?

He added that Kony blamed the insistence by the ICC to pursue the arrest and prosecution of LRA leaders. He also demanded that the Uganda government troops first withdraw from the Northern Uganda sector designated for LRA troops to assemble.

Among other things also, Kony said that President Yoweri Museveni has not sufficiently demonstrated that he accepts all people of Uganda, particularly the Nilotes of northern Uganda, as full citizens of the Republic of Uganda equal before the law and the Constitution and with rights to fully participate in the social, economic and political mainstream activities of the nation.

The LRA have suggested the way forward now that Juba has not yielded the fruits that many have been waiting for. Even Vice President of Southern Sudan, Dr Riek Machar has called upon the Ugandan government, LRA rebels and the international community not to give up on the peace process.

Dr Machar wants the peace talks to continue and has condemned intentions of the Uganda government to declare renewed war. The LRA on the other hand have suggested, a start on a Juba II peace process to continue with what Juba I has done so far.

Being an Acholi myself, I must stress that the Acholi people need unity but also, to appreciate our diversity of persons, thoughts,
identities and ideas. Acholi is an egalitarian society and in many ways, this is exemplified in the way they interact.

In many ways, people confuse variation of views and opinions as division among us. This is not true. But we also have to recognise our differences and appreciate it as our strengths. We are not any good or considered successful unless we embraced the society and diversity of where we come from.

We should stop making this war an Acholi war. This is a national problem that needs national solutions. The more we claim we want to solve it alone, the more we prove that it's only an Acholi problem.

This war started as a national problem and Ugandan government must solve it as a national problem.

Anyone trying to address it as an Acholi problem that needs Acholi solutions is being unfair and dishonest. We should stop thinking that one person is representative of the entire Acholi society. This is the case both inside Uganda and in the Diaspora. Those who claim they represent Acholi Diaspora or entire Acholi in Uganda are lying.

The door to the peace talks should be left open. Uganda government and the international community have to be patient with the process. It took South Africa, Northern Ireland and is taking Israel decades to achieve peace. Why are we in such a hurry to call it quits?

Why are we so fast to point fingers at each other as being spoilers?

We will have to learn from these experiences and make future engagements more open, honest, with clear agendas, respectful and more accommodating.

Otherwise, we will not succeed in what we claim to be doing. Remember, this is not the first time we are talking peace. So, let's not be dumb and feel exclusive in the roles each of us play.

We should be free to disagree to agree as long we all know what we want to achieve and work towards getting there. Unity doesn't mean just engaging with only those that agree with you, in many ways, it means engaging those you don't agree with.

The donor community and backers of both the LRA and the Uganda government have to learn to be patient, stop being greedy, and focus on the better future of Ugandans. Equally, we must ask the donor community, backers of the rebels and Uganda government to start employing honesty, and fairness.

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Robert Egwea July 3, 2008 at 12:34 AM  

Armed rebellion in northern Uganda which started in 1986 is believed to be an Acholi war because both the Holly Spitit Movement (HSM) and Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) were/are led by Acholi warlords and it lacks a national character. Peter Otai's UPA in Teso had no connection with Acholi rebellion and has long ended. Likewise, rebellions in West Nile and other parts of Uganda which also had no connection with HSM or LRA ended long ago.

The Acholi rebels tried to take their war to other regions like Lango, Teso and West Nile but their struggle failed to get support beyond Acholi region. If anything it intensified resentment against the Acholi people who are largely seen as the major cause of suffering in northern and eastern Uganda following an Acholi-led military coup against the civilian government of Milton Obote in 1985.

It is interesting to note that the author doesn't mention the devastating effect of the brutal war on neighbouring regions such as Lango. This is a bias article and should be taken with a pinch of salt.

The 22 year rebellion has devastated the north and must stop now. People should pursue peaceful means to resolve political problems. The sooner the LRA signed the final peace agreement the better for all Ugandans.

Ray-Ray July 3, 2008 at 5:47 AM  

Fascinating info -- thanks so much for the other side, which we never hear in the media.

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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