“An entire society is being systematically destroyed – physically, culturally, socially and economically – in full view of the international community. I know of no recent or present situation where all the elements that constitute genocide under the Convention of 1948 have been brought together in such a chillingly comprehensive manner as in northern Uganda. This situation has been going on non-stop for almost 20 years but with a few exceptions, those in a position to raise their voices and to act have instead joined in a conspiracy of silence.”
With these words, Olara Otunnu accepted the 2005 Sydney Peace Prize last year. These were strong words but to those who have been keen observers of the horrors in northern Uganda, they were well placed, accurate and uttered in the right forum.
There is no better pulpit from which anyone could have indicted the world for its shameless silence concerning the suffering in northern Uganda.
Otunnu is an accomplished intellectual, politician and diplomat. These were not reckless utterances. These were well thought out and well researched views from a man who northern Uganda home.
As expected, Otunnu has been denounced by the NRM attack dogs including those whose relatives are in the death camps of Northern Uganda.
A few years ago, Otunnu gave testimony before the UN Human Rights Commission in which he accused the NRM regime of having a “dark agenda” against the people of northern Uganda. Again as expected, he was roundly condemned by the Museveni regime.
Otunnu has now quit the rarefied atmosphere of the UN. His tenure still had many months to go and it would have certainly been renewed. But Otunnu felt that he needed to be free to do something about the suffering children caught up in conflicts and also about the genocidal impact of the government policy in his own homeland.
The LBL Foundation for Children which he recently founded is a monument to outstanding figures in our society who would be scandalised by the enforced misery of our people. Imagine Okot p’Bitek and Janani Luwuum for instance confronting the unmitigated horrors of the camps.
By the time Otunnu agreed to appear on Andrew Mwenda’s radio show, few in government circles were willing to cross swords with him. Only General David Tinyefuza could dare.
Otunnu made a strong case and put forward facts that even Tinyefuza could not dispute. All that Tinyefuza could do was to blame the people of northern Uganda for their own suffering. At best he heaped the blame on the LRA and Joseph Kony.
The context of the conflict has been misrepresented deliberately. The spin is that there is this lunatic called Kony who is killing and killing and the well intentioned government of Museveni is doing its best to defend the people. The policies of forced displacement and the atrocities committed by the government troops are swept under the carpet.
Anyone who dares to challenge this outlook is isolated and condemned as an apologist for the LRA. Jan Egeland who made several tough remarks saying northern Uganda was worse than Darfur and Iraq is now rather mild. His recent report made no mention of the agony of northern Uganda.
When the parliament of Uganda passed a resolution urging the government to declare the north a disaster area, the government stonewalled. All figures denied that there is a disaster.
Yet this is an area where the LRA unleashes atrocities against the people with the army being incapable of offering protection.
Sometimes the army also unleashes terror against the people as happened in the recent Lalogi massacre. The people are trapped between the violence of the army and the LRA.
Tinyefuza claims that the government has no genocidal motive. Even if that be the case the impact of the regime’s actions have been genocidal.
The people have been put in conditions has deformed their self-conception, and broken down their culture. Their basis of survival has been undermined. They have no access to their land.
There are 50000 deaths a year in the concentration camps. In the first half of 2005 30000 people died in Acholi camps alone. 11000 of these were children under 5 years. A UN report admitted that “the mortality rates are double those of Darfur”.
Otunnu is not inventing facts. He is telling the truth. Genocide is usually a State project and the Ugandan state stands accused. We are all witnesses to genocide right now. Only those who have perpetrated war crimes like Tinyefuza would disagree. Bravo Otunnu!
Nobert Mao, the author, is the Democratic Party (DP) president ((written in 2006).